Probing the chemistry of CdS paints in The Scream by in situ noninvasive spectroscopies and synchrotron radiation x-ray techniques

Sci Adv. 2020 May 15;6(20):eaay3514. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aay3514. eCollection 2020 May.


The degradation of cadmium sulfide (CdS)-based oil paints is a phenomenon potentially threatening the iconic painting The Scream (ca. 1910) by Edvard Munch (Munch Museum, Oslo) that is still poorly understood. Here, we provide evidence for the presence of cadmium sulfate and sulfites as alteration products of the original CdS-based paint and explore the external circumstances and internal factors causing this transformation. Macroscale in situ noninvasive spectroscopy studies of the painting in combination with synchrotron-radiation x-ray microspectroscopy investigations of a microsample and artificially aged mock-ups show that moisture and mobile chlorine compounds are key factors for promoting the oxidation of CdS, while light (photodegradation) plays a less important role. Furthermore, under exposure to humidity, parallel/secondary reactions involving dissolution, migration through the paint, and recrystallization of water-soluble phases of the paint are associated with the formation of cadmium sulfates.