Les Demoiselles: Conserving a Modern Masterpiece MoMA.org: The Museum of Modern Art Les Demoiselles: Conserving a Modern Masterpiece
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Analysis & Previous Treatments
Technical Analysis

X-rays of HeadsTo further understand Picasso's system of layering paint, X-ray and infrared images of the painting were taken. In the case of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, existing X-ray details from 1950 and 1987 of the heads of the figures which Picasso had reworked enabled conservators and art historians to delve into the underlying Iberian sources of Picasso's first stage of painting [see: X-rays of Heads]. These findings have been extensively discussed in the literature (see Studies in Modern Art 3). An overall X-ray completed in 2000 has confirmed that no other major revisions (i.e. the addition or subtraction of figures in the composition) occurred as Picasso completed the picture.

In collaboration with MoMA conservation scientist Chris McGlinchey, we are examining materials used in both MoMA's painted study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and the completed work. Our results will be compared with previously published work on Picasso's materials (see Delbourgo 1981, Hoenigswald 1997, and Koussiaki 2000), and the current study will add to the growing body of technical information. Such characterizations of Picasso's materials will be helpful in the treatment phase because they will distinguish between original paint and restoration paint—providing confirmation of what is evident through other examination methods.

One of the analytical methods employed to determine Picasso's materials was X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF). This technique not only allowed us to identify with great Analysis of Pigments Using Portable URF Unitcertainty the pigments used by Picasso for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, it allowed us to do so without removing any original material. To date, the following pigments have been identified by XRF:

White – Lead white
Pink/Red – Vermilion mixed with lead white
Blue – Cobalt blue
Brown – Earth pigments containing iron
Black – Bone black
Green – Emerald green
Yellow – Cadmium yellow

In order to determine what kinds of coatings and other organic materials are present we employed Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). Besides confirming Picasso's painting medium as oil, this technique allowed us to confirm the presence of various restoration materials, including wax (from the 1963 conservation treatment), synthetic resin varnish (from 1950), and glue residue (thought to originate from the 1924 lining). But in order to better understand Picasso's layering process a microscopic sample of paint was removed from the edge of an existing loss—that is, a spot where some paint had flaked off in the past. This sample, examined in cross-section under a microscope at high magnification, can reveal the presence of additional layers of paint or varnish hidden from our view by the top layers of paint. The cross-section may also be helpful in determining how much time elapsed between the first and second painting campaigns.

Pictured at top (across):
Head derived from African mask demonstrates the difference between original composition and final painting

Pictured at top, left:
X-radiograph with tracing

Pictured at top, middle:
Tracing of the original head as it appears in the X-radiograph. The Iberian-style ear and eyes are clearly evident.

Pictured at top, right:
Final composition

Copyright 2003 The Museum of Modern Art