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Uncovering hidden details in Picasso Blue Period painting

Images available to download

An international partnership of the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS), the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., has used multiple modes of light to uncover details hidden beneath the visible surface of Pablo Picasso’s painting “La Miséreuse accroupie” (The Crouching Woman), a major work from the artist’s Blue Period.

The 1902 oil painting, owned by the AGO in Toronto, Canada, depicts a crouching and cloaked woman, painted in white, blues, grays and greens.

With knowledge of an underlying landscape revealed long ago by X-radiography at the AGO, researchers used non-invasive portable imaging techniques, including infrared reflectance hyperspectral imaging adapted by the National Gallery of Art and then an X-ray fluorescence imaging instrument developed at Northwestern, to detail buried images connected to other works by Picasso -- including a watercolor recently sold at auction -- as well as the presence of a landscape likely by another Barcelona painter underneath La Miséreuse accroupie.

Marc Walton, a research professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern and co-director of NU-ACCESS, will discuss the new findings at a Feb. 17 press briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Austin, Texas. He will present a full-scale reproduction of Picasso’s iterative adaptations leading to the final painting. The briefing, “Technology Peers Into Picasso’s Art,” will be held at 9 a.m. CST in Room 6, Level 3, of the Austin Convention Center. 

A related scientific session, “Analyzing Picasso: Scientific Innovation, Instrumentation and Education,” will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. CST Saturday, Feb. 17, in Room 17B of the Austin Convention Center. 

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Contact the experts

Marc Walton headshotMarc Walton - marc.walton@northwestern.edu

Co-director, Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS),
Research professor of materials science and engineering, Northwestern University

 

Emeline Pouyet headshotEmeline Pouyet - emeline.pouyet@northwestern.edu

Northwestern University materials scientist and postdoctoral fellow, Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS)

 

 

Francesca Casadio

Francesca Casadio - fcasadio@artic.edu

Grainger Executive Director of Conservation and Science, The Art Institute of Chicago
Co-director, Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS)

 

Downloadable images

oainting of kneeling woman
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Pablo Picasso. La Miséreuse accroupie, 1902. Oil on canvas, 101.3 x 66 cm (39 7/8 x 26 in.). Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 1963. © Picasso Estate.

painting of a woman kneeling laid on its side
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X-ray fluorescence instrument set up for the scan of La Miséreuse accroupie. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

xray of landscape painting
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X-ray radiography of La Miséreuse accroupie reveals a landscape hidden beneath the visible surface. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

xray-like image of a painting of a woman kneeling
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Distribution maps of a few elements characteristic of the pigments present in the different paint layers of La Miséreuse accroupie. © Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS)

three x-ray-like images of hands
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Distribution maps of lead, zinc and iron elements reveal the presence of a hidden hand beneath the visible surface of La Miséreuse accroupie. © Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS)

close up image of crack in paint
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Example of micro-sample carried out in the pentimenti area of La Miséreuse accroupie. © Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) and Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

two people behind xray fluorescence instrument
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X-ray fluorescence instrument set up for the scan of La Miséreuse accroupie, with Sandra Webster-Cook (left) and Kenneth Brummel, both of the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

woman with xray fluoresence instrument
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X-ray fluorescence instrument set up for the scan of La Miséreuse accroupie, with Francesca Casadio, co-director of NU-ACCESS. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

people holding painting of woman kneeling sideways
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X-ray fluorescence instrument set up for the scan of La Miséreuse accroupie, with Emeline Pouyet of Northwestern University (left) and Sandra Webster-Cook of the Art Gallery of Ontario. © Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

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