Beginner’s Luck

This week, I learned how to use the Art + Science lab’s camera that was modified for infrared imaging. Infrared imaging allows us to see the underlayers of a painting because infrared light is less strongly absorbed by paint. So, this light can bypass the top layer(s) of paint and is reflected back to the camera by the lower layers/the canvas. Stay tuned for a later post that talks more about how this works!

When learning how to use the tool, we tested it on a painting that was on hand in the Art + Science lab — for it was awaiting conservation work. The painting is from the Stanford collection and depicts one of the Stanford’s horses and one of the family dogs.


The background of the painting consists of two walls forming horse stalls with wooden finials at the end of each wall. The finials are located in the upper right quadrant of the image.

When we take a picture of the painting with the infrared camera, however, two ghost finials emerge. We can see a third one between the two that appear in the final version of the work and a fourth one to the right of both final finials. Van Zandt, the artist, clearly reworked the background of the painting, and it seems as though he decided to shift the stalls to the left.

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This transition of the stalls is part of the story of “Abe Edgington with Dog ‘Bill,’” and due to my investigation into the infrared, I now have the opportunity to share it. I was incredibly lucky, on my first try, to observe a difference between an artist’s final product and initial idea. Some may call it “beginner’s luck,” and, hopefully, this luck will continue as I begin to look into more works of the Cantor collection.

So, come back to learn more about the hidden stories of the Cantor collection’s works!

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