New light on illegible information

The Netherlands Open Air Museum in Arnhem is currently home to the painting Herberg vol mensen (Tavern Full of People) (inv. no. NOM 7099-47), taken from an estate confiscated after World War II. NIOD researchers conducted extensive research into the provenance of this painting following a request for restitution made in 2014. During their research, it proved impossible to decipher some partly illegible, almost invisible words on the back of the painting, "Haarlem, Walt..., Wil...plein 7" and "Fleij" or "Heij".

High resolution photography and computer algorithm

In 2021, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands was asked if it was possible to make the illegible text readable. The painting was then transferred to the Netherlands Collection Centre (CCNL) to be photographed in high resolution using special cameras: a forensic multi-band fluorescence camera and a high-resolution Hasselblad camera system with oblique light. Using a special computer algorithm, it then proved possible to make the wording on the back of the painting legible (see photos). The success of this research shows that high-quality, technically sophisticated photographing of inscriptions, labels and other details of works of art can provide important information for provenance research on the objects concerned.

Schilderij met mensen in een herberg
Image: Nederlands Openlucht Museum
Schilderij ‘Herberg vol mensen’, inv. nr. NOM 7099-47

The Restitutions Committee’s advice dated 2 February 2015 regarding this painting can be found on their website.