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Conservation treatment of Van Gogh’s Sorrowing old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’)

In the painting conservation studio the work Sorrowing old man (‘At Eternity’s Gate’) by Vincent van Gogh has been restored for the exhibition Da Vermeer a Kandinsky. Capolavori dai musei del mondo a Rimini. It is on display in the Castel Sismondo, Rimini from 21 January to 3 June 2012, together with two other paintings from the Kröller-Müller collection, namely Auguste Renoir’s Le clown musical and Piet Mondriaan’s Compositie No. 11.


During treatment: detail of top right corner of the painting. On the right the yellowed varnish has been removed, on the left it is still in place.

During the conservation treatment of Van Gogh’s Sorrowing old man, external conservator Esther van Duijn removed the layer of old varnish and the underlying dirt layer. The varnish layer, consisting of a natural resin, was applied to the surface of the painting in 1949 and over the years had become very yellow.

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During conservation treatment:
Left photo: Front of the whole painting with a vertical strip on the right where the yellowed varnish has already been removed.
Right photo: Front of the whole painting with a vertical strip on the left where the yellowed varnish has not yet been removed.


By removing the yellowed layer of varnish, the painting’s cooler and brighter palette and the distinct brush strokes became visible again. Thus, the conservation of the painting made a big difference visually.


During conservation treatment: details of two locations with not discoloured red lake paint in the middle of the right edge of the painting (after removal of varnish).

During the conservation treatment, it was found that an organic red lake paint, present in the paint mixture used for the background, has faded over the years. Along the right edge of the painting, two locations exist where the organic red lake paint is not – or at least less – discoloured. As these areas on the edge of the painting have always been protected against exposure to light by paper tape and by the rebate of the frame, the red lake paint is not - or to a far lesser degree than the rest of the painting - faded. Unfortunately, on the middle part of the background of the painting, fading has occurred; the light, near-white wall panels in the middle of the background were once bright pink! Regrettably, fading of organic red lake paintings is a common phenomenon within Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre*.

*Further information on fading of red lake paints within Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre: Esther van Duijn, “The conservation of Vincent van Gogh’s Orchard bordered by Cypresses, F513”

Project coordination: Luuk van der Loeff en Margje Leeuwestein
Duration: Sep 1, 2011 - Dec 31, 2011