Fading Miros. Why a painter's yellows aren't so yellow anymore. From Van Gogh's sunflowers to Edvard Munch's '' The Scream,'' there's no shortage of seminal artwork that was made with a striking hue known as cadmium yellow.

But that riot of color that artists squeezed from their paint tubes isn't necessarily what museum goers see today : cadmium yellow's brilliance often diminishes over time, as the paint fades and turns chalky.

And it's not only centuries old artworks that are affected. A team of artwork conservators and scientists recently analyzed bits of cadmium yellow paint taken from pieces painted decades ago by the Spanish artist Joan Miro.

One brand of paint was very likely the most responsible for the degradation seen in the Miro pieces, the team concluded in a study published in Heritage Science.

Cadmium yellow paint is an amalgam primarily of cadmium and sulfur. It was first commercialized in the 1840s and soon gained renown among artists. Miro described the color as ''splensis.'' Tubes of cadmium yellow paint, including Cadmium Yellow Lemon No.1 produced by the Parisian manufacturer Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet, litter Miro's two studios in Majorca, a Spanish island.

In 2020,Mar Gomez Lobon, an art conservator in Majorca, began investigating the paints that Miro used after he settled on the island in the 1950s. 

An art conservator at the Pilar and Joan Miro Foundation had told her that more than 25 pieces in the foundation's collection painted in the 1970s showed evidence of degraded yellow paint.

Ms. Gomez Lobon and her colleagues collected flecks of cadmium yellow paint from three untitled pieces that Miro painted from 1973 - 1978.

They also took samples from three paint tubes from the artists Taller Sert and Son Boter studios, a cup used for mixing paint and two palettes.

Ms. Gomez Lobon and her collaborators analyzed the nine samples from Miro's paintings and studio materials by recording how the paint absorbed, reflected and re-emitted different wavelengths of light.

That allowed the time to investigate the chemical makeup and crystalline structure of each sample. [ Katherine Kornei ]


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