Picasso's La Miséreuse Accroupie (2017-)

In collaboration with the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO, Canada), and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, NU-ACCESS is undertaking a technical study of the AGO's La miséreuse accroupie by Pablo Picasso. Here we present some of our results with the aim of making this content accessible and useful to researchers interested in Picasso’s painting methods during his Blue period.

For more information visit the project webpage and the interactive press kit.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Formation of Micro-eruptions on the Surface of Oil Paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe (2015- )

In collaboration with the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, NU-ACCESS is investigating soap formation on oil paintings produced by Georgia O’Keeffe. Our research aims are twofold: 1) to identify the chemical nature of the soaps and the conditions that led to their formation and 2) to develop a protocol allowing mapping and monitoring of the micro-eruptions. Using samples of the soaps, their chemistry will be characterized to better understand the factors contributing to their development. At the same time, non-invasive imaging techniques (namely, novel reflectance transformation imaging protocols) will be used to detect, map and monitor the micro-eruptions and their evolution over time. Five representative paintings with different types of grounds and visually distinct types of micro-eruptions were selected for careful examination. We expect this study to provide us with a better understanding of soap formations in Georgia O’Keeffe paintings and to make informed decisions regarding their conservation. In addition, this research will provide a well-defined protocol to map and monitor soaps using non-invasive imaging technologies.

Tebtunis Portrait Project (2016-2018)

In collaboration with the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology (PAHMA) at the University of California, Berkeley, the Northwestern University / Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts performed a systematic technical study of Roman Egyptian paintings and mummy portraits excavated between December 1899 and April 1900 from the site of Tebtunis (now Umm el-Breigat) in the Fayum region of Egypt. To learn more about Tebtunis itself, please go to the Centre for the Tebtunis Papyri.

For more information visit the project webpage and the interactive press kit.

Information about the accompanying exhibition at the Block Museum of Art can be found here.

Cantor Museum, Stanford University

Technical Study of Rodin Sculptures (2015)

In collaboration with the Cantor Art Center at Stanford University, NU-ACCESS is conducting an extensive study of Rodin bronze sculptures. The Rodin collection at the Cantor includes sculptures cast over manydecades; from Rodin’s lifetime to a large number of posthumous castings from the 1950’s to 1980’s. Detailed archival information on these sculptures, very often including the date of casting and the foundry name, allows us to identify the unique metal formulation used at a given foundry and to document changes to alloy composition over time. X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) is the preferred tool for determining the major element composition of metal alloys, which is namely copper with variable amounts of zinc and tin. By comparing the data with the bronze sculptures previously analysed at the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, we expect to gain a better sense of casting practices inside the major Parisian foundries. Particular attention is given to the Rudier foundry in this study that appears to be characterized by an extremely consistent metal composition throughout almost a century of activity, first with Alexis and Eugène, and then under the supervision of George.

Surface-Shape Studies of Gauguin's Monoprints, Prints, and Drawings (2015)

Partner: Art Institute of ChicagoPaul Gauguin is perhaps one of the most well-known of the Post-Impressionist artists working in the late 19th century. He was born in Paris in 1848 and died in the Marquesas Islands in 1903. His paintings are inhabited by Bretons, and later, Tahitians surrounded by the flora and fauna of what Gauguin saw as an exotic, primitive and pure land on the shores of the South Pacific. Using a colorful palette and broad brushstrokes he brought these lands to life. Less known are Gauguin’s many graphic works – the focus of this internal research project. He was an academically untrained draftsman and printmaker – free to be highly experimental with the materials and techniques that he used to make unconventional prints, monotypes and transfer drawings. To this day art historians and conservators puzzle over them. 

We use computational imaging to evaluate the surface structure of Gauguin’s graphic production with the aim of better understanding his printmaking and transfer processes. In collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago we have been capturing sequences of photos from known lighting directions and use these photos to separate color from surface shape using photometric stereo. The data is giving us new – and never-before-seen – visual documentation and insight into how Gauguin formed, layered, and re-used imagery interchangeably to make these works. Based on these measurements, we are now reconstructing his printmaking and transfer techniques with the ultimate aim of firmly establishing how Gauguin approached the art-making process in these varied works of art on paper.

For a look into how computational imaging works for this project, please click here.

Click here to see how light plays a key role in 3D shape recovery. 

Brooklyn Museum of Art

A 13th Century Mamluk Glass Mosque Lamp (2015)

NU-ACCESS is investigated the origin and production of an enamel mosque lamp in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.The lamp has a flared neck, a globular body, six suspensions loops at its shoulder, and a splayed foot that has been attached to the body. All of these components were made from clear blown glass decorated with multicolored enamels and gilding. Enameled glass mosque lamps were originally produced in Egypt and greater Syria during the Ayyubid (c. 1171-1260 CE) and Mamluk (c. 1250-1517 CE) periods. However, this style of lamp was also reproduced in the 19th century to satisfy European collectors’ new tastes for “Islamic” art. This lamp from the Brooklyn Museum collection presents an interesting case study since scholars of Islamic art have suggested it has formal characteristics that could support either a Medieval or 19thcentury attribution. In this project, we use a combination of analytical techniques, including in-situ X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), Raman spectroscopy, and Scanning Electron Microscopy with Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectroscopy (SEM-EDS) to characterize the materials, their microstructure, and composition. From these data we assess the manufacturing sequence of the different parts composing the glass mosque lamp and suggest a period for its production

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York

Moholy-Nagy/Constructionof Space and Light (2013-2014)

In collaboration with the Guggenheim, NU-ACCESS will embark on in-depth study of the materials and techniques used to create collection works by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (American, born Hungary 1895-1946). An innovative and influential Bauhaus artist, Moholy-Nagy’s work spanned a wide range of media; his ideology and aesthetics are  reflected in his unconventional use of industrial support materials and explorations of  light and kinetics through new plastics, paintings and photography. In preparation for an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum , the Art Institute of Chicago and Los Angeles County Museum of Art  in 2016, NU-ACCESS partners with Guggenheim’s conservation department and will research and identify the artist’s materials, in order to better understand material choices and determine appropriate treatments for an exceptional group of works.

Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago

Technical Study of Bronze Sculptures (2013-2014)

In collaboration with the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago, NU-ACCESS will seek to acquire materials-based evidence to correlate with existing information on the casting and history of an important group of twentieth century bronze sculptures in the permanent collection of the Smart Museum. Specifically, the materials of  twenty-three bronzes, including important works by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), Jacques Lipchitz (1891-1973), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Aristide Maillol (1861 –1944) and other noted modern sculptors will be investigated. The project promises not just to advance technical knowledge of this particular group of objects but to allow sharing of comparative data among institutions, leading to a better understanding of sculptural editions and the role of different foundries in artists’ practice. Read more


Microfluidics Combined with Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS) and Chemometrics for Multiple Analyte Dyestuff Identification (2013-2014)

Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) has successfully provided specific molecular fingerprinting for many cultural heritage applications drastically reducing the amount of sample required compared to HPLC analysis.  In order to broaden the applicability of SERS even further, the Van Duyne group is developing methods to separate, detect, and identify multiple dyes from one sample using microfluidics combined with SERS.  Separation is especially important in the case of historical dyed textiles which were very often dyed with multiple dyes, from simple binary combinations to as many as 5-7 different colorants.

We will also examine the use of chemometrics for separating and identifying dye mixtures.  Based on previous work in the Van Duyne group identifying bacteria, principal component analysis (PCA) and (hierarchical cluster analysis) HCA chemometric techniques are the most promising for identifying a mixture of dyes.  Once the method has been developed, chemometrics will be implemented in combination with functionalized microfluidic FONs to develop optimal methods for identifying a mixture of dyes in historical samples.

Past Projects

Northwestern University | The Art Institute of Chicago | The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
© 2013 Northwestern University and The Art Institute of Chicago