Museum workers had a chance to take a closer look at the painting when they took it down for some repairs in March 2019. In the course of that work, one conservator noticed red paint peeking through cracks near Marie-Anne’s head and asked museum scientists to check it out. Metropolitan Museum of Art chemist Silvia A. Centeno used infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence mapping to peer beneath the painting’s surface, revealing layers of paint that artist Jacques-Louis David had painted and then covered up (Heritage Sci. 2021, DOI: 10.1186/s40494-021-00551-y). The X-ray fluorescence technique allowed the researchers to map individual elements, revealing where he had painted different colors. Centeno and her colleagues determined that the first version of the painting showed the Lavoisiers at a desk with large sheets of paper and other accoutrements signifying their roles not as chemists, but as high-level bureaucrats called fermiers généraux who were responsible for tax collection. Anne-Marie also wore an extravagant, fashionable hat, which the researchers say showed off the couple’s wealth and status. The researchers suggest the Lavoisiers reconsidered the wisdom of flaunting their involvement in France’s exploitative tax system as the French Revolution gained momentum, thus the painting we know today. Antoine-Laurent was executed nonetheless in 1794, along with other fermiers généraux. Warning babble Chloroform is a hazardous chemical, as the label on any bottle of the stuff will tell you.
by Sam Lemonick |
September 26, 2021