El Blog del museo Picasso de Barcelona

Restoration of the The frugal repast and the Ovidi’s Metamorphoses

Multiplying the images by means of a copper matrix is the essence of the print. This allows the artist to produce multiple prints that can be acquired and spread around the world.

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Pablo Picasso. The frugal repast. Paris, September 1904. Etching and scraping on zinc plate, printed on paper. 46,3 x 37,7 cm (plate). 61,4 x 44,3 cm (irregular; paper). Gift of Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.011

But each of the prints produced from the same print run will have their own journey and history. This provokes over the years clear visual differences that expose the environmental conditions undergone and the state of conservation of the work.

In the case of the The frugal repast from the Collection of the Museu Picasso, the track of time was notable and showed a serious darkening that altered the correct perception of the image.

This print is one of the first copies from the first print run and is numbered and signed by the artist. But the difference compared with other prints from this same plate, held in institutions and collections of collectors, is that the museum’s copy was kept by Picasso in his private collection deposited for many years in the family home in Barcelona.

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The work The frugal repast before the restoration

We don’t know under what conditions it was kept but its state of conservation in 1970, when it entered the museum with the rest of the donation, was very bad. The technical documentation consulted showed a darkening and unsightly discoloured spots, probably produced as a consequence of some specific intervention.

Fifty years afterwards, new elements such as the framing with unsuitable materials and many hours exposed to light had accelerated the degradation process of the work.

The main factor in terms of the deterioration of paper is the acidity caused by some acid elements that intervene in its production and also by external factors such as extreme levels of humidity, environmental contamination and prolonged exposure to light. The acidity, as well as darkening the fibres of the paper, also provoke fragility and reduce the mechanical resistance, by compromising its physical stability and making the paper rigid so that it can easily break. The chemical analyses carried out with The frugal repastdetermined a value of Ph 5, that is to say, it is acid in character.

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The work The frugal repast during the restoration

Furthermore, the aesthetic or visual consequence of this type of alteration leads to an altered perception of the image. The expressiveness that this masterpiece initially transmitted at the end of the blue period had been stifled as a consequence of the serious alteration the paper had suffered from.  The intense darkening of the support hid the chiaroscuro of the scene, turning this etching of drawing and masterful modelling into a plain work.

The intervention carried out had two goals, to recuperate the suitable levels of Ph for its correct conservation and to clean the fibres of the paper so as to hydrate them, recuperate the flexibility and minimise the darkening of the support. We have sought a chemical and visual balance.

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The work The frugal repast after the restoration

Within the programme of actions of the department, the restoration has also been carried out of the fifteen prints of the Les Metamorfosis d’Ovidi (Ovidi’s metamorphoses), produced between 1930 and 1931.

One problem that is often detected in the series of prints is the lack of visual unity. Series that have been produced with paper and inks of the same characteristics but end up losing the initial coherence, showing a diversity of states of conservation.

The exhibiting in different periods and conditions and sometimes treatments of restoration carried out without using the same criteria, end up causing major differences of conservation. Inequalities of colour and aspect that create an unbalanced vision of the whole and compromise the future stability of the work.

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La sèrie de gravats de Les Metamorfosis d’Ovidi abans de la restauració

The prints from the series of the Metamorfosis at first glance presented a very worrying state of conservation. The papers of support showed a range of colours that degraded from the original cream colour to dark brown. The series had lost the original unity due surely to similar factors described about The frugal repast, but in this case, made worse due to the fact of it being a work conceived as a whole.

The restoration criteria applied has been adapted in an individual way to each piece. In a first phase for all the prints a mechanical cleaning was carried out to remove all the surface dirt. Subsequently the treatments were individual adapting them to each problem.

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La sèrie de gravats de Les Metamorfosis d’Ovidi després de la restauració

For the treatment of the spots and the halos, local processes have been done by applying deionized water, but for the most part we have had to go deeper into the cleaning of the fibres, so as to free the paper of the most superficial acids and to enable the recuperation of the internal humidity of the paper lost with the passing of time. Once this phase of damp cleaning was completed a deacidification was carried out incorporating in the paper an alkaline reserve that neutralizes and protects it from further acidification.

For the carrying out of these interventions we have counted on the external collaboration of Estudi B2.

Reyes Jiménez
In charge of the Department of Preventive Conservation and Restoration

Related links

Articles in the Blog about the processes of restoration and conservation

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