Applied Physics A

, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 25–34 | Cite as

On the discovery of an unusual luminescent pigment in Van Gogh’s painting “Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven”

  • D. ComelliEmail author
  • A. Nevin
  • A. Brambilla
  • I. Osticioli
  • G. Valentini
  • L. Toniolo
  • M. Fratelli
  • R. Cubeddu


Spectrally and lifetime-resolved UV-induced luminescence imaging have been applied to the in situ analysis of Vincent Van Gogh’s painting on paper “Les bretonnes et le pardon de pont Aven”. The in situ investigation revealed the presence of an unusual microsecond green emission from the white painted areas of the watercolour, and this long-lived emission has not been reported in modern paintings by other authors. In order to attribute and suggest an identification of the luminescent pigment, our analysis was integrated with further measurements on commercially available modern white pigments (zinc white, Lithopone white, Blanc Fixe, zinc sulphide, and copper-doped zinc sulphide) and with an in-depth study of the synthesis processes of zinc-based pigments available at the end of the 19th century. Analysis suggested an attribution of the unusual emission from the Van Gogh painting to a particular variety of zinc sulphide pigment, characterized by the presence of copper impurities which were unintentionally introduced in the crystal matrix during its production. The present study is the first application of lifetime imaging for the mapping of long-lived luminescence from the semi-conductor pigment.


Zinc Sulphide White Pigment Paint Sample Emission Decay Copper Impurity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Authors wish to thank Lucia Tarantola for her valuable help and guidance during the in situ analysis of the Van Gogh painting at the Milano Modern Art Gallery.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Comelli
    • 1
    Email author
  • A. Nevin
    • 1
  • A. Brambilla
    • 1
  • I. Osticioli
    • 1
  • G. Valentini
    • 1
  • L. Toniolo
    • 2
  • M. Fratelli
    • 3
  • R. Cubeddu
    • 4
  1. 1.Dipartimento di FisicaPolitecnico di MilanoMilanoItaly
  2. 2.Dipartimento di ChimicaPolitecnico di MilanoMilanoItaly
  3. 3.Galleria d’Arte Moderna di MilanoMilanoItaly
  4. 4.IFN-CNR, Dipartimento di FisicaPolitecnico di MilanoMilanoItaly

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