MA-XRF imaging on René Magritte's La condition humaine: Insights into the artist's palette and technique and the discovery of a third quarter of La pose enchantée

29 Aug 2017

Abstract Magritte’s composition La condition humaine, 1935 was found to conceal under its paint layers an entire quarter of a lost composition by the artist, until recently only known from a small black/white catalogue illustration—La pose enchantée, 1927. This study is the latest contribution to the discovery of the artist’s missing painting, now known to have been cut into four parts and re-used by Magritte as the support for new compositions. Non-destructive analytical and examination methods and specifically macroscopic X-ray fluorescence (MAXRF) scanning and conventional X-ray radiography (XRR) were the two non-destructive analytical and examination methods used to study both compositions and add to the existing knowledge on the artist’s palette during both periods. The first method is capable of identifying the presence and the distribution of key chemical elements present in artists’ materials. In some instances elemental mapping provided useful information on the hidden painting, but conventional X-ray radiography (XRR) enabled a better visualisation of the form and paint application of the underlying composition. Furthermore, the turnover edges of the canvas reveal after over 80 years the artist’s palette directly to the viewer. Additional XRF scanning of this exposed paint has confirmed and added to the existing research published to date of this lost painting, including a proposed colour reconstruction, but at the same time highlighting the need for further analytical research involving both non-destructive point analysis and the use of paint samples.