Conservation Case Study: Infrared Reflectography and Artist Technique

Infrared Reflectography and Artist Technique

Pouncing is a technique used to transfer a drawing on paper onto another surface to serve as a guide for a painting. Tiny holes are pricked into the paper along the drawn lines and then the paper is placed over a prepared surface (usually panel, canvas or fresco). The pricked drawing is rubbed with charcoal, leaving dotted lines that transfer the drawing to the surface below.

As the artist progresses with the painting, the pounced lines are usually covered by paint and become invisible to the viewer. However, conservators can use infrared reflectography (IRR) to determine what lies beneath the paint. IRR is a non-destructive examination method that detects carbon-based materials such as graphite, charcoal and ink. Because these materials are often used to create a preliminary sketch for a painting, IRR is effective in the study of underdrawings. With this technique, infrared radiation (IR) passes through the paint and interacts with the underdrawing. These interactions are captured with an IR-sensitive camera, revealing fascinating information about an artist's technique, including changes to the composition.

Stonehenge by Jasper Cropsey

Stonehenge, by Jasper Cropsey, was painted in 1876 and features the site's great monoliths bathed in glowing light and surrounded by small grazing sheep. When this painting is studied with IRR, pounced dots are evident. Dark pinhole-size dots outline the stone structures, shadows, sheep and even a few foreground details.

Although the use of pouncing is unusual for a landscape of this period and no pricked drawings of Stonehenge have been found, Cropsey may have turned to this technique for a couple of reasons. Pouncing stencils was one way of transferring drawings for large murals, something the artist would do himself not long after he finished Stonehenge. Perhaps, also, the artist found a transfer method beneficial for a painting that was based on drawings created almost thirty years earlier.

Detail under normal light (top) and IRR detail showing pounced dots (bottom).

Stonehenge, detail of sheep with normal illumination.

Stonehenge, digitally captured infrared image.

Detail under normal light (top) and IRR detail showing pounced dots (bottom).

Stonehenge, detail of stone structure with normal illumination.

Stonehenge, digitally captured infrared image.

Referenced Objects

Jasper Francis Cropsey, 1823-1900
Stonehenge, 1876

Sign up for e-news
and stay up-to-date with everything at
the Nelson-Atkins.
Plan Your Visit
Admission is FREE
Open Wednesday-Sunday
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

Program Tickets: 816.751.1278
Wed, 10 am—5 pm
Thurs/Fri, 10 am—9 pm
Sat/Sun, 10 am—5 pm
Watch our Stories
Explore Art Program Guide
Search the Collection
Provenance Research
Contact Us

Copyright © 2014 The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. All rights reserved.