The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks, by J. M. W. Turner
The colors artists used in the sunsets of their paintings may provide clues to what was circulating in the air hundreds of years ago.
High-quality digital photographs of sunset paintings from 1500 to 2000 show that the ratio of red to green along the horizon of each painting was associated with the level of airborne ash and soot spewed from erupting volcanoes of the time. Researchers also had artists paint successive sunsets during and after particles from the Sahara passed over the island of Hydra in Greece to test the finding.
The results suggest that artists' work may offer another way to study past atmospheres in places and times when data from instruments are not available, the team reports March 25 in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.