Revolutionary techniques used to conserve Picasso artwork

In Venice one of Picasso’s most treasured works is being conserved by revolutionary new techniques. Picasso’s work, The Studio (L’Atelier) 1928 (pictured) is following in the footsteps Jackson Pollock’s masterpiece Alchemy (1947) at the conservation department of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, to be restored and conserved with state-of-the-art techniques.

The painting, which Robert Motherwell described as “perhaps the most important influence on my life in those first ten years in New York. That incredible white…The painting was surely one of the most austere and powerful works since the height of Cubism…unquestionably one of the masterpieces of the 20th century,” has, over the years, lost it’s pure-white brilliance due to a botched restoration in the 1960s leaving a film of efflorescence wax on its surface in an effort to lay down areas of lifting paint. “Atmospheric particles” have also dimmed the work’s colours, currently making it impossible to view the work in its original glory. Examination of the work by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection conservation department was initiated not only to establish the correct procedures to gradually remove the unwanted surface wax, but also to help understand Picasso’s technique. This, however, is not the first time the painting has been examined in such detail, back in 1983 the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and latterly in 1996 in Venice, The Studio underwent examinations in the hope of discovering Picasso’s original and underlying image from 1928. However, at the time, X-rays, infra-red reflectography, UV fluorescence, and visible eye examination made possible only a speculative reconstruction. Today, major advances in research tools and scientific instrumentation make it possible to obtain a more detailed image of the first version of the painting and help us understand the creative process of one of the most critically acclaimed works of the 20th century.