Bedroom Eyes: Blogging the Restoration of a Van Gogh

For art world junkies, access to the secret corners of museums can be an addictive substance. On the few behind the scenes tours I’ve been on, the restoration areas have always been a highlight. Part art gallery, part ER—these rooms are where greatness goes to get a second, and sometimes third or fourth, life. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has turned the restoration of Vincent Van Gogh’s The Bedroom (pictured) into a teachable and entertaining moment through a new blog that will trace the process of the restoration as part of an exhibition to be called Bedroom Secrets: Restoration of a Masterpiece.

Van Gogh painted The Bedroom while living in Arles in the home now known as “The Yellow House.” "When I saw my canvases again after my illness,” Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo in 1889, “what seemed to me the best was The Bedroom." Van Gogh had just been hospitalized for the infamous bout of depression that had led him to mutilate his own ear. The Bedroom had already suffered a great deal as well from the dampness of Van Gogh’s abode. Vincent pasted newspapers over its surface and pleaded with Theo to reline the canvas to reinforce it before the image was damaged entirely. Theo finally agreed, but only after Vincent agreed to paint two more versions of The Bedroom as a safety measure. All three versions still exist, but experts agree that the version at The Van Gogh Museum is the original.

As we walk through art museums and enjoy the works of the past, we often take for granted the hard work and expertise required to keep these works in presentable shape not only for today, but for tomorrow as well. The curators and restorers promise to continue blogging with every little detail of the process, allowing the whole world into their Bedroom secrets and to marvel at their magical technique. I personally plan to follow along in real time as the secrets of the painting, and the restorers, unfold.

It’s encouraging to watch mainstream museums embrace social media technology such as blogging. I’ve always felt that there as an audience for insider knowledge at museums. Every time I hear a curator introduce an exhibition at a press preview, I wish someone could capture those words and bring them to the public. Audio tours always aim low and, tragically, succeed in giving only a glimpse of the knowledge available. A blog that allowed curators to share their knowledge as well as their sparkling personalities (a pleasant bonus during many a press preview) could open museum doors to a whole new and, potentially, younger audience. Perhaps Bedroom Secrets is the beginning of the end of a long-held secret—museums are living things, full of mysteries, people, and fun.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

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Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.

Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)

In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.

Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
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