Detecting art forgeries using LA-ICP-MS incorporating the in situ application of laser-based collection technology

Kari Smith, K.L. Horton, N. Schoular, John Watling

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    32 Citations (Scopus)


    The nature of art lends itself to forgery as a skilled and determined forger can mimic the techniques and styles of an artist to a level where even an expert can be duped. The authentication of paintings is a subjective process, but modern techniques may provide the means to provenance artist pigments based on elemental composition. This study applies laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to the analysis of artist paints from different manufacturers to identify variation between the elemental association patterns of these materials. The technique facilitates comparison of the paints used by an artist with produced works of art to assist provenancing initiatives of questioned materials. The effects of the trace element profiles of the backing substrate and binder on analytical data were also identified. By applying the technique to paint scraped from real paintings, a limited database was created to allow comparison to be made with some of Australian artist, Kathleen O'Connor's artworks and assist in determining production chronology. Data from this study were able to facilitate comparison of blue paints from two different paintings and confirm their co-provenance consequently determining the relative production date of a separate painting of previously unknown age.Preliminary trials of a prototype collection device designed to reduce damage and allow for in situ sampling of artworks were also undertaken. The device, which allows direct laser-based sampling of a complete painting, was tested using a Francis Ryan painting. The prototype allows for the collection of debris directly generated by LA-ICP-MS of a predefined area of a painting prior to subsequent analysis using direct LA-ICP-MS. This collection method significantly minimizes the amount of damage produced by conventional sampling methods. Analyses of the debris collected, using the prototype, were found to be comparable to the scrapings of equivalent paint analysed using direct LA-ICP-MS analysis. (c) 2005 Elsevier B.V All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)402-413
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2005


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