Russian avant-garde… or not? A micro-Raman spectroscopy study of six paintings attributed to Liubov Popova


  • Paper published as part of the Art and Archaeology 2009 special issue.


Russian avant-garde is an artistic trend that flourished in Russia from approximately 1900 to 1935. Many artists of the Russian avant-garde—Malevich, Kandinsky, Rodchenko, Popova—became world-famous figures. With the onset of Perestroika, Russian avant-garde art became very popular in the West. The demand was high, prices zoomed and soon the market was flooded by forgeries. A full authentication study of a work of art, including the opinion of an expert, tracing back the provenance of the object and technical analyses, is a labour-intensive and time-consuming task normally reserved only for expensive masterpieces. Yet they are not the only ones to be forged. Clearly, an approach is necessary that can quickly and at a relatively low cost distinguish a copy from an original. Raman spectroscopy was evaluated as a tool for identifying pigments of chronological inconsistency (pigment anachronisms) by analysing six paintings attributed to Liubov Popova, one of the most prominent figures of the Russian avant-garde. The high spatial resolution, the pronounced sensitivity towards synthetic organic pigments and the negligible contribution of the binding media added to the successful identification of the pigments in tiny paint chips taken from the six paintings. Based on the results of especially the synthetic organic pigments identified, the Terminus post quem date could be given, the earliest point in time when the paintings could have been made. Composite spectra, to which several inorganic and/or synthetic organic pigments contribute, could be unravelled making use of dedicated digital libraries. These anachronism studies allowed us to conclude that none of the works could be attributed to Liubov Popova. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.