Fragments from the masters become art in their own right

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The Independent Online

An art conservator and scientist who takes minuscule fragments from paintings in order to help date and restore them has seen his scientific work itself become art.

An art conservator and scientist who takes minuscule fragments from paintings in order to help date and restore them has seen his scientific work itself become art.

Nicholas Eastaugh has worked on paintings from most of Britain's major institutions, and by artists as diverse as Botticelli, Constable, Hogarth and Monet. Magnified images of the microscopic fragments he retains have now gone on show as artworks themselves.

"I always thought they were rather beautiful in their own right," Dr Eastaugh said, shortly before they went on display at the Great Eastern Hotel over the weekend, as part of the "Seriously Electric Stew" cultural carnival. The works were adapted for exhibition by Tomato, a design company .

"I'm happy to cross across to the artistic side - obviously I'm interested in art, I'm interested in the idea of producing art to make art. It brings what I do to a much wider audience," he said "And I just find them really strong images - it's one of the things I really enjoy about what I do."

The samples, which are hardly visible to the naked eye, have come from 20 years of conservation and restoration work. Dr Eastaugh does not reveal which particular paintings they come from, but says the images are "unrecognisable" as coming from their original artwork.

In his work, though, they provide valuable clues to both the authenticity and method of a painting, and even of the socio-economic conditions of the time. "For a good many years people have been taking slices to understand about materials and techniques of artists which could help from understanding more about the creative process, through to helping picture restorers and conservators in their work.

"There's a whole range of questions we're trying to answer - from the obvious, is it a fake? to questions about the artist's methods and materials," Dr Eastaugh said.

"For example, there are very clear differences between fragments from the Renaissance and the 19th century. There have been a lot of changes in materials - in the 19th century a lot of new pigments were introduced."

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