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Vincent van Gogh, (Dutch 1853-1890), Untitled, Still Life: Ginger Pot and Onions (detail), 1885, oil on canvas, 34.5 x 49.5 cm, Gift of Herman Levy, Esq., O.B.E., 1984

The Unvarnished Truth: Exploring the Material History of Paintings

October 7 – November 27
The Unvarnished Truth: Exploring the Material History of Paintings is organized and circulated by the McMaster Museum of Art. The MMA gratefully acknowledges the support of the Museums Assistance Program, Canadian Heritage and the Ontario Arts Council.

The Unvarnished Truth brings together discoveries made by an international team of nearly 30 researchers―scholars of applied radiation sciences, anthropology, art history, biomedical engineering, as well as conservators, conservation scientists, forensic art historians, and curators―who worked together to examine nine historical paintings from the collections of the McMaster Museum of Art including works by Van Gogh, Van der Neer and Jawlensky.  In addition to the touring exhibition, this research project includes a publication, a website, and a series of public events.

The Unvarnished Truth was conceived by Brandi Lee MacDonald at McMaster University in 2010 as a series of conversations about the potential for non-destructive techniques to analyze works of art, and quickly evolved to become a multidisciplinary, collaborative study. Initial research questions on themes including painting technique, materials, attribution, connoisseurship, and stability, led to even more interesting questions. The result is a series of unique narratives not only about the paintings but also about the research process itself.

The complementary website, to launch at theunvarnishedtruth.mcmaster.ca, will allow everyone to see the research, zoom in on high resolution details, and explore beneath the surface of the paint. See layers revealed only by IRR, Xray, RTI and UV analysis as well as researchers’ notes.

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