A Well-known Painting Gives Up Its Secrets

Richard Diebenkorn Photo: University Archives

Katherine Van Kirk mixed her love of art and physics to make an incredible discovery. Using a sophisticated infrared camera, the engineering major detected hidden compositions underneath the surface of Richard Diebenkorn’s 1967 painting Window.

“It was wild,” she says. “I was seeing something that no one else had seen before.”

As part of her project through the Art + Science Learning Lab at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, Van Kirk, ’19, discovered two additional layers in the painting by Diebenkorn, ’44, which depicts a cityscape outside a picture window. The second layer included a pair of glasses on a table, a candelabra and a candlestick. The third layer contained a sketch of a woman’s nude form.

The multiple layers — a landscape, a still life and a figure — show “a transitional period” within Diebenkorn’s work, says Van Kirk, noting a shift from his identification with the Bay Area Figurative Movement to more abstract work.

“Just the idea of people seeing works that potentially artists then covered up, and being able to uncover those and bring those back to life through physics and through this technology, is really cool.”