The Science Beneath the Scream

“It is a moral imperative to preserve these works for future generations”.   - Jennifer Mass, President, Scientific Analysis of Fine Art, LLC, Professor, Univ of Delaware

This research is designed to solve an urgent problem facing the world’s fine art museums - the disfigurement of treasured Impressionist and early modernist masterpieces due to 100+ years of light exposure resulting in the physical and chemical breakdown and discoloration of the early synthetic pigments in these works. This problem affects literally billions of dollars of our global cultural heritage, including works by Edvard Munch, Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso.  Edvard Munch’s The Scream (c. 1910), belonging to the Munch Museet (Oslo), has regions of paint degradation (fading and flaking cadmium yellow paints) in the sky, the water behind the central figure, and, most disturbingly, the yellow paint used in the face and neck of the central figure has in several brushstrokes faded away completely to white.

The goal of this current study is to elucidate the discoloration mechanisms observed in the two paintings in question using micro-x-ray diffraction (microXRD) and speciation (microXANES) mapping, to determine if these mechanisms can be correlated with the use of indirect wet process synthesized cadmium sulfide (CdS).