Why Van Goghs yellows go brown

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A complex chemical reaction is to blame for the discolouration of yellows on canvases painted by the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh. Research by an international team at Antwerp University in Belgium shows that chromium used in yellow paints at the end of the 19th century is responsible for the change.

The researchers aged paint from tubes of the period artificially quickly using techniques including X-rays at the ESRF research institute in Grenoble. One specimen changed “from bright yellow to chocolate brown in three weeks,” according to one researcher. The discovery is the first step in finding a way to halt or slow the discolouration in some of Van Gogh’s works.


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