Portrait of a Woman by French impressionist Edgar Degas looks like it’s hiding something. Degas completed the work between 1878 and 1880, and as early as 1922, the faint outline of an earlier work started to creep through the thin oil paint.
Now researchers know what exactly lies beneath. Australian researchers used a synchrotron to scan the painting with radiation targeting specific chemical elements, a technique called X-ray fluorescence that in the past has revealed do-overs and Easter eggs.
Building on this previous work, the Australian team created concentration maps of metallic elements across the canvas at brush-stroke resolution. Based on those maps, the team inferred which specific paint pigments Degas might have used and create a false color reconstruction of the painting beneath.
That painting also depicts a woman, just a different one: Emma Dobigny, a model that Degas favored in past works, the group writes August 4 in Scientific Reports. Why exactly the artist kept the earlier work and then painted over it remains a mystery.