Researchers discovered that a particular brand of paint favored by the Spanish artist had an atomic structure that predisposed it to degradation.
From Van Gogh’s sunflowers to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” there’s no shortage of seminal artwork that was made with a striking hue known as cadmium yellow. But that riot of color that artists squeezed from their paint tubes isn’t necessarily what museum goers see today: cadmium yellow’s brilliance often diminishes over time, as the paint fades and turns chalky.
And it’s not only centuries-old artworks that are affected. A team of art conservators and scientists recently analyzed bits of degraded cadmium yellow paint taken from pieces painted by the Spanish artist Joan Miró in the 1970s. One particular brand of paint was likely most responsible for the degradation observed in the Miró pieces, the team concluded in a study published in July in the journal Heritage Science.
Cadmium yellow paint is an amalgam primarily of cadmium and sulfur. It was first commercialized in the 1840s, and soon gained renown among artists. Miró described the color as “splendid.” Tubes of cadmium yellow paint, including Cadmium Yellow Lemon No.1 produced by the Parisian manufacturer Lucien Lefebvre-Foinet, litter Miró’s two studios in Mallorca, Spain.