Pioneering technology from the fields of conservation and artificial intelligence has been utilised recently on paintings by the Spanish cubist artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), revealing fascinating new insights about his practice.
The Museu Picasso in Barcelona has carried out a three year conservation project focussing on a group of four Picasso paintings. The project was instigated by the museum after they realised that one of the four works appeared to be deteriorating much faster than the rest, despite the fact they had all been exposed to the exact same conditions since their creation. The four paintings were completed by Picasso in 1917 whilst he was in Barcelona and were inspired by the Ballet Russes, a ballet company led by Sergei Diaghilev, with whom Picasso collaborated with in designing costumes and sets. This was a particularly important moment in Picasso’s career; away from Paris, he became increasingly experimental and was extremely prolific.
The project coordinator, Laura Fuster-López, told The Art Newspaper that one of the paintings, Hombre Sentado (Seated Man) “shows signs of extreme cracking all over the painted surface”, yet the other three did not appear to be suffering from the same level of deterioration.
Fuster-López was joined by an international team of conservationists, heritage and material scientists, specialists in mechanical damage and experts in non-invasive techniques. They discovered that the canvas Picasso had chosen for Hombre Sentado had a much tighter weave than the other three, and he had coated it in a thicker layer of ground made from animal glue. The result was that there were larger internal stresses on this painting and chemical reactions between the pigments and binding product led to the painting’s deterioration.
The project was the first of its kind in the field of conservation, combining studies of chemical properties with observations of mechanical damage. Fuster-López told The Art Newspaper that she hopes the discoveries made by the research team will help future conservators.
But it is not just the conservation team in Spain uncovering new information about Picasso’s work. In London, two PhD students, Anthony Bourached and George Cann, have released a set of NFTs based on the recreation of a painting which had been painted over by Picasso.
Through the use of various cutting-edge technologies, artificial intelligence and a knowledge of the artist’s work, the pair were able generate a colour version of the lost painting, which lay underneath Picasso’s La Miséreuse Accroupie (The Crouching Beggar). The painting that emerged underneath has been attributed to the Catalan artist Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931), which gives us an intriguing insight into Picasso’s relationship with the elder artist, who is known to have influenced him.
The possibilities of this new technology are certainly exciting, and Cann told Artnet News that, “there are potentially thousands of works out there that we could see in the next few years that haven’t been seen in hundreds of years”.