step will be to remove a layer of superficial
airborne grime that has accumulated since the
work was last surface cleaned twenty years ago.
This treatment will also allow the surface to
be examined closely in order to detect any
minor conditions that
may have been overlooked. Removing the surface
grime also will permit
the underlying discolored varnish and
to be removed more effectively and evenly.
mixture of organic solvents applied with cotton
swabs will allow the painting to be "devarnished"
in a safe and controllable manner. Tests have
indicated this will result in an appreciable improvement
in surface quality and color saturation, and an
overall appearance closer to what Picasso intended
Removal]. The exact combination of solvents
used will depend on solubility tests and knowledge
gained from previous treatment of several wax-infused
and varnished paintings in MoMA's collection.
Glue residues will be softened using an enzyme
gel and then mechanically removed. Discolored
retouchings will also be removed during the cleaning
two of the treatment of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
is continuing with the removal of surface coatings.
Discolored layers of synthetic varnish and wax
from the 1950
and 1963 treatments
are being dissolved using organic solvents, which
do not affect Picasso’s oil paint. In the
the water-soluble retouching was liberally applied,
in some cases covering Picasso’s original
paint as well as damages. These areas of restoration
paint are now being removed, revealing original
paint below. These areas have been documented
with photographs [see: Conservator’s
Update March 2004] in anticipation of phase
three of the restoration, when the retouching
of losses will be done. As of mid March 2004 the
varnish has been removed from three-quarters of
the painting’s surface with only the standing
(curtain-pulling) figure still to be done. Some
glue residue remains,
and this is being reduced to the extent safely
possible using a water-based gel mixed with enzymes.
Phase two of the conservation treatment was completed
in June 2004. At this time, all of the restoration
materials from the 1924,
and 1963 treatments
have been removed from the surface, allowing Picasso’s
true palette and methods of paint handling to
Without the discolored
wax resin and synthetic coating, the surface has
regained a freshness and vitality, as if a gray
filter had been removed from in front of the painting [see: Conservator’s Update June 2004].
This is evident in the images shown here. Paige
Knight in the Department of Photographic Services
captured these digital images documenting the
beginning and end of Phase 2 under the same lighting
conditions. The true shift of tone in the conserved
paint surface can be appreciated in these color-balanced
images. Color balancing was done by adjusting
the color until the standard color bar charts
captured in each image matched. The image of the
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in its
cleaned state provides a useful
document for the conservator of the exact surface
condition before any restoration in Phase 3 commences.
This baseline image provides a reference for future
conservation and study.
Now that all old restoration paint has been removed,
details of the left figure’s hand and the
central figures’ torsos reveal the extent
of the paint losses
along the vertical cracks [see: Conservator’s Update June 2004, Details]. With the conclusion
of Phase 2, the true condition of the surface
can be evaluated and discussions with the curator
can begin to determine how much restoration will
be necessary to hide visually distracting conditions.
With Picasso’s true palette revealed, discussions
relating to framing, lighting, and installation
will also begin in order to determine the best
way to display Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
in the new galleries of the expanded MoMA.
Detail of the conservator's cotton swab removing
dirt and grime. Note the gray dirt on the swab.