Raman microscopy allows a non-destructive characterisation of inorganic and organic painting materials such as pigments and organic dyestuffs. The objectives of this study are the more recent organic pigments typically present in paintings and other art works from the 20th century. More than 20 organic synthetic pigments from different chemical classes could be identified by Raman spectroscopy using different excitation wavelengths (457.9, 476.5, 487.9, 514.5, 632.8, and 1064 nm). To evaluate the performance for real paint samples, varying paint mixtures of the Hansa Yellow pigment PY 3 and the binding medium Mowilith, a polyvinyl acetate (PVAC) compound, were characterised; PY 3 was determined at a 1 wt% level in the binder. In addition, commercial tube paints containing the quinacridone violet PV 19 were studied. The pigment was clearly identified in all of these more complex oil and acrylic paints. Finally, alizarin (PR 83) and a green copper phthalocyanine pigment (PG 7) could unambiguously be identified by Raman microscopy in the painting ‘Woman with mandolin in yellow and red’ of Max Beckmann dating 1950. The discovery of a red naphthol AS pigment by Raman spectroscopy in a sample from the ‘Three field workers’ by Georg Baselitz (1964/1965) demonstrated that in some cases complementary chromatographic methods are needed for a comprehensive identification of the organic pigments. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.