Research into Vincent van Gogh’s famous 'Sunflowers', conducted at the Van Gogh Museum and headed by UvA professor in Conservation and Restoration Ella Hendriks, has produced a great deal of new information about the condition of the painting and the materials that Van Gogh used. One of the conclusions is that the painting is stable, but fragile. As a result, he painting will no longer go out on loan to other museums.
International team of experts
Using the latest techniques, an international team of experts tried to gather as much information as possible about the canvas, the layers of ground and paint, and the earlier restorations carried out on the work. The aim was to ascertain which materials Van Gogh used, what the condition of the painting is, whether restoration is required and possible, and what can be done to preserve the painting for future generations in the best possible manner.
The research began in 2016, headed by Ella Hendriks, in collaboration with experts from the universities of Antwerp, Perugia and Toruń (Poland) and the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. Sunflowers was examined using the latest research techniques, meaning that the painting no longer had to travel to be investigated. Instead, mobile devices were brought from all around to study the painting on-site at the museum. The research has resulted in a more complete and better understanding of how the painting was created and its current condition.
The research has yielded comprehensive information regarding the colours and blends of colours that Van Gogh used and the natural ageing process of the paint. Some of the original colour nuances have been partly lost due to the effects of discolouration. Ella Hendriks: ‘We now know that the colour changes in Sunflowers are mainly caused by a certain type of red paint (geranium lake) fading and a certain type of yellow paint (chrome yellow) darkening. We have also gained much greater insight into the consequences of the various restorations carried out on the work. There are multiple layers of varnish on the painting, all of which were added at a later date, hence not by Van Gogh himself. These layers of varnish are dirty and yellowed, but cannot be removed because in some places, the layers of paint and varnish have mixed.'
On Friday 22 February, Sunflowers will go back on display at its familiar location at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This coming summer, the painting will take centre stage in the exhibition Van Gogh and the Sunflowers (on display from 21 June to 1 September 2019), which introduces the recent research and conservation treatment.
The UvA offers a unique interdisciplinary master and post-master Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Heritage, aimed at students with a passion for cultural heritage who want to combine theory and practice. The application deadline for enrolment in the academic year 2019-2020 is 1 February.