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Rendering of the west wall and northwest corner of Pablo Picasso’s Fontainebleau studio, demonstrating how sunlight would have illuminated the artist’s installation. Courtesy Krystal Lee and Michael Tower Architecture, New York

In the summer of 1921, Pablo Picasso turned the garage of his rented villa in Fontainebleau, France, into a studio. In this space, the artist worked on monumental six-foot canvases, other smaller paintings, and works on paper. He photographed these compositions in various states of progress and completion; only six of these photographs are known to exist today.

In the hundred years since the artist’s stay in Fontainebleau, his erstwhile studio disappeared as the house passed to a succession of new owners. A modern extension, built in the 1980s, now occupies its footprint. Reconstructing the original space became essential to understanding Picasso’s process, particularly his claim that he made different versions of Three Musicians and Three Women at the Spring “simultaneously.” Ultimately, Picasso’s own photographs offer the most concrete clues. To celebrate the exhibition Picasso in Fontainebleau, we asked conservator of photographs Lee Ann Daffner, curatorial assistant Alexandra Morrison, and architect Michael Tower to discuss the challenges, methods, and collaboration that led to the garage studio’s rediscovery.

We tried to put ourselves in a late-19th-century mindset that was critical to understanding this garage space and how it was used.

Lee Ann Daffner