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Forensic Art History: The Anders Ädel Pigment Dispute 1839-1841

Conference contribution
Authors Ingalill Nyström
Jacob Thomas
Johan Knutsson
Anneli Palmsköld
Kaj Thuresson
Anders Assis
Published in Book of abstract. InArt conference 21-25 March 2016 Gent, Belgium
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Conservation
Language en
Keywords XRF; DSA-ToF-MS; Raman; GC-MS; interdisciplinary; Folk art; pigment; paint.
Subject categories Art History, Analytical Chemistry, Spectroscopy, Other materials science


This multidisciplinary study concerns a 19th century dispute regarding three pieces of painted furniture -a table, a chest and a small casket- decorated by the 19th century painter Anders Ädel (1809-1888) from Söderhamn, Hälsingland, Sweden. Ädel is considered as one of the foremost painters in Hälsingland. His art works - painted furniture and interiors - are displayed in museums, private homes and can also be found in some of the sites of the UNESCO World Heritage Decorated farmhouses of Hälsingland. In 1839 Ädel accused his client, the farmer Erik Olofsson, in court of having paid too little for the objects as he used more pigments than those for which he had been paid; this was after Ädel was first sued by the pigment merchant Forsberg for an unpaid bill [1,2]. Almost 180 years later scientific methods combined with historic source research have been used to understand what pigments and techniques Ädel actually used when painting the furniture. Through this study we demonstrate how multidisciplinary collaboration between natural sciences and humanities can contribute to deeper knowledge and new interpretations of historical materials. The scientific analyses were preceded by historic analyses of the juridical protocols found in archives. Non-invasive analyses using different XRF were conducted directly on the painted furniture in situ, see fig 1. Additionally, samples were taken for supplementary analyses using FT-Raman spectroscopy and DSA-ToF-MS and GC-MS. According to the judicial protocol the defendant, Olofsson, claimed that he had already paid for the artist’s materials i.e. linseed oil, lead white, red lead, cinnabar, Prussian blue, “silverglitt” (lead yellow) and "möngel" (unknown). Ädel then called in a guild painter named Blombergsson who declared that there seemed to be more pigments used in the painted furniture than those mentioned. He also believed that the work should be valued higher. Indeed, our results show that Ädel did use different pigments than those bought. For example, preliminary results show that Prussian blue was not used but rather indigo (according to FT-Raman spectra). Analysis of the green paint shows that Ädel used a mixture of green pigments including one that contains copper and arsenic indicating emerald green. In conclusion, the forensic evidence gathered so far in this study suggests that Ädel rather painted with slightly different pigments than those the client Olofsson had purchased for the commission. Apart from this, the judicial protocols give an insight of what pigments Ädel had access to and when combined with the scientific analyses this information can give historic evidence of the artist's materials and painting technique. Acknowledgment: The presented study is part of a larger interdisciplinary project “A holistic study of Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland”, in which methods from natural and historical sciences are applied to the decorative folk arts and crafts in the farmhouses of Hälsingland, UNSCO World Heritage. The project is four years long and funded by the Swedish Research Council. The study is a collaboration between different researchers: conservation scientists, chemists, physicists, conservators, art historians and ethnologists and the project participants besides the authors are: Yvonne Fors1,3, chemist, Dep. of Cons, GU/Dep. of Cons. science, RAÄ Thomas Zack, geologist, Earth Science, University of Gothenburg Aleksandar Matic, physicist, Applied Physics, Chalmers Florian Nitze, physicist, Dep. of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chalmers Susanne Wilken, physicist, Applied Physics, Chalmers The project is also collaborating with other experts such as: Sven Isaksson, Archeologist, Archeological Research lab, University of Stockholm Lars Nylander, Antiquarian, Hälsinglands museum, Hudiksvall Mélanie Platzgummer, World heritage coordinator Bollnäs county. Lena Landström, World heritage coordinator, Gävleborg county administrative board Photographer: Yngve Söderquist, Ljusdalsbygdens museum, Ljusdal References: [1] Västra Hälsinglands domsaga, Dombok för Ljusdals Tingslag 1838-1839, Vol. AI.a:17: Vårtinget 1839 §67, Hösttinget 1839 §45. Landsarkivet Härnösand. [2] Västra Hälsinglands domsaga, Dombok för Ljusdals Tingslag 1840-1841, Vol. A1.a:18: Vårtinget 1840 §55, Hösttinget 1840 §48, Vårtinget 1841 §48. Landsarkivet Härnösand.

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