Did you know that Carl Zeiss can tell the difference between a real Van Gogh and a forgery?

Did You Know…

… that ZEISS Can Tell the Difference Between a Real Van Gogh and a Forgery?


When the eccentric 35-year-old artist settled in the southern French town of Arles in 1888, he had not yet achieved his breakthrough as a serious painter. After spending time in Antwerp and Paris, Vincent van Gogh created no fewer than 187 paintings in just 16 months in this small provincial town. The blue and yellow hues characteristic of southern France are clearly reflected in the paintings of the final period of his work. But did van Gogh himself really paint all the works attributed to him?

A research project is now aiming to clarify this: together with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Shell, employees of ZEISS are now examining the authenticity of some doubtful works. Microstructures, pigments, and priming layers provide information about the originator of the paintings. Using a transmission electron microscope (TEM) from ZEISS, the research scientists analyze razor-thin layers from color particles that have flaked off the paintings. The results can make supposed van Goghs totally worthless in an instant.

How? An ion beam cuts microscopically small cross-sectional layers from the material. This is where the TEM comes in: examining the prepared layers with the aid of a special analytical process, it is possible to determine the material composition of a specimen very precisely. And what did the researchers find out? Van Gogh preferred to use white lead mixed with zinc white: even 120 years later, it is possible to identify materials and painting techniques personally favored by the artist.

7 April 2009