Scientific technique to analyse paint goes inside Van Gogh's mind

Unmasking the original colours of two Van Gogh paintings have shown how the changing state of the artist's tortured mind influenced his work.

A self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh

Both are of the same subject, Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom at 2, Place Lamartine, Arles, Bouches-du-Rhone in France. And today, the two versions of Bedroom At Arles, painted a year apart, look much the same.

But peel away the surface using a technique called x-ray fluorescence spectrometry and striking differences emerge.

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In the first painting, completed in 1888, the room was originally composed in cheerful, luminous colours – pale violet, yellow, scarlet, lilac and light green. The second version, painted after Van Gogh had fallen out with fellow artist Paul Gauguin and cut off a piece of his own ear, was darker and more sombre, so that the shade of violet chosen was almost blue.

It is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago, where a major new exhibition is bringing together both paintings together with a smaller third copy also completed by the artist.

Dr Francesca Casadio, an art conservation scientist at the Institute, whose team conducted the analysis, said: “They were painted a year apart between 1888 and 1889 when everything had changed. And it is reflected in the work.”