Monet's painting under the microscope

Cambridge Univ Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Microscopy And Microanalysis, 2003, 9 (2), pp. 139 - 143
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An oil painting by Claude Monet, Port-Goulphar, Belle-Ile 1887 (collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales), was examined to determine both the identity of the pigments used by the artist in this painting and his technique of mixing colors and laying paint on the canvas. The extremely complex construction of the painting was revealed by optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), energy dispersive X-ray analysis (EDS), and X-ray mapping (XRM) analysis of cross sections of paint flakes excised from damaged regions of Port-Goulphar, Belle-Ile. Nine different pigments were found on the painting. Many of the identified colors were modern pigments that became available only late in the 19th century as a result of scientific advances in pigment chemistry. Although similar colors were available in a natural mineral form, they lacked the vivid color of their manufactured counterparts. The use of these new synthetic metallic oxide colors by Monet accounts for the brilliance of his paintings. In addition, a separation between successive paint layers was observed in some areas of paint chip cross sections, indicating that oil-based paint was applied to paint that had dried, and consequently, Port-Goulphar, Belle-Ile was painted over a long period of time. This observation is contrary to the general perception of Monet's technique of painting freely and quickly.
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