Materials Science & Engineering

“Capturing Artists Intent in Works of the Impressionist Through the Expressionist:  Pigment Manufacture and Alteration”

Dr. Jennifer Mass

Abstract:  The new painting materials used by the Impressionists, the post-Impressionists, the early modernists, and the Expressionists were critical components of their break with traditional modes of representation.  These artists explored synthetic organic and inorganic pigments that were newly available as a result of the chemical revolutions of the 19th century. However, the bright and novel hues that made their way onto these artists’ palettes and in many cases defined the movements listed above were not always synthesized properly. As a result, pigments could range from being highly fugitive to rapidly discolored. These unstable materials might react with adjacent or admixed pigments, agents of degradation in the environment, and even the binding media surrounding them.Many artists working in this period of the 1880s to the 1920s were aware of the limitations of the materials that were available to them, and they attempted to make choices based upon the most stable options at hand. Likewise, paint manufacturers were aware that not all of their offerings were equally stable, and would note the stability of the various hues of a pigment offered for sale. Given this context, however, we still have a number of important works from this period that have changed so substantially that they no longer represent the artists’ original intent. Pigments from this period that have been found to alter over time include chrome yellow, zinc yellow, cadmium yellow, emerald green, eosin red (germanium lake), purpurin, and cochineal (carmine lake).

There are noninvasive ways to identify these pigments both before and after their alteration, including x-ray fluorescence, hyperspectral imaging, and ultraviolet-induced infrared fluorescence. To understand their mechanisms of degradation, however, requires microscale x-ray diffraction methods (XRD), x-ray absorption near edge spectroscopy (XANES), and scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM) based methodologies such as electron energy loss spectroscopy (EELS). Edvard Munch’s four versions of The Scream and Henri Matisse’s four versions of Le Bonheur de vivre will be used as case studies to examine the efficacy of the different analytical techniques for identifying even highly altered pigments, their technologies of manufacture, and their mechanisms of degradation.

Bio – Jennifer Mass received her B.A. in chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College (Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude). She completed her studies with numerous awards including the American Chemical Society Division of Analytical Chemistry Award, the American Institute of Chemists Award, and the R. Schiedt Trust for Graduate Study. She received her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry with a concentration in Materials Engineering from Cornell in 1995.

After graduating from Cornell she received a fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to conduct research at the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the Metropolitan she conducted research on the use of metallurgical byproducts as glass colorants. Dr. Mass spent 1998-2001 as an assistant professor in the Art Conservation Department at The State University of New York College at Buffalo.

In the fall of 2001 she joined Winterthur’s Conservation Department and became an affiliated faculty member for the Winterthur/University of Delaware M.S. program in Art Conservation. Jennifer was at Winterthur and the UD Art Conservation Department for fifteen years, and the laboratory director for the last eleven years.  In her role as Senior Scientist and Director in Winterthur’s Scientific Research and Analysis Laboratory, she conducted research on elemental depth profiling of paintings using confocal x-ray fluorescence microscopy, and the degradation of cadmium- and arsenic-based artists’ pigments. Dr. Mass has contributed to the field as a co-organizer of two Gordon Research Conferences in Cultural Heritage Science, as an Associate Editor for the Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, and as a two-time editor for Materials Issues in Art and Archaeology.

Jennifer has published dozens articles on her research in the art conservation, physics, and materials science literature and has presented the results of her research at professional meetings and universities throughout the world. In 2016 she became a Consulting Senior Scientist at the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam) and President of Scientific Analysis of Fine Art, LLC, a materials analysis firm dedicated to technical art history and attribution research on cultural heritage objects worldwide.

221 Academy Street
322 ISE Lab
Newark, DE 19716

Hosting Organization:
University of Delaware

April 26, 2017

10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.