Picasso’s Blue Period From A Conservator’s Perspective

Patti in Barcelona_screengrab1

Associate Conservator Patricia Favero presenting at Museu Picasso in Barcelona.

Last week, Associate Conservator Patricia Favero headed to Museu Picasso in Barcelona along with colleagues from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Art Institute of Chicago to present findings at The Blue Period: New Interpretations by Means of Technical Studies, a seminar of restoration and conservation. You may recall news from last June that a portrait of a man was discovered under the Phillips’s painting by Pablo Picasso, The Blue Room; Patti discussed the research and process behind this revelation.

UPDATE: For a limited amount of time, you can watch the full presentation video on the Museu Picasso’s website.

Patti in Barcelona_screengrab2

Associate Conservator Patricia Favero presenting at Museu Picasso in Barcelona.


Stieglitz and Marin: Together, Apart, and Together Again, Part 1

In this three part series, Conservation Assistant Caroline Hoover outlines the process of treating a photogravure by Marius de Zayas. 

photo 1 - 2

(left and middle) Marius de Zayas, Alfred Stieglitz and John Marin, 1914. Photogravure, 22.1 x 16.5 cm. Gift of Fern M. Schad, 2004 (right) Camera Work, the source of the piece

This photogravure, Alfred Stieglitz and John Marin, is a work of art that was made from an original drawing by Marius de Zayas and printed onto very thin Japanese tissue. This piece was included in a collection of artists’ works published in the periodical Camera Work XLVI, 1914. Camera Work was a well known publication put together by Stieglitz to support and promote photography as an art form. He included photogravures because they were made from original negatives and often supervised by the artist or even at times printed by the artist himself. As such, they represented the original works very closely. The publication showcased the best examples of photogravure printing.

The photogravure process is the transfer of the original photo negative to a transparency as a positive image. It is then contact printed onto light sensitive paper from which it is then transferred to a copper plate as a negative image. The plate is etched in acid, inked up, and printed as a positive image. As you can imagine, it was a very sophisticated and complicated process that required a lot of finesse.

Beneath Picasso’s The Blue Room

conservation_combined xsection

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.