Left: Paint sample from Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901) showing how yellow, blue, and green paints were mixed while still wet to create a variegated effect. Right: X-ray map showing zinc, chromium, and lead-containing pigments. © 2014 Jennifer Mass, Winterthur Museum
There has been a lot of buzz this summer around the Phillips’s The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso, a 1901 painting created at a time when the young artist was trying on different artistic personalities. In June, an AP exclusive story revealed the image of an underpainting—hidden beneath the surface of the masterwork—uncovered by a team of scientists and conservators from the Phillips, Cornell University, National Gallery of Art, and Winterthur Museum. However, this discovery did not happen overnight. It is the result of many years of collaborative research between the four institutions to reveal details of the contemplative man painted in the hidden image and better understand Picasso’s materials and methods.
On Wednesday, the technical details of this scientific analysis were presented by Winterthur Museum’s Dr. Jennifer Mass at the Synchrotron Radiation and Neutrons in Art and Archaeology Meeting (SR2A 2014) in Paris. Her presentation addressed the palette and painting methods Picasso used for the two works and the relationship between those palettes. She also explored the wealth of information acquired through the combination of the cross-section studies, molecular analyses, hyperspectral reflectance imaging, and XRF imaging.
The Blue Room is currently being exhibited in an international exhibition at the Daejeon Museum of Art in central Korea, but the collaborating institutions will continue their research efforts as the museum prepares for a 2017 exhibition that centers on Picasso and this seminal painting.
(left) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Woodcut, 36 in x 29 1/8 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013. (middle) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Aquatint, 35 3/8 in x 28 1/2 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013 (right) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Lithograph, 36 in x 29 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013
These three portraits, recent acquisitions for the museum, are currently the only thing displayed in a small gallery at the Phillips. Take a moment to look at each one. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
It’s not until we look at the labels that we realize what creates the small nuances in color and line between the three works—each one is a different form of print. Artist Alex Katz is known for his arresting simplicity of line and form, bright, flat colors, and a powerful graphic punch that link them to commercial art and popular culture. By generalizing the features of a sitter or a landscape, and removing any expressive or emotional content, Katz focuses instead on formal properties of light, scale and color.
Anne Monahan will be giving a lecture about Faith Ringgold’s mural Die at The Phillips Collection Center for the Study of Modern Art on Thursday, September 11, at 6:30 pm.
(Left) Anne Monahan, 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellow (Right) Faith Ringgold, Die, oil on canvas, 72 x 144 in. © Faith Ringgold
I first became interested in Faith Ringgold’s strategic marriage of art and activism in the 1960s—then an under-examined aspect of her project—while working on my dissertation. Just a couple of years ago, I was prompted to see her ambitious painting Die of 1967 with fresh eyes when a friend asked if it represented stages in a sequential narrative. That question prompted me to think more deeply about the painting’s formal and conceptual ambiguities and how they operated in the political, racial, and aesthetic discourses of its charged moment. As a result, Die and its reception figure in my book Radical/Chic: Race, Politics, and the Legacy of Social Realism in Art of the 1960s as a key example of the shifting dynamics by which racial politics influenced a politics of style.
—Anne Monahan, 2014-15 Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Modern Art / The George Washington University