In Spain, with the collaboration of the University of Barcelona and the Museo Picasso in Barcelona, chemical engineer Francisco García Martínez has been analyzing the works of Pablo Picasso with the use of cutting-edge, non-invasive light technology; and has made some significant discoveries.

The artworks studied were those of Picasso’s early period, dating between 1895 and 1900, before his love affair with cubism. Martínez tells Der Standard “We didn’t work invasively, only with light. Spectrometry is a proven and long-used method, but the analytical equipment, up to now, did not allow us to examine large objects such as a work of art.”

Martínez has not only discovered how the paintings were composed – and what was on the canvas before they were composed (beneath Picasso’s ‘Man With a Basque Hat’ for example, is a sketch of some pigeons and beneath his ‘Self Portrait With Wig’ is a sketch of a man sporting a large hat) – with his light technology, he has also discovered the materials, primers and pigments; providing what Martínez calls “a chemical fingerprint of the young Picasso’s process.”

“This chemical fingerprint is unique to the painter and allows us to characterize him. It is not only about the materials used but also about traces, which for example give us clues about where Picasso bought his pigments. This is a solid scientific basis for research,” Martínez explained.

This new research is not only of great interest to art historians and scientists, it could also prove the next, and possibly most valuable, step towards preventing art fraud and the detection of fakes. This comes after insurers at the University of Albany and Aris developed a ‘DNA tagging system’; where synthetic DNA can be transferred onto artworks on ‘a molecular level’ and a handheld scanner compares the ‘tags’ with those on an online database.

It’s all very exciting, but as Martínez says, there’s always room for improvement: “That’s the way it is in science. When you answer a question, the answer raises even more questions,” he said.