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2,500 Pigment Samples Collected from Around the World Are on Display in Harvard’s Labs

Ranging from ancient bits of Egyptian blue glass to fluorescent hues gathered from every corner of the world, these 2,500 samples of pigment make up just a subset of Forbes' Pigment Collection. A rainbow of vintage glass vessels are tucked into cabinets at labs of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies at the Harvard Art Museum. Renovated to increase public transparency, visitors are able to see conservators at work within these halls, carefully using the thousands of colours to upgrade and restore artwork in the birthplace of the craft.

Over a century ago, the science of art conservation was born at the hands of a man named Edward Forbes. Founder of the Strauss Center, throughout his lifetime Forbes travelled the world on a quest to collect and analyse a wide range of pigments. This obsessive desire to understand how basic materials were used to create fine art, and why deterioration of colour occurred would eventually lead to the formation of this priceless library of reference colours. Forbes' work spurred an entire field that began to take a science-based approach to look into the composition of art materials and use this knowledge to restore decaying pieces.

In an interview with Wbur, Harvard's Senior Conservation Scientist Narayan Khandekar commented: “We often want to understand how an artist painted, what materials they used to create these wonderful things we look at. We want to understand what the pigments look like under the microscope, and to understand chemically the whole process, we want to understand how these things age.” As Forbes understood over a century ago, and modern conservators know today: the pigments tell a story, and the preservation and study of them can help to maintain priceless art in the future.

Above images via Zak Jensen & Andrea Shea/WBUR

Image via Andrea Shea/WBUR

Image via Peter Vanderwarker

Image via Zak Jensen

Image via Zak Jensen

Image via Andrea Shea/WBUR

Image via Andrea Shea/WBUR

Image via Zak Jensen

via [Colossal]

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