Those museum scientists can do amazing things

Two articles which appeared in major newspapers on Friday July 19, 2013—one about Diana Widmaier-Picasso’s attempt to compile a catalogue raisonne of her grandfather’s sculptures (“A Picasso Heir’s Epic Hunt”, by Kelly Crow, Wall Street Journal) and the other about the likely destruction by burning of seven paintings that were stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam (“Romanian’s Tale Has Art World Fearing Worst”, by Liz Alderman, The New York Times)—provide a glimpse into the work that museum scientists do. Those investigators can analyze the composition of a group of sculptures “to see if they contain enough of the same elements to confirm they indeed were made from the same metallurgical recipe and therefore cast by the same foundry at around the same time—and not years later” and they can determine that the ash found in a wood burning stove contains “material that classical French, Dutch, Spanish and other European artists typically used to prepare canvases for oil painting as well as the remains of colors like red, yellow, green, blue, gray.” If you were reading these articles and didn’t already know what else they can do, wouldn’t you want to find out?