I recently wrote an exhaustive four-part series (links at the end of this posting) featuring Raman spectroscopy testing of an authenticated (Hurdy Gurdy) and a purported (Autumn Harbour) Lawren Harris paintings. During the course of my research, I sent a query to the Canadian Conservation Institute to disprove or confirm my statements regarding Canada and its database of art pigments,
.. According to some informal sources, Canada has a very small (almost nonexistent) data bank of information about pigments used in its important paintings. For example, the federal government’s Canadian Conservation Institute has a very small database of pigments and nothing from Lawren Harris paintings [unconfirmed at time of publication; June 18, 2014 query outstanding] …
Marie-Claude Corbeil, Ph.D. Gestionnaire de la Division de la science de la conservation | Manager of Conservation Science Division, very kindly replied to my query with this on July 10, 2014 (I believe she was on holidays [en vacances] when my query was received in June),
The Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) has been conducting research into the materials and techniques of Canadian artists (mainly 20th-century artists) since the early 1990s. Databases were created for each artists. At the moment CCI has no such database on Harris.
The CCI is the only institution in Canada carrying out this kind of research. I would add that European conservation institutes or laboratories have a long tradition of conducting this type of research focusing mainly on European art, basically because many were created long before North-American conservation institutes or laboratories were established.
… An important point to make is that scientific investigation is only one part of an authentication study. Authentication should start with stylistic study and research into the provenance of the artwork which are carried out by curators and art historians.
Regarding your question about Raman spectroscopy, I would say that Raman spectroscopy is only one of many techniques that can be used to analyse paint or any other material. At CCI we often use up to six techniques to analyse paint to obtain the full makeup of the sample including pigments, fillers and binding media. I should also add that analysis of material is carried out at CCI to answer questions related to a number of issues, including but not limited to authentication. Analysis is often carried out to understand the degradation of museum objects and works of art, or to provide information required during the course of a conservation treatment.
Thank you for this excellent explanation and for your time.
Art (Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven), science (Raman spectroscopic examinations), and other collisions at the 2014 Canadian Chemistry Conference
ETA July 14, 2014 at 1305 PDT: For those who want more information, Ms. Corbeil has provided some articles about the CCI and its Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project:
The Canadian Artists’ Painting Materials Project, 1992, J. M. Taylor. (PDF)
Detecting Art Fraud: Sometimes Scientific Examination Can Help, 1993. J. M. Taylor (PDF)
CCI 1993 Taylor
The Canadian Artists Painting Materials Research Project, 1995, Marie-Claude Corbeil (PDF)
*’Istitute’ changed to ‘Institute’ on Jan. 14, 2016.