October 16, 2012

Art, science revisit Picasso

Researchers are one step closer to making sense of the paintings of the Cubist painter Pablo Picasso—or at least what he used to bring them to life.

Conservation experts at the Art Institute of Chicago shared their discoveries regarding the paint used by Picasso last Wednesday at the Illinois Institute of Technology as part of Chicago Ideas Week.

The study, spearheaded by the Institute in collaboration with Argonne National Laboratory, found that Picasso used commercial paints from a French paint company called Ripolin, much like those one would use to paint a house.

Volker Rose, one of the physicists working on the project, believes that this new information can help provide a better understanding of Picasso’s career.

The advantage of using Ripolin in a canvas or panel painting is that it is a relatively fast-drying material, which would have allowed for faster production of new paintings, explained Rose.

“Picasso was wealthy in his lifetime, constantly selling his paintings, which is unusual for many artists. His use of Ripolin as a fast-drying paint can tell us that he may have had shows planned but not necessarily had enough paintings to fill them. Ripolin could have helped him solve this problem. Picasso was not the only one to do this,” he said.

Not only did the study solve the decade-long mystery of whether Picasso used commercial paints, “it has also drawn the two distant worlds of cultural heritage experts and scientists together with the potential to rewrite art history,” according to an article on Argonne National Laboratory’s website.

“I am specialized in material physics,” Rose said, speaking to the unusual collaboration of the arts and the sciences. “However, I have been invited to conferences around the world to discuss my finding with interested cultural heritage experts.”

Argonne National Laboratory has been managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC since 2006 and has been one of the main contractors since the Laboratory’s founding in 1946. Chicago Ideas Week gives experts in their fields a chance to present and discuss their work and inspiration.