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High-energy X-rays shine light on mystery of Picasso's paints
Date:2/7/2013

ARGONNE, Ill. (Feb. 6, 2013) -- The Art Institute of Chicago teamed up with Argonne National Laboratory to unravel a decades-long debate among art scholars about what kind of paint Picasso used to create his masterpieces.

The results published last month in the journal Applied Physics A: Materials Science & Processing adds significant weight to the widely held theory that Picasso was one of the first master painters to use common house paint rather than traditional artists' paint. That switch in painting material gave birth to a new style of art marked by canvasses covered in glossy images with marbling, muted edges, and occasional errant paint drips but devoid of brush marks. Fast-drying enamel house paint enabled this dramatic departure from the slow-drying heavily blended oil paintings that dominated the art world up until Picasso's time.

The key to decoding this long-standing mystery was the development of a unique high-energy X-ray instrument, called the hard X-ray nanoprobe, at the U.S. Department of Energy's Advanced Photon Source (APS) X-ray facility and the Center for Nanoscale Materials, both housed at Argonne. The nanoprobe is designed to advance the development of high-performance materials and sustainable energies by giving scientists a close up view of the type and arraignment of chemical elements in material.

At that submicroscopic level is where science and art crossed paths.

Volker Rose, a physicist at Argonne, uses the nanoprobe at the APS/CNM to study zinc oxide, a key chemical used in wide-band-gap semiconductors. White paint contains the same chemical in varying amounts depending on the type and brand of paint, which makes it a valuable clue for learning about Picasso's art work. By comparing decades-old paint samples collected through e-Bay purchases with samples from Picasso paintings, scientists were able to learn that the chemical make up of paint used by Picasso matched the chemical makeup of
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Contact: Tona Kunz
tkunz@anl.gov
630-252-5560
DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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