The Mystery of of Norway's Painted Fish

Museum curators will tell you a lot about the difficulty of preserving art so that it can be seen in its original glory for hundreds of years to come. But this story is not about an art museum. Rather, it's a natural history museum that may hold the secret to other kinds of preservation. At the University Museum of Bergen on Norway's western coast, a rehabilitation effort begun in 2009 has unearthed amazing specimens of fish that are just as colorful as when they were alive, despite being stored in alcohol for around a hundred years.

The scales of dead fish begin to lose their color immediately. Over time, the fish stored at the museum turned completely white on the side that was away from museum visitors, yet were painted on the visible side with some kind of pigment that held up to time, light, and alcohol. No one knows who did the painting, nor how they did it, and we can only imagine how surprised the artist would be to see how the work looks all this time later.

The work goes on to restore and protect the museum's exhibits, which leaves little time or manpower to research how the fish were painted or who did it. The documentation must be somewhere, and would further our knowledge of how to preserve delicate natural specimens, human artifacts, and even artworks for the future. Read about Norway's painted museum fish at Atlas Obscura. 

(Image credit: The University Museum of Bergen)

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