Forensics Reveal Unexpected Colors In Van Gogh Paintings

Art conservators in Chicago solve a Van Gogh mystery involving his famous bedroom in Arles.

Vincent Van Gogh described his now-famous bedroom paintings from Arles, France, to his brother as having lilac and purple walls. Weirdly, the walls in his three paintings currently look more blue than purple.

Conservators at the Art Institute of Chicago analyzed the paint recently and they think they have figured out why.

PHOTOS: Gorgeous Computer-Generated Flowers Bloom

Curators at the Art Institute of Chicago were preparing to show all three paintings, when they asked their colleagues to do an in-depth scientific analysis. They wanted to know the order the paintings were done, and why the color differed from Van Gogh's own description, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported.

Francesca Casadio, who co-directs the Institute's Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, and conservation microscopist Inge Fiedler took a microscopic sample from the bedroom painting in their own collection.

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Under the microscope, the paint surface looked mostly light blue with a sprinkling of darker pigments. But then Fiedler turned the sample over. "That's when she came screaming out of the lab saying, ‘It's purple! It's purple!'" Casadio explained in an AAAS video.

Then the scientists used a technology called macro-X-ray fluorescence or MA-XRF to identify the pigment in Van Gogh's paint. Standard X-ray doesn't work on organic elements, but MA-XRF scanning does.

Turns out that the paint was made with carmine lake, a pigment produced from crushed bugs. Over time, it faded down to blues. Working with a color scientist, the conservators created a visualization of the Van Gogh bedroom that brings the purple back. They presented the re-colorized version over the weekend at the AAAS Annual Meeting.

More analysis revealed that the troubled artist completed the painting normally shown at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam first, the one usually displayed in Chicago second, and the one in the Musée d'Orsay's collection last.

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But here's the twist: "In all truth, the walls of the actual bedroom in Arles were white, were whitewashed" Casadio said in the AAAS video. "The purple is his own interpretation."

Or maybe he really did see those hues, depending on the time of day. As we know from that infamous dress debate, optical illusions abound.

The Van Gogh's Bedooms exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago displays all three paintings in one place and runs through May 10. If you do go, just picture all the walls to be more purple than they appear now.

via The Guardian

British philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell once said, "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty." One look at these computer-generated images from

Daniel Brown

and Russell's words come to life.

Brown, a London-based designer, programmer and artist who specializes in digital technology and interactive design uses custom algorithms to "grow" gorgeous floral artwork that will blow your mind. Here are 11 of our favorites.

It all started in 1999, when Brown demonstrated a computer program and mathematical model that used special code to produce fractals. The resulting animations were almost hypnotic. "It was the first time I realized that non-technical people could aesthetically appreciate mathematical formulas if they saw them 'come alive,'" he said.

Brown created the pieces in this slideshow for the

Victoria and Albert Museum

and the

D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum

, as well as projects for corporate clients. A swimming accident in 2003 broke Brown's spinal cord, causing paralysis. As a result, he uses a finger-splint device and a large track pad to operate a computer. Even without this added challenge, his flowers are uniquely beautiful; no two look exactly the same.

Several years ago Brown produced a three-story-high projection of flowers for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Each petal generated contained combinations of images from the museum's textile collection. The work was named in honor of D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a pioneering bio-mathematician known for his 1917 book On Growth and Form.

Last year, the D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum at the University of Dundee in Scotland contacted Brown after seeing his Victoria and Albert Museum work and asked him to create a piece for them. Brown said he used generative design to create the realistic flowers for this newer exhibition, which went up last spring. Each flower shape is determined by an algorithm that is then altered to take into account natural variation.

Another mathematical formula is used to generate the color and texture applied to the shapes. Each arrangement is grown over about 50 seconds, resembling time-lapse photography that's been sped up. "After this, they fade out and another arrangement is created," he said.

Brown's original pieces only used two-dimensional computer graphics that mimicked a 3-D look. However, in the past few years, computer technology has evolved so that he can simulate surfaces, behaviors and lighting in real time.

Sometimes Brown produces a flower that even amazes him. "I can't work out the particular parameters that would have gone into it, and am left scratching my head," he said. "Because the flowers regenerate every minute or so, it's a fleeting moment, and there is something almost poetic knowing that no one will ever see that one flower again."

D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson was a Scottish scientist and scholar who took various natural processes such as evolution and tried to question them mathematically. He sought to discover out how differences in shape and form between two genetically related species could be mathematically modeled, Brown explained.

He also wondered about physical processes like weather, and how they could change one shape into another. Getting contacted by the D'Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum was the ultimate honor, Brown said. "I couldn't think of a more fitting thing to do for one of my scientific heroes."

Brown's flowers are so realistic that occasionally museum visitors won't realize they're computer graphics and will insist on asking him what kind of flowers they are. Other reactions are more visceral.

"When my work was on show in the Victoria and Albert Museum, young children -- toddlers rather -- would run up to the wall it was being projected on and try and hug it," he said. "At that moment people stop seeing technology, and just see beauty."

While he's staying quiet about plans for future art projects, Brown said he looks forward to a future when 3-D printing is refined enough to print realistic versions of his computer flowers.

He imagines he'll be able to make ever more intricate and extraordinary flowers. "Although I was both an artist and programmer before my injury, I have switched to creating art purely with code," Brown said. "In that way I consider myself incredibly lucky. I think I had one of the only jobs in the world that could 'survive' such a life changing event as that."

To see more images, visit

Daniel Brown's Flickr page