The color darkening of selected brushstrokes of the masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte – 1884 (by Georges Seurat) has been attributed to the alteration of the chromate pigment zinc yellow. The pigment originally displays a bright greenish-yellow color but may undergo, after aging, darkening to a dull, ocher tone. We used XANES to probe the oxidation state of Cr on paint reconstructions, and show that color changes are associated with the reduction of Cr(VI) to Cr(III). Paint mixtures containing the pigment and linseed oil to mimic mixtures used in La Grande Jatte were subjected to artificial aging in the presence of light, SO2, and variable air humidity—50 and 90% relative humidity. High relative humidity led to the largest degree of Cr(VI) reduction whereas low relative humidity promoted light-induced alterations. These results are corroborated by visible reflectance measurements on the same laboratory samples and contribute to a better understanding of the chemical reactivity of chromate pigments, which are present in many historical works of art.
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