Russian Avant Garde Research Project - Scientific Art Analysis of works by Goncharova and Larionov

A newly founded charity, the Russian Avant Garde Research Project (RARP;, is undertaking support of a series of projects to advance the wider understanding of the Russian avant garde through the application of different varieties of scientific, art technological and art historical research. A recently launched effort is focused on the important Russian avant garde artists Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, whose oeuvres are known to be infiltrated by forgeries. Its goal is to help enhance scholarly insight by multiple means, and in so doing, alleviate the repercussions to the authentic works of the Russian avant garde.

This ground-breaking project is a collaboration between the leading scientific art analysis firm Art Analysis & Research and the Museum Ludwig (Cologne; The Museum Ludwig has extraordinary holdings of the Russian avant garde; the museum’s fourteen paintings by Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, dating from 1905-1916, will serve as the basis for the study. They will be examined with a spectrum of advanced technologies and proven analytical methods in order to compile a robust technical catalogue raisonné for the paintings of the two artists, thus allowing science and technology to be wielded in the service of art history. This particular combination of advanced imaging, materials analysis, data analytics, and technical art history is the protocol used by Art Analysis & Research, who have applied it with success in the service of clients as diverse as museums, various sectors of the art market and artists’ foundations.


The Synthetic Organic Pigment (SOP) Initiative

Description: An informal working group of institutions interested in learning more about the production and use history of SOPs, and in improving means for their identification in paintings. First meeting held at the Doerner Institut, Munich (Germany), 20-21 November, 2014, second at the Technische Universität, Dresden, Germany, 29 May 2015.

Research partners:

  • The Doerner Institut, Munich (Germany)

  • Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Germany)

  • Akademie für Bildende Künste, Stuttgart (Germany)

  • Koninklijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium (KIKIRPA), Brussels (Belgium);

  • Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE), Amsterdam (Netherlands)

  • Hochschule der Künste Bern (HKB), Bern (Switzerland)

  • AA&R, London (UK)


Quantifying the Bomb Curve – Research into Bomb Curve C14 Analysis

Funding: Grant application, 2013, with the NRCF (a UK-based national grant-giving body for radiocarbon measurements)

Description: Recently, there has been widespread coverage recently of a ‘new’ technique to detect fake paintings based on what is known as the radiocarbon ‘bomb curve’. Given the level of interest we feel it is important to briefly clarify where this stands as a method and the extent to which it can be seen as a useful addition to the toolkit. It should be noted though that the bomb curve approach is also not simply a method for weeding out fake paintings but has significant potential for studies around artists’ material practices since the 1950s. It is therefore crucial that we properly understand the issues surrounding reliable and effective application of the technique.

Use of the ‘bomb curve’ (also ‘bomb pulse’) as a technique for detecting forgeries is not new and was published as long ago as 1972 (Keisch and Miller, Nature, 240, 1972, 491-2). Since that time there has been only limited interest and no major scientific review of it as an approach. It should also not be confused with the related but distinct approach looking for the presence of key fission isotopes such as Caesium-137.

The group that conducted the recent analysis of a canvas sample from a supposed Leger painting have previously published a preliminary paper on the application of bomb curve measurements to modern art in 2012. Analysis of canvas samples in that paper was quite limited and most of their data actually derived from measurements of modern papers. This work is undoubtedly an important contribution to the field; nonetheless there remain a number of significant issues to be addressed. In particular questions such as the impact of different forms of contamination and sample preparation have yet to be fully explored.

We are currently wrapping up a substantial programme of analysis on a large group of well-characterised samples from paintings of known origin, sufficient to address fundamental questions around reliability, practicality and proper interpretation of data. This necessarily included careful consideration of what were appropriate reference paintings to include in such a study and establishing the critical protocols necessary to it carry out, such as detailed pre-analysis of samples.

Dissemination: The final collection of material and running of measurements is currently underway and we expect to report back through a peer-reviewed forum later in 2015.

Research partners:

  • RLAHA/ORAU at the University of Oxford (UK)

  • Tate, London (UK)

  • The National Museum of Art, Oslo (Norway)

  • AA&R, London (UK)


Intelligent Hyperspectral Imaging (INHERIt) Project

Funding: Project start October 2014, with Innovate UK, Technology Strategy Board

Description: To develop an integrated, low-noise, laser-based, active hyperspectral imaging system with built-in signal processing capabilities for decision making purposes is a highly desirable tool for spectroscopic analysis & detection. A system that can integrate noise reduction hardware and embedded signal processing into a single hyperspectral imager would enable the automatic detection and identification of a diverse range of substances based on their spectral markers. Encompassing these capabilities in a single unit makes it particularly suitable for a number of applications, particularly by allowing non expert users to apply the technology with its built-in decision making capabilities. In this project, we will investigate the feasibility of designing and implementing such a system for application to the challenge of analysing & authenticating artwork. This application presents a high-value opportunity to exploit a significantly under-regulated market where very high value objects are traded with little or no real assurances about their authenticity. The outcomes of this project will guide the design and implementation of the next generation of hyperspectral imagers for applications in the art world and beyond. The project presents a disruptive change in the field, credible market potential and will address the needs of a wide range of important and timely applications.

Dissemination: Publication of results in a peer-reviewed journal forthcoming.

Research partners:

  • Department of Engineering, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow (UK)

  • M Squared Lasers, Glasgow (UK)

  • Frauenhofer, Glasgow (UK)

  • AA&R, London (UK)


Tempera paints: Their history of use and manufacture as alternatives to oil-based systems for easel painting. International Working Group.

Description: An informal international working group of individuals and institutions working on the art technology and analysis of “tempera” binding media systems in the 19th century. Aspects of research involved cataloguing the European producers of “tempera” paint systems, use and reception of such materials and their analysis in works of art. The project was initiated by Karoline Beltinger, Head of Technical Studies at the Swiss Institute of Art Sciences (SIK-ISEA), and Dr. Jilleen Nadolny, AA&R in 2010.

Schedule of meetings held:

  • 25 September, 2010, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Vienna (Austria)
  • 21 September, 2011, Department of Paintings Conservation, New University, Lisbon (Portugal)
  • 28 September, 2012, Doerner Institut, Munich (Germany)
  • 1 November, 2013, Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft (SIK-ISEA), Zurich (Switzerland)

Dissemination: An edited collection of studies by various group members, to be published by SIK-ISEA and Archetype Ltd, London.

Organizing partners:

  • Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft (SIK-ISEA), Zurich (Switzerland)
  • AA&R, London (UK)