“Science and Charity Revealed” marks the start of a series of small-format exhibitions or displays designed to offer a ground-breaking and in-depth vision of key works in our collection.
Launching this new approach here at the Museum is Science and Charity (1897), one of the most significant works in the collection and arguably the most representative of Picasso’s formative years. The oil painting Science and Charity marks the culmination of the young painter’s experience of official academic art education in nineteenth-century Spain, and at the same time the point at which he broke away from the influence of his art-teacher father. Accompanied by a selection of works by other artists, background documentation of the period and the results of the latest scientific studies of pigment and composition carried out here at the Museum, this important painting can now be seen as never before.
The show, which is laid out in rooms 3 and 4 of the Museum, in keeping with the usual location of the work, gives us a unique opportunity to see the picture in context, surrounded by paintings by other artists who, like Picasso, chose to depict a doctor’s visit to the sick within the current of social realism then in vogue.
In researching the show we were surprised to find so many other paintings with a theme and treatment very similar to our Picasso, and we have selected the ones most in keeping with our thesis and the idea of a small-format exhibition. One of the most satisfying moments in the research process was finding the original entry form for the National Fine Arts Exhibition of 1897, and being able to put it on show alongside the preparatory sketches for the work.
The exhibition also presents the results of an in-depth analysis of the work using X-rays, giga-pixel photographs and pigment analysis.
Giga-pixel photography allows us to get in to the fine grain of the painting and look at the brushwork in far more detail than the naked eye can see, enabling us to appreciate the surprising way the artist worked. The pigment analysis was also highly revealing. Visually, this is a canvas with rather flat and repetitive colours, but the analysis has revealed that Picasso used a rich palette of 16 colours to arrive at the tones he wanted. The artist’s doubts about the composition can also be clearly traced thanks to the X-ray image, on show here at 1:1 scale, and the video which brings out the three main pentimenti or corrections made by the young Picasso. Can you spot them?
Conservator of the Collection