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Concept: Expressionism


I measured preference for paintings (Renoir vs. Picasso or Kandinsky vs. Mondrian) in mice. In general mice did not display a painting preference except for two mice: one preferred Renoir to Picasso, and the other preferred Kandinsky to Mondrian. Thereafter, I examined discrimination of paintings with new mice. When exposure to paintings of one artist was associated with an injection of morphine (3.0 mg/kg), mice displayed conditioned preference for those paintings, showing discrimination of paintings by Renoir from those by Picasso, and paintings by Kandinsky from those by Mondrian after the conditioning. They also exhibited generalization of the preference to novel paintings of the artists. After conditioning with morphine for a set of paintings consisting of two artists, mice showed discrimination between two sets of paintings also from the two artists but not in association with morphine. These results suggest that mice can discriminate not only between an artist’s style but also among paintings of the same artist. When mice were trained to discriminate a pair of paintings by Kandinsky and Renoir in an operant chamber equipped with a touch screen, they showed transfer of the discrimination to new pairs of the artists, but did not show transfer of discrimination of paintings by other artists, suggesting generalization.

Concepts: Binary relation, History of painting, Painting, Western painting, Expressionism, Wassily Kandinsky, Cubism


Over the past years a number of studies have described the instability of the pigment cadmium yellow (CdS). In a previous paper we have shown how cadmium sulfide on paintings by James Ensor oxidizes to CdSO(4)·H(2)O. The degradation process gives rise to the fading of the bright yellow color and the formation of disfiguring white crystals that are present on the paint surface in approximately 50 μm sized globular agglomerations. Here, we study cadmium yellow in the painting “Flowers in a blue vase” by Vincent van Gogh. This painting differs from the Ensor case in the fact that (a) a varnish was superimposed onto the degraded paint surface and (b) the CdS paint area is entirely covered with an opaque crust. The latter obscures the yellow color completely and thus presents a seemingly more advanced state of degradation. Analysis of a cross-sectioned and a crushed sample by combining scanning microscopic X-ray diffraction (μ-XRD), microscopic X-ray absorption near-edge spectroscopy (μ-XANES), microscopic X-ray fluorescence (μ-XRF) based chemical state mapping and scanning microscopic Fourier transform infrared (μ-FT-IR) spectrometry allowed unravelling the complex alteration pathway. Although no crystalline CdSO(4) compounds were identified on the Van Gogh paint samples, we conclude that the observed degradation was initially caused by oxidation of the original CdS pigment, similar as for the previous Ensor case. However, due to the presence of an overlying varnish containing lead-based driers and oxalate ions, secondary reactions took place. In particular, it appears that upon the photoinduced oxidation of its sulfidic counterion, the Cd(2+) ions reprecipitated at the paint/varnish interface after having formed a complex with oxalate ions that themselves are considered to be degradation products of the resin and/or oil in the varnish. The SO(4)(2-) anions, for their part, found a suitable reaction partner in Pb(2+) ions stemming from a dissolved lead-based siccative that was added to the varnish to promote its drying. The resulting opaque anglesite compound in the varnish, in combination with the underlying CdC(2)O(4) layer at the paint/varnish interface, account for the orange-gray crust that is disfiguring the painting on a macroscopic level. In this way, the results presented in this paper demonstrate how, through a judicious combined use of several microanalytical methods with speciation capabilities, many new insights can be obtained from two minute, but highly complex and heterogeneous paint samples.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Cadmium, Pigment, Cadmium sulfide, Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh, Cadmium pigments, Les XX


This paper presents firm evidence for the chemical alteration of chrome yellow pigments in Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam). Noninvasive in situ spectroscopic analysis at several spots on the painting, combined with synchrotron-radiation-based X-ray investigations of two microsamples, revealed the presence of different types of chrome yellow used by Van Gogh, including the lightfast PbCrO4 and the sulfur-rich PbCr1-x Sx O4 (x≈0.5) variety that is known for its high propensity to undergo photoinduced reduction. The products of this degradation process, i.e., Cr(III) compounds, were found at the interface between the paint and the varnish. Selected locations of the painting with the highest risk of color modification by chemical deterioration of chrome yellow are identified, thus calling for careful monitoring in the future.

Concepts: Light, Color, Pigment, Yellow, Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum, Chrome yellow


In the present study, we examined the eye movement behaviour of children and adults looking at five Van Gogh paintings in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. The goal of the study was to determine the role of top-down and bottom-up attentional processes in the first stages of participants' aesthetic experience. Bottom-up processes were quantified by determining a salience map for each painting. Top-down processing was manipulated by first allowing participants to view the paintings freely, then providing background information about each painting, and then allowing them to view the paintings a second time. The salience analysis showed differences between the eye movement behaviour of children and adults, and differences between the two phases. In the children, the first five fixations during the free viewing phase were strongly related to visually salient features of the paintings-indicating a strong role for bottom-up factors. In the second phase, after children had received background information, top-down factors played a more prominent role. By contrast, adults' observed patterns were similar in both phases, indicating that bottom-up processes did not play a major role when they viewed the paintings. In the second phase, children and adults both spent more time looking at regions that were mentioned in the background information. This effect was greater for adults than for children, confirming the notion that adults, when viewing paintings, rely much more on top-down processing than children.

Concepts: Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh Museum


The purpose of this study was to examine normal vision and eye disease in relation to art. Ophthalmology cannot explain art, but vision is a tool for artists and its normal and abnormal characteristics may influence what an artist can do. The retina codes for contrast, and the impact of this is evident throughout art history from Asian brush painting, to Renaissance chiaroscuro, to Op Art. Art exists, and can portray day or night, only because of the way retina adjusts to light. Color processing is complex, but artists have exploited it to create shimmer (Seurat, Op Art), or to disconnect color from form (fauvists, expressionists, Andy Warhol). It is hazardous to diagnose eye disease from an artist’s work, because artists have license to create as they wish. El Greco was not astigmatic; Monet was not myopic; Turner did not have cataracts. But when eye disease is documented, the effects can be analyzed. Color-blind artists limit their palette to ambers and blues, and avoid greens. Dense brown cataracts destroy color distinctions, and Monet’s late canvases (before surgery) showed strange and intense uses of color. Degas had failing vision for 40 years, and his pastels grew coarser and coarser. He may have continued working because his blurred vision smoothed over the rough work. This paper can barely touch upon the complexity of either vision or art. However, it demonstrates some ways in which understanding vision and eye disease give insight into art, and thereby an appreciation of both art and ophthalmology.Eye advance online publication, 13 November 2015; doi:10.1038/eye.2015.197.

Concepts: Eye, Visual perception, Visual acuity, Ophthalmology, Cone cell, History of painting, Western painting, Expressionism


The aim of this article is to ‘determine’ the scope of Goya’s eyesight difficulties and assess the extent to which those difficulties might explain his style of painting in the last years of his life.

Concepts: Evolution, History of painting, Painting, Modernism, Expressionism, Postmodern art, Still life


A non-invasive method has been carried out to show the capabilities and limitations of Diffuse Reflectance Infrared Fourier Transform Spectroscopy (DRIFTS) for identifying of colourants and binders in modern reverse glass paintings. For this purpose, the reverse glass paintings “Zwei Frauen am Tisch” (1920-22), “Bäume” (1946) (both by Heinrich Campendonk), “Lofoten” (1933) (Edith Campendonk-van Leckwyck) and “Ohne Titel” (1954) (Marianne Uhlenhuth), were measured. In contrast to other techniques (e.g. panel and mural painting), the paint layers are applied in reverse succession. In multi-layered paint systems, the front paint layer may no longer be accessible. The work points out the different spectral appearance of a given substance (gypsum, basic lead white) in reverse glass paintings. However, inverted bands, band overlapping and derivative-shaped spectral features can be interpreted by comparing the spectra from the paintings with spectra from pure powders and pigment/linseed oil mock-ups. Moreover, the work focuses on this method’s capabilities in identifying synthetic organic pigments (SOP). Reference spectra of three common SOP (PG7, PY1, PR83) were obtained from powders and historical colour charts. We identified PR83 and PY1 in two reverse glass paintings, using the measured reference spectra. The recorded DRIFTS spectra of pure linseed oil, gum Arabic, mastic, polyvinyl acetate resin and bees wax can be used to classify the binding media of the measured paintings.

Concepts: Spectroscopy, Fourier transform, Infrared spectroscopy, Fourier transform spectroscopy, Mural, Paint, Painting, Expressionism


Through the paintings of the old masters, we showcase how materials science today provides us with a vision of the processes involved in the creation of a work of art: the choice of materials, the painter’s skill in handling these materials, and the perception of the finished work.

Concepts: Visual arts, Modernism, Expressionism, The Painter


Gogh, Vincent Van (1853-1890). The Starry Night. Saint Rémy, June 1889. Oil on canvas, 29 × 36 1/4″ (73.7 × 92.1 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. The Museum of Modern Art. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.

Concepts: Modern art, Expressionism, Vincent van Gogh, Museum of Modern Art, Henri Matisse, The Starry Night, Starry Night Over the Rhone, Portrait of Dr. Gachet


The neural underpinning of art creation can be gleaned following brain injury in professional artists. Any alteration to their artistic productivity, creativity, skills, talent, and genre can help understand the neural underpinning of art expression. Here, two world-renown and influential artists who sustained brain injury in World War I are the focus, namely the French artist Georges Braque and the Austrian artist Oskar Kokoschka. Braque is particularly associated with Cubism, and Kokoschka with Expressionism. Before enlisting, they were already well-known and highly regarded. Both were wounded in the battlefield where they lost consciousness and treated in European hospitals. Braque’s injury was in the left hemisphere while Kokoschka’s was in the right hemisphere. After the injury, Braque did not paint again for nearly a whole year while Kokoschka commenced his artistic works when still undergoing hospital treatment. Their post-injury art retained the same genre as their pre-injury period, and their artistic skills, talent, creativity, and productivity remained unchanged. The quality of their post-injury artworks remained highly regarded and influential. These neurological cases suggest widely distributed and diffuse neural control by the brain in the creation of art.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Brain, Human brain, Art, Expressionism, Artist, Still life, Georges Braque