UCL News


The chemistry of art

27 August 2004

Since the first cave drawings by early man, the artist's raw materials have been determined by advances in chemistry.

Young Woman Seated at the Virginals by Vermeer A symposium held in honour of one of UCL's eminent chemists, Professor Robin Clark, will celebrate the intimate relationship between the two disciplines.

'Shedding Light on Colour - Pigments, Chemistry and the Development of Art' takes place at UCL's Department of Chemistry on 9 September 2004. Featuring prominent speakers from the fields of art and chemistry, the symposium promises to inspire and encourage debate on this fascinating subject.

Speakers include Ms Libby Sheldon of UCL's Department of Art History, who will discuss her recent research. She used a variety of techniques, including polarising light microscopy and x-ray examination, to authenticate the Vermeer painting, Young Woman Seated at the Virginals. The painting recently sold at Sotheby's for £16,245,600.

Professor Clark will discuss his research on pigment analysis, which has included collaboration with Ms Sheldon to identify the Vermeer painting, using Raman spectroscopy, a technique which analyses chemical mixtures by looking at the way they scatter light. Raman spectroscopy is non-destructive, and has been successfully used for a number of high profile projects. It was used to analyse the pigments of the Lindisfarne Gospels (c715 AD) and to establish a basis for the detection of forgeries in Hawaiian and Mauritian stamps from the 1800s, said to be worth £1 million.

The science writer Dr Philip Ball will discuss how advances in chemistry have affected artists throughout the ages in his seminar 'How Chemists Invented Colour'. Dr Andrea Sella of UCL's Department of Chemistry will discuss 'Chemistry, Light and Colour', in a demonstration lecture which will illustrate the interaction of light with pigments and other materials can create a deeper understanding of matter.

Image: Young Woman Seated at the Virginals, Vermeer.

To find out more about the symposium or about Professor Clark use the links below.

Department of Chemistry
Professor Robin Clark