Using Atom Bombs To Detect Forged Art


[MUSIC] Han Van Meegeren might be the most famous
art forger of the 20th century. He perfected the art of making fakes look
really old, adding aging chemicals to his paints, even baking the finished piece and
using a rolling pin to crack the paint. He once tricked Nazi leaders into trading
137 priceless paintings for one forgery. Han’s forgeries are so well-known themselves
that they’re on display in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Bad fakes are easy to pick out, but how do
you detect a world-class forgery from a world class artist? Historians typically rely on their eyes and
their knowledge, and they’ve been fooled many times. But if you want to be the next master forger,
you’ve got your work cut out for you. There’s new scientific tools that make it
almost impossible to pass off a fine art fake, and one is thanks in part, oddly enough, to
the nuclear arms race. Beginning in the 1940s, we exploded over 550
nuclear bombs above ground, and this put huge amounts of two radioactive isotopes into the
atmosphere. These isotopes didn’t exist on Earth before
1945, because they are only created by fission reactions. Since then they’ve been sprinkled into the
environment in miniscule amounts and show up everywhere from our bones and brains to
pigments and painting supplies. Any forgery made since 1945 will almost certainly
contain a pinch of radioactivity from these isotopes. Everything from old wine bottles to woodcarvings
can be tested to tell if it was made after 1945. But if someone forged a Leonardo way back
in the 1800s? We need a different trick. Like carbon dating. Carbon-14 is a heavier, radioactive isotope
of carbon that’s much rarer than ordinary carbon. Things that eat air, like plants, and things
that eat those things, have a fraction of this heavy carbon in their cells alongside
all their normal carbon. The radioactive carbon-14 is constantly decaying,
but it’s also being replenished as they eat. But the moment something dies, the carbon-14
stops being replenished, and what’s there slowly decays away. By comparing the radioactive carbon to normal
carbon, we can date the material. Canvas, wood, even the oils used in paints
are all plant-based and can be carbon dated. This method proved that a Fernand Léger painting
bought by collector Peggy Guggenheim was actually painted in 1959, four years after the artist’s
death. What’s under a painting can be just as informative
as the art itself. In the days before Amazon, canvases were hard
to get, so artists often painted masterpieces on top of other paintings. X-rays revealed Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait
with Glass” What? You really want to say Van Goff? Van Gocch? Van Go! Van Goff? Van Go. Whatever! X-ray’s revealed Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait
With Glass” has a woman’s entire portrait underneath, and Picasso’s “Old Guitarist”
was a re-used half-finished canvas. A clever forger today knows – if you want
to make a good fake, you have to paint over an old painting. When “Portrait of a Woman”, attributed to
Goya, was x-rayed, it was shown to be a fake when a portrait by a completely different
artist was found underneath. So also make sure you’re painting over something
that matches. If these other methods fail, the paint holds
one more clue, like blood at a crime scene. Paint has three main ingredients: pigment,
for color; a binder, to hold the paint together; all dissolved in a solvent, like water or
oil. It’s a chemical palette that’s that ripe
for forensics. Since different different pigments were used
in different different places over the different different centuries, they can give us an idea
when and where a painting was made. Zapping the paint with electromagnetic radiation
and looking at the light it emits can tell us what elements are there. These spectra are like a fingerprint for specific
atoms. They can tell if a red, for instance is from
cinnabar or rust. If there’s one element that doesn’t belong,
the painting may be fake. For most of history, white pigments contained
toxic lead, which was later phased out in favor of other white pigments. So when investigators examined this painting
by Frans Hal and found white paint containing zinc, a pigment not invented until after Frans’
death? Forgery confirmed. Only they didn’t find out until after it
sold for $10 million dollars. But remember Han Van Meegeren? He beat this atomic forensics by making his
own authentic 1500s paints, with old pigments like cinnabar red and lead white. So with all his tricks, how was he caught? The chemicals formaldehyde he added, to harden
and ‘age’ the paints? It was too modern. Even with authentic paint and canvas, and
a master’s touch, the one thing he couldn’t do was make his paintings look the right kind
of old. There’s just no substitute for time. So the next time you’re in a museum, look
around and ask yourself how many forgeries you think are hiding there in plain sight,
and how long until science sees the real picture? Stay curious.

100 comments

  • Emma Volden

    I’m having a great day, ya’ll

    Hope u r too

    Reply
  • NeonPowar

    When you are dutch and you cringe so hard when you hear van gogh

    Reply
  • Agent P

    I’m curious about the radioactive particles from nuclear weapons testing. Who’s to say those particles didn’t come into contact with original works as they moved through the air?

    Reply
  • Ti ti

    1:05 that what u gonna be seein wen kimmy hits that big red button

    Reply
  • Alexander Melnichenko

    what is that scream?

    Reply
  • Smegma Lasagna

    Didn’t you say Van Gogh right the first time?

    Reply
  • Smegma Lasagna

    Two Dutch man in one video 👌🏻

    Reply
  • Tiago Marques

    I liked Joe’s effort to pronounce “van Gogh” correctly (only to be corrected to the American pronunciation…): however, the guttural sound of the last g should be the sound of the first g as well.

    Reply
  • 3rik fresh generation

    Just subscribed bruh i dont mind learning something new gotta work out my brain . never die bro and make videos for life

    Reply
  • Curly McJensenpants

    I learned a lot of this from White Collar 😂

    Reply
  • Lee Olsson

    Fascinating!

    Reply
  • Colten Q.

    Cool video but the white collar episode was really cool I think its in season 2

    Reply
  • xClordon_

    You actually say van gog not van go

    Reply
  • Aeipathy

    I thought this was vox for second lol

    Reply
  • kaiyu9028

    here's the problem,
    what if paintings from long ago have nuclear particles on them?

    Reply
  • Shane Bowman

    You had the pronunciation half right until the asshat behind the camera "corrected" you. "Van" is pronounced like "fun". Like "volkswagen" is "folkswagen".

    Reply
  • Kristiyan Krastev

    Thing about art I don't get – does it matter if it was painted by a famous person or someone that is probably better than them, and has "forged" the exact same copy? I mean end of the day – it's the same painting, same quality and everything, doesn't matter if it's by 2 different people, if the end result is the exact…

    Reply
  • Round Pi

    The Ultimate Forgery: A Forgery of a Forgery

    Reply
  • Round Pi

    What's the name of the music in the outro?

    Reply
  • dojokonojo

    If a forgery is so good that it can only be determined by physics and chemistry, I think the forgery merits its own gallery spot.

    Reply
  • awsomeabacus

    It is not "van 'Go'". It's dutch. If you're going to make that joke at least get it right

    Reply
  • Deborah Melo

    Love it!

    Reply
  • IEAIAI0

    Crazy Redd…

    Reply
  • fassstar

    It's actually not "van Go" it's supposed to be pronounced "van Khokh" (where the 'kh' is like the 'ch' in Scottish 'loch')

    Reply
  • Ronnie Edwards

    Damn if it's that good of a forgery then I consider it art in of itself.

    Reply
  • Marinus Laurentius

    You pronounced ‘van Gogh’ more correct initially actually, as it is said in Dutch. Not sure why in English the somewhat silly sounding vaan Gooh. My guess is that it is an English emulation of the way the French would pronounce the name incorrectly. Funny, maybe because van Gogh worked in France.

    Reply
  • Nemo_Veritas

    Wilhelm scream, we meet again… Also, that music resembles a lot the one from American Beauty…

    Reply
  • Masum Hasan

    Art is all about feeling. Something is as special as you think it is. What's the point of asking who painted it?

    Reply
  • intel386DX

    I do not care is it one paint fake or not, the impotent thing is to be beautiful done 🙂

    Reply
  • Angus MacMillan

    Great video. Great job.

    Reply
  • Rayer

    1:50 we saw this trick in math last week, that's quite cool

    Reply
  • DrachenSeele

    1:20, to who did the painting look red?

    Reply
  • Yash Tiwari

    MAY GOD SAVE MR. BEAN AND WHISTLERS MOTHER 😂

    Reply
  • Arvid Carlsson

    ok but if those radiation molecules have been in the air since the 50s.isn't there a possibility that the real paintings have got some of those on them

    Reply
  • Clayton Benignus

    Often good fakes fetch a good price even after they are exposed.

    Reply
  • Dylan Truong

    No substitute for time you say? Well then, RELATIVITY DO YOUR THING!

    Reply
  • Ireallyreally Hategoogle

    Next time you see "art" worth millions, ask yourself who stole it, who got killed for it and who profited from it.
    Art should not be about money but it is because capitalism means everything is for sale.

    Reply
  • #TuAnh Nguyen

    Im NOT lying, but January 2nd is my BIRTHDAY!!! 😊😊

    Reply
  • Senhor dos Caminhos

    van gogh = fah' hoh

    Reply
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    Reply
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    Reply
  • morgan t

    NO. VAN GOFF. NOT VAN GO. DON'T LISTEN TO THEM.

    Reply
  • Thomas McLaughlin

    you were much closer to the dutch pronunciation with your first attempt at van Gogh's name… why did the camera man have to be so silly and correct you??

    Reply
  • Jadon Triebre

    533rd

    Reply
  • Dan Pilkington

    Mate his name is pronounced van Goff

    Reply
  • Yeasty Yeastington

    Nudity at 4:58

    Reply
  • Just some comment channel

    If it tears, it´s real

    Reply
  • Some1

    Amserdam Rijkamuseum!!!
    I’m dutch👍🏻😄

    Reply
  • KvAT

    The real question is : how do you detect forgeries that came only after around 1-5 years after the original painting came out?

    Reply
  • Kyrakia

    It’s actually pronounced Van G-oh-k as it’s from the Netherlands, so Goff is closer

    Reply
  • fuzzy

    Wrong

    Reply
  • Chirag adwani

    This almost feels clickbait🤔

    Reply
  • Mr. Cringe

    How

    Reply
  • Boti Gamer

    4:40 Actually he got caught trading with Himmler, and was accused of "colaborating with the enemy". To avoid a death sentence, he came out as a forger. He was even told to paint a forgery in front of a court

    Reply
  • Mihail Colun

    Lies everywhere

    Reply
  • Iasso

    The real question is why this matters at all. If the human eye can't detect the forgery, then the effect of the painting on the person is genuine. The only people who care are either Historians or Buyers, and most of humanity is neither. Waste of money. Beauty is beauty.

    Reply
  • Matthew Yeet

    Who cares if the painting is fake as long as it looks nice and you like it

    Reply
  • Keith B

    "stay curious."
    You stay curious…. and research the topic you are narrating a video about (i.e. learn how to pronounce the names). "Van Goff"… smh.

    Reply
  • jack cohen

    Although he could try sell the fakes damaged so when they are restored the evidence is contaminated.

    Reply
  • Not Me

    ACTUALLY radioactive particles DID exist millions of years ago, in some place (I dont remember where) there was a cave that was a naturally formed reactor before man even got the idea.

    Reply
  • Pi

    Hey, this is stolen from Reactions

    Reply
  • Siclox03

    i cant still understand art -_-

    Reply
  • Not Applicable

    Sorry but if someone makes a painting so good its indistinguishable from the real works then it is a real work.

    Reply
  • Sarah P

    3:28
    Goddammit

    Reply
  • Georg Plaz

    Van Go? :'(

    Reply
  • peewee

    Bought by P E G G Y

    Reply
  • Sara B

    He's name's not "Van Go". It's Van Gogh. It's pronounced with a short "o" and a "g" only with more breath involved.

    Reply
  • joseph's daughter's son

    …vango…… whatever.

    ….LoL😂😅

    Reply
  • atha

    outro music anyone?

    Reply
  • Just2words7585

    But even if it was before the bombs were detonated, they would still probably have some radiation land on the painting.

    Reply
  • Tudor P

    How to make ez clickbait title in 4 easy steps:
    1.Think of something so common in our world that we don't really question it, like toilets.
    Think of one material or process that made it possible.example:
    Fiberglass makes great insulation
    2.Think of something that helped make the first one possible
    melting sand makes glass
    3.Repeat
    sand is just rocks ground by the ocean.
    4.profit:
    How we made insulation out of rocks!

    Reply
  • The Dank Lord Of The Sith

    First thought: so they nuke the painting?

    Reply
  • Hà Trương

    june 2018

    Reply
  • Iwer Sonsch

    So… is a "forgery" just a real painting attributed to a less recent artist? Still art, still probably has the properties you'd expect from art

    Reply
  • Alice Nguyen

    I just wanna say as that you were more accurate with '' Van Goff'' than the production with ''Van Go''

    V= V in Vet
    G = G in Get
    O = O in clOck
    GH = Ch in loCHness monster

    Not quite exact but more exact 😀

    Reply
  • Friendly Dragon

    Van go

    Reply
  • Shrimp Bisque

    This video reminds me of the bit from Amélie where she's trying to help her neighbor who lost her husband in an accident climbing Mont Blanc. The husband had written letters to the neighbor all throughout his expedition, so Amélie forged a lost letter from him. She snuck some of the real letters away, photocopied them, and pieced together a new letter. Then she photocopied that letter and soaked the paper in coffee and hung it to dry to make it look old.

    Reply
  • Adyant Srinivasan

    If all the paint was covered in radioactive atoms then shouldn’t the old painting also be covered by those radioactive atoms

    Reply
  • AlamoWealth Builders

    he is smart

    Reply
  • Jamie Bertram

    >.< "Van go" thanks for the initial attempt at accurate Dutch pronunciation at least!

    Reply
  • Insha Alam

    Glad to know that the world war had some benefits as well!!

    Reply
  • illegal eagle

    Finally, I can use my collection of Stolen Active Nuclear Weapons for something!

    Reply
  • TCarrot Gaming

    Time to get a 3D printer to make some fake paintings…
    Oh, it'll be a few years until that technology is invented.
    I'd rather use it to make humans instead anyway.

    Reply
  • JnT H

    POOR WILHELM!

    Reply
  • Jaime Miguel Leogardo

    Everyone complaining about the pronunciation of "van Gogh", and I'm here contemplating the pronunciation of "van Meegeren".
    Also, why does it feel so wrong to pronounce "van Gogh" properly in front of other people?

    Reply
  • Henk-Jan Bakker

    An almost exclusive dutch episode. How cool is that. But also sad. Finally someone getting close to van Gogh and he get 'corrected'.

    Reply
  • liz neilson

    What if someone had materials dated back then? Wouldn't it be easy to make a fake with old out dated paints ect.?

    Reply
  • Account no longer in use

    They…they "miscorrected" him! He was pretty close to saying it right the first time, dammit

    Reply
  • S C

    Damn, with all this effort you might as well paint a real one instead of making a forgery.

    Reply
  • Shanine Jackman

    i know this has nothing to do with the current video but….can you guys makes a video on why some people walk on there toes? lmfao ive been toe-walking ever since i was a kid,please explain why in a video im really curious XD

    Reply
  • Oriel Bragais

    Freaky Physics – Oh, wrong video.

    Reply
  • Aidan Reynolds

    I mean, sure, radioactive particles got into paint, making forgery nearly impossible to pull off, but wouldn't those same radioactive particles get into those famous paintings, making real paintings a tiny bit radioactive as well?

    Reply
  • Fatima Kane

    can’t tell if it’s a fake? nuke it.

    Reply
  • ReindeerCat337yt

    b o o m
    Now you can tell fake paintings

    Reply
  • LOL Science

    He just couldn’t call it a video without adding at least one pun at the very end!!!

    Reply
  • Wazrobe*

    Yeah I don’t think this painting is real, nuke it

    Reply
  • Gail Raby

    It's not Van Go..and It's not eye-ranian, or I-talian or even A-merican.

    What is it with you A-mericans going against the rest of the planet?

    Reply
  • Rubs

    2:52 actually came pretty close to correct pronunciation there

    Reply
  • Titanic

    Peggy actually was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who went down with the Titanic.

    Reply
  • Legacy of Lore

    You pronounced van Gogh nearly correctly the first time, dammit

    Reply

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