2D X-ray and FTIR micro-analysis of the degradation of cadmium yellow pigment in paintings of Henri Matisse

Abstract

The chemical and physical alterations of cadmium yellow (CdS) paints in Henri Matisse’s The Joy of Life (1905–1906, The Barnes Foundation) have been recognized since 2006, when a survey by portable X-ray fluorescence identified this pigment in all altered regions of the monumental painting. This alteration is visible as fading, discoloration, chalking, flaking, and spalling of several regions of light to medium yellow paint. Since that time, synchrotron radiation-based techniques including elemental and spectroscopic imaging, as well as X-ray scattering have been employed to locate and identify the alteration products observed in this and related works by Henri Matisse. This information is necessary to formulate one or multiple mechanisms for degradation of Matisse’s paints from this period, and thus ensure proper environmental conditions for the storage and the display of his works. This paper focuses on 2D full-field X-ray Near Edge Structure imaging, 2D micro-X-ray Diffraction, X-ray Fluorescence, and Fourier Transform Infra-red imaging of the altered paint layers to address one of the long-standing questions about cadmium yellow alteration—the roles of cadmium carbonates and cadmium sulphates found in the altered paint layers. These compounds have often been assumed to be photo-oxidation products, but could also be residual starting reagents from an indirect wet process synthesis of CdS. The data presented here allow identifying and mapping the location of cadmium carbonates, cadmium chlorides, cadmium oxalates, cadmium sulphates, and cadmium sulphides in thin sections of altered cadmium yellow paints from The Joy of Life and Matisse’s Flower Piece (1906, The Barnes Foundation). Distribution of various cadmium compounds confirms that cadmium carbonates and sulphates are photo-degradation products in The Joy of Life, whereas in Flower Piece, cadmium carbonates appear to have been a [(partially) unreacted] starting reagent for the yellow paint, a role previously suggested in other altered yellow paints.

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Acknowledgments

This work is supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Barnes Foundation, the Lenfest Foundation, and the National Science Foundation DMR 0415838. The  European Synchrotron Radiation Facility are acknowledged for providing beamtime. Barbara Buckley of the Barnes Foundation and Unn Plahter of the University of Oslo are thanked for their many helpful discussions.

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Correspondence to E. Pouyet.

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Pouyet, E., Cotte, M., Fayard, B. et al. 2D X-ray and FTIR micro-analysis of the degradation of cadmium yellow pigment in paintings of Henri Matisse. Appl. Phys. A 121, 967–980 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00339-015-9239-4

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Keywords

  • Yellow Paint
  • Paint Layer
  • XANES Spectrum
  • CdSO4
  • European Synchrotron Radiation Facility