Fondation Beyeler ISAAC Lab

Examination of the light sensitivity of Acanthes by Henri Matisse using Microfade Spectroscopy



The Fondation Beyeler in Switzerland has in its collection three papier découpés by Henri Matisse from around 1950. In 2009, the museum started a three year multidisciplinary conservation project that focused on the technical examination and conservation of Acanthes, a large-sized (311 x 350.5 cm) papier découpé by Henri Matisse from 1953.

It was selected to be part of the exhibition at the Tate Modern “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” in 2014. Given the light sensitivity of paper based works of art, it was important to quantitatively assess the sensitivity of the painting to light before the exhibition.

Addressing the Challenge

Matisse used gouache colours from Linel on French artist papers. The gouache is thinly applied and the painted paper pieces are cut out and glued on to a backing to form a picture. Analytical measurements of the 10 gouache paints from “Acanthes” showed that the colorants are composed of inorganic and organic pigments and dyes.

While the light-fastness of some of the same pigments in oil have been measured in our laboratory, the exact composition including impurities of the colourants and binding media used by Mattise are different from the samples. It is therefore important to carry out in situ measurements of the sensitivity of the paints to light exposure.

The ISAAC mobile lab performed in situ microfade spectrometry on the painting to investigate the light-sensitivity of the paints.


Principle Investigator: Professor Haida Liang

Research Assistants

  • Rebecca Lange
  • Andrei Lucian

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