Scientists identify woman behind repainted Degas portrait | News | DW | 04.08.2016
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Scientists identify woman behind repainted Degas portrait

Australian researchers have used a particle accelerator to reveal a portrait by Edgar Degas, nearly 140 years after the artist decided to paint over it. The image was long believed to be "indecipherable."

The newly unmasked image likely shows the face of one of Degas' favorite models, Emma Dobigny, the scientific team announced on Thursday.

"This has been a very exciting discovery," said conservator David Thurrowgood, an employee of the National Gallery of Victoria where the picture stands.

"It is not every day that a new Degas painting is found, in this case, hidden in front of us."

Fans of the 19th century impressionist have long known that his "Portrait of a Woman" hides another image below the surface. Faint outlines of the older portrait were first noticed in the 1920s.

However, the hidden image "has long been considered to be indecipherable" without damaging the portrait that covered it, the research team wrote in a Scientific Reports article.

Finding true colors

For its reconstruction, the team used the Australian Synchrotron, a particle accelerator used for high-resolution imaging.

The machine produces light that is "a million times brighter than the sun, many orders of magnitude greater in power and intensity compared to standard, hospital-like X-rays," researcher Daryl Howard told the AFP news agency.

Twitter user Nicolas Robert tweeted the repainted image on the left with the reconstruction on the right. The artist had turned the canvas upside down before starting over.

The team also used custom-made software to reconstruct colors based on the chemical composition of the paint. The repainted image was not damaged in the 33-hour process.

The name of the woman whose image covers the likeness of Emma Dobigny is still unknown, and art historians still do not know why the artist decided to cover up his earlier work.

The detection method, called synchrotron scanning, has already been used in several other cases. In 2008, researchers used it to show the portrait of a peasant woman underneath Vincent van Gogh's "Patch of Grass."

dj/kms (AFP, wdr)

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