As I was making my way around the beamline at Argonne National Laboratory recently, I noticed a set of posters that were dedicated to X-ray studies of artwork from some of the world’s most famous western artists including Pablo Picasso. It seems particularly apt that the Chicago-based lab is the scene for this undertaking, considering the city’s long relationship with Picasso.
To me, the most amusing revelation to come out of this work was the detection of drawings that were painted over. Here is an image of Picasso’s The Old Guitarist:
It was found with X-rays that two different compositions lay beneath this recognizable painting. Here are some images as revealed by infrared and X-ray spectroscopy respectively:
These images are particularly noteworthy because they give us an insight into Picasso’s level of editing and re-editing. As members of the public, we usually only see the finished product, rarely seeing the creative process of artists, novelists and poets at work.
Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, has been leading efforts on other cultural heritage projects as well. If you’re interested, you can further explore here and here (pdf!).