February 21, 2018 by Jack Dziamba. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday.
X-ray radiography of La Miséreuse accroupie reveals a landscape hidden beneath the visible surface. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).
“La Miséreuse accroupie,” 1902, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973, Spain). Oil on canvas, 101.3 x 66 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 1963. (Courtesy of the artist’s estate and Art Gallery of Ontario)
Artists Painting Over an Existing Painting
Frequently, new scientific techniques have revealed one painting painted over another painting by the same artist. The painting of a woman has been discovered under Van Gogh’s painting “Patch of Grass, ” as detailed in (Photon Science, “Visualizing a Lost Painting by Vincent van Gogh using X-ray Fluorescence Mapping.”
Picasso: Two Paintings, Two Artists, and a Repositioned Arm
As reported by Art Daily,
“With knowledge of an underlying landscape revealed long ago by X-ray radiography at the AGO, researchers used non-invasive portable imaging techniques, including infrared reflectance hyperspectral imaging adapted by the National Gallery of Art and then an X-ray fluorescence imaging instrument developed at Northwestern, to detect the presence of a landscape likely by another Barcelona painter underneath “La Miséreuse accroupie.”
“The researchers used non-invasive methods they adapted to the study of paintings. The state-of-the-art tools enabled the scientists to analyze the painting relatively quickly inside the museum. The key findings of the multidisciplinary international study include these:
• Picasso painted over another painter’s work after rotating it 90 degrees to the right, using some of the landscape forms in his own final composition of “La Miséreuse accroupie.” Picasso incorporated the lines of the cliff edges into the woman’s back, for example.
• Picasso also made a major compositional change, the researchers report. The artist initially painted the woman with a right arm and hand holding a disk but then covered them with her cloak in the final work. ” (Art Daily).
By closely observing “La Miséreuse accroupie,” AGO’s conservation department, now led in this project by senior conservator of paintings Sandra Webster-Cook, had observed distinct textures and contrasting underlying color that peaked through the crack lines and did not match the visible composition.
Fine Art in the New Media
The new scientific tools used to analyze Picasso’s “La Miséreuse accroupie,” and the discoveries made comprise an excellent case study of “fine art in the new media.”The steps in analyzing Picasso’s painting through New Media technology:
X-ray radiography was the first non-invasive tool used to uncover hidden information in “La Miséreuse accroupie”; it revealed a horizontal landscape by a different Barcelona painter, whose identity remains unknown, under the visible surface of Picasso’s painting. Infrared Reflectance Hyperspectral Imaging
John Delaney, senior imaging scientist at the National Gallery of Art, then studied the painting with infrared reflectance hyperspectral imaging, which records underlying images depending on their relative transparency of the paint layers.
He found an arm and a disk under the surface of the painting. Delaney’s imaging method provides improved visibility of earlier compositional painted elements.
The X-ray Fluorescence (XRF) Scanner
For a more detailed understanding of the painting, scientists next investigated the painting using images generated by their X-ray fluorescence (XRF) scanner. The NU-ACCESS team traveled twice to the AGO in Canada with their portable tools for the study.
This system produces grayscale images showing the distribution of elements associated with various pigments of the painting. The scientists were able to analyze 70 percent of the painting in 24 hours. Together with micro-samples extracted from strategic locations, the XRF results, along with further images generated by Delaney from the hyperspectral reflectance … allowed Kenneth Brummel, assistant curator of modern art, to better understand Picasso’s style, influences and process.
The Elemental Maps of Cadmium and Prussian Blue
The iron and chromium-based pigments of the surface layer correlated with the painting’s current structure and its palette of mostly blues (painted with the iron-based Prussian blue and with ultramarine, Picasso’s Blue Period blue of choice) and yellow-greens (painted with chromium-based yellows). The elemental maps of cadmium and lead-based pigments, however, revealed the presence of the woman’s right arm and hand beneath the visible surface.
“When we saw the rendering of the lead elemental map, it became clear to me that the arm hidden under the visible surface of ‘La Miséreuse accroupie’ is the same as the proper right arm of a crouching woman in a Picasso watercolor recently sold at auction.” The watercolor is titled “Femme assise” (1902) (below).
Picasso – Technical Research Going Forward
“Further details about the collaboration’s research findings and the implications on Picasso’s developing style and influences will be revealed June 1 at the American Institute of Conservation annual meeting in Houston.
Questions raised by this research on Picasso’s influence and style during his Blue Period will be further explored in a Picasso Blue Period exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., in 2020 through 2021.” (Art Daily).