Forbes Pigment Labs: MFA-Boston

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MFA Scientific Research Lab

The Scientific Research lab at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston began in 1929 by William J. Young, a British scientist and conservator. Young worked closely with the scientists and conservators at the Fogg Art Museum, Rutherford Gettens and George Stout, often helping with spectroscopic analysis.

The MFA was among the first in the world to introduce a modest in-house scientific research facility. Today, the Scientific Research Laboratory employs some of the same highly sensitive instruments often used in forensic science to study microscopic samples taken from works of art. The research scientists play a pivotal role in conservation and curatorial research, using chemistry, biology, engineering, physics, geology and other disciplines to provide not only detailed information about materials and techniques found in artworks, but also diagnostic information for conservators developing treatment and preservation strategies.

Forbes Pigment collection set

Forbes kept sets of artists' materials at the Fogg Museum lab as well as a private collection at his home. After Forbes death in 1969, a team of conservators, Arthur Beale, Rhoda Burden, and Brigitte Smith, diligently took stock of Forbes private collection of artists materials. Portions of pigments were subdivided to create reference collections at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Intermuseum Conservation Laboratory, Cleveland OH (formerly Oberlin OH). Samples remaining in the bottles were then sent to Institute of Fine Arts, Conservation Center, New York University, New York NY.

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