Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers are wilting. Each time a photon of light hits the paint on the petals, there is a chance of it sparking a reaction. After 130 years of photons there have been many chances — the sunflowers are now withered and faded.
A graphene film could have protected them, scientists have found. Researchers inspired by the plight of Van Gogh’s paintings have shown that spraying an atom-thick film of the carbon can block damage from sunlight while remaining invisible.
The research, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, involved coating paintings in graphene and ageing them under bright light. Over a simulated 65 years on a museum wall a single layer of graphene provided protection of about a third, while three layers would slow fading by 70 per cent.
Conservators have long battled with how to display art while protecting it. The scientists, from the University of Patras in Greece, said that light can cause the “severe and irreversible alteration of artworks that are inestimable legacies of mankind”, especially in cases with lower quality and older paint.
“A notable example is the colour change of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, in which crystals of red lead have turned into white plumbonacrite.”