Exploring a hidden painting below the surface of Rene Magritte's Le Portrait
Faculty of Sciences. Chemistry
Applied spectroscopy. - Baltimore, Md
, p. 57-67
University of Antwerp
Two state-of-the-art methods for non-invasive visualization of subsurface (or overpainted) pictorial layers present in painted works of art are employed to study Le portrait, painted by Belgian artist Rene Magritte in 1935. X-ray radiography, a commonly used method for the nondestructive inspection of paintings, had revealed the presence of an underlying figurative composition, part of an earlier Magritte painting entitled La pose enchantee (1927) which originally depicted two full length nude female figures with exaggerated facial features. On the one hand, macroscopic X-ray fluorescence analysis (MA-XRF), a method capable of providing information on the distribution of the key chemical elements present in many artists' pigments, was employed. The ability of the X-rays to penetrate the upper layer of paint enabled the imaging of the facial features of the female figure and provided information on Magritte's palette for both surface and hidden composition. On the other hand, visible and near infrared hyperspectral imaging spectroscopies in transmission mode were also used, especially in the area of the table cloth in order to look through the upper representation and reveal the pictorial layer(s) below. MA-XRF provided elemental information on the pigment distributions in both the final painting and the prior whereas the transmission mode provided information related to preparatory sketches as well as revealing differences between the paints used in both compositions. These results illustrate very well the manner in which the two imaging methods complement each other, both in the sense of providing different types of information on the nature and presence of paint components/pigments and in the sense of being optimally suited to easily penetrate through different types of overpaint.