Van Gogh’s fading Sunflowers… and other tales of decaying art

Like people, works of art inevitably change with time. They get restored, are preserved in perfect environments by conscientious museums, and yet there is still no way to freeze a masterpiece for ever. Even the comparatively recent paintings of Vincent van Gogh were reported this week to be losing their original colour. Here are five works of art that have seen better days.

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Van Gogh, Sunflowers (1888)

Van Gogh’s use of red lead is causing his paintings to grow dull, reports say. I suspect that few people look at Van Gogh’s gold and earthen sunflowers and think them colourless, however. The truth is that the artist’s techniques have been studied in unusual depth by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. His art is not more at risk than most paintings – we just know more about its chemical structure. That kind of knowledge is always distressing, like knowing your own medical statistics.

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Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991)

If the supposed deterioration of Van Gogh’s art is invisible to the naked eye, the flabby white wrinkled decay of the tiger shark Damien Hirst pickled to create his most famous work is impossible to ignore. Hirst seems to have overestimated the preserving power of formaldehyde. When his toothy vitrine was first revealed at the Saatchi Gallery almost a quarter of a century ago, the perfectly preserved shark created a menacing illusion. Today, it is a lumpen relic, a curiosity, a very dead shark. More here – The Guardian.

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