Topical Collection: Engineering - Failure Mechanisms in Picasso’s Paintings

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Since late in the nineteenth century, the artistic production of the avant-garde was characterized by the variety of painting techniques, experimentation, and the absence of any artistic or stylistic canons. However, far beyond aesthetics and from a more tangible and objective perspective, these artworks also represent great challenges. Unlike the commonly considered "traditional" art, the artworks produced in the last two centuries are characterized by many different materials that interact with each other, generating constantly changing, complex structures. This means the ability to predict, prevent, stop and treat damage in modern and contemporary artworks turns into a difficult task from the perspective of conventional conservation criteria and strategies. 

The industrial revolution from the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries and the later development of the chemical industry in the mid-twentieth century brought great technical advances to the field of fine arts. The production of artworks moved from the natural materials prepared by the artist in his studio to paint media that allowed artists to experiment with textures and colors that were impossible (and even unthinkable) until then. Innovations permitted the au-plein-air technique, the agile brushstrokes allowing for the rapid production of paintings. Specifically in the field of materials, the production of industrial paints, the availability of paint tubes, and ready-to-use industrially primed canvases brought mass production and therefore reduced costs for artists. The use of additives and low quality pigments, coupled with the use of preservatives, plasticizers and extenders to preserve fluidity, are the origin of most problems currently associated with modern and contemporary paintings. The control of environmental conditions (including light, temperature, and relative humidity) that had traditionally been the key to stop degradation and minimize damage is not enough. Today there is a common and growing interest at an international level to know in detail how modern and contemporary paintings are built and how they degrade. The objectives are to understand the chemical interactions and failure mechanisms that propagate over the years, as well as any surface alterations, in order to design appropriate conservation strategies for stabilization.  

This volume compiles the contributions of the international symposium ‘Around Picasso: An insight into the relationship between material choices and failure mechanisms’ held at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona (November 29th, 2018) where a multidisciplinary group of renowned specialists from different international universities, museums and research institutions presented their latest scientific studies. Picasso is the common string throughout the whole volume. By isolating a single artist, it is possible to better understand painting technique, as well as the behaviour of painting materials over time.

The Guest Editors would like to acknowledge sponsorship from the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, to cover permission fees for the reproduction of works by Picasso.

Guest editors

  • Prof. Laura Fuster López
  • Prof. Alison Murray
  • Dr. Reyes Jiménez Garnica

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