The restoration of a photographic negative on a glass plate, carried out by the Department of Restoration and Preventive Conservation of the museum, has widely contributed to the documentation around the life and work of Picasso, by recuperating the integrity of an interesting testimonial of the relation of the artist with Joan Vidal i Ventosa.
The negative, held by the Centre of Knowledge and Research of the museum, was broken and provided certain dilemmas with regard to the choice of treatments and materials for intervening on the piece and for guaranteeing its material and intellectual preservation.
In the moment that a restoration is proposed, there isn’t only an intention to save and to prolong the life of an object, but also to obtain all the information, both visible as well as hidden, that this provides us with. That’s why it is essential to know the intrinsic materials of the piece and its state of conservation, but also its history. All in all: its past, its present and also to foresee its future.
State of conservation of the glass plate before the intervention.
Joan Vidal i Ventosa. Negative in solver-bromide gelatine on glass plate. 11.7 x 8.7 cm. Joan Vidal i Ventosa Collection.
Centre of Knowledge and Research of the Fundació Museu Picasso of Barcelona.
Humankind, since its origins, has shown a major desire for representing and capturing the reality surrounding us, using different resources that science and technology has provided us with. One of these advances has been, without doubt, photography, which, since its appearance in the 19th century and until the present day, has had multiple innovations, both in the moment of capturing the image on the negative, and also the process of printing it. This diversity of materials and techniques is what turns the photographic documentation into a very sensitive material, vulnerable and, unfortunately, until no so long ago, not particularly valued.
After displacing the use of the paper as a support of photographic negatives, the glass plate, covered in an emulsion sensitive to light, would become the support par excellence during the first period of the history of photography, and this would allow, for the first time, multiple copies to be produced from the same negative. The first emulsions which were placed on the glass plate were those of collodion, produced in a handmade way, which were quickly substituted by those of gelatine, which were more resistant, which allowed a mechanisation in the production of the plates, as well as a standardisation of the format.
The silver-bromide gelatine negative to be restored, was in a seriously bad state of conservation, due to the fragmentation of the support and the advanced alteration of dichroic or mirror silver, which was caused by the emergence on the surface of the metal silver existing in the emulsion.
The proposal for the intervention was focused on stablising and storing the negative. After removing the dust and dirt from the broken pieces, the glass sheet and its edges were wiped clean so as to remove the more deeply encrusted dirt, without intervening in the face of the emulsifying and storage of the negative. Due to the fragmentation of the support, different options were assessed regarding the presentation and storage of the plate, opting for placing the negative between two new glass sheets and sealing the whole. In the moment of capsulation, the negative was fitted within a cardboard frame of conservation, of a greater thickness that that of the glass plate, so as to minimise any movement of the fragments, stuck momentarily to each other, and so as to impede the direct contact of the emulsion with the new glass sheets.
Sticking process of the fragments of support | Fitting the plate within a cardboard conservation frame once the fragment of glass had been joined together
Once the whole was sealed, it was placed in a tray with a double top, and finally in a case, to protect and store the negative correctly and to enable its consultation.
Final image of the packaged negative and within a tray that safeguards the plate
Case of the tray
The result of the intervention, as well as recuperating”the integrity of the object, it also allows the visualisation of the image that is contained in this photographic plate. A fragment can be observed of a page of a book that reproduces a painting, a portrait of a woman, which the text attributes to Picasso, as a work from his youth, specifically in 1901. About the page of the book, that Vidal i Ventosa would have sent to Picasso, you can read the text handwritten by the artist himself: «Amigo Vidal / este cuadro le / hablas a Sabartés / no es mio / Te mando un / abrazo tu / amigo / Picasso / aqui / en Paris / el 14 de / noviembre / del / 1952» (“My dear friend Vidal / this painting of / speak to Sabartés / it’s not mine / I send you / best wishes from your / friend / Picasso / here / in Paris / on 14th / November / of / 1952”)
Final image of the negative, after the restoration and cutting from the publication in which Joan Vidal i Ventosa extracted the photographic plate. The cutting can also be found in the documentation of the Joan Vidal i Ventosa Collection of the Centre of Knowledge and Research of the Fundació Museu Picasso of Barcelona.
Checking the documentation of the Vidal Ventosa Collection that exists in the Archive, a cutting of the original document was found. The restored negative shows the interest of its author to photographically collect the response that Picasso had written by hand on this piece of paper. In this way, the image obtained also takes on a documentary character, which fits in perfectly with the profile of Vidal i Ventosa, who dedicated himself to documentary photography during his professional period in the technical services of the Art Museums of Barcelona.
Joan Vidal i Ventosa (1880-1966) was a multifaceted character: restorer, painter, sculptor, printer and photographer; a regular attendee at intellectual gatherings, among those, the ones which were organised at the Quatre Gats; and he was one of the founders of the workshop El Guayaba through which passed a many of the artists of the period, among them Picasso. It was in these cultural gatherings that the close friendship was born between the two artists, which would lead to the collaboration of Vidal i Ventosa in the identification process of the work of Picasso, who, given the recognition acquired, saw how falsifications of his work were carried out, something that he tried to combat, helped also by Picasso’s secretary, Jaume Sabartés, personally authenticating the incorrect attributions of works that appeared at the time.
The existing documentation in the centre provides a small sample of the correspondence between Vidal and Sabartés in this arduous task: Vidal informed about works attributed to the artist, and the artist would check whether they had been done by him or not. The negative intervened, as just one example: in the book by Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, “Picasso before Picasso”, from the year 1946, various works were published from the youth of the artist, and among them there appeared the glass plate. But in the French edition in 1950, a note by Picasso was reproduced in which he denied the authorship of eight of the works published in the 1946 edition.
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Works attributed to Picasso, published in Cirici Pellicer, Alexandre, Picasso before Picasso. Barcelona, Iberia-Joaquín Gil, 1946
Rectification of works attributed to Picasso.
Note published in Cirici Pellicer, Alexandre, Picasso avant Picasso. Genève, Pierre Cailler, 1950
Restoring documentation from the Vidal i Ventosa Collections has given us the opportunity of contributing to restoring the testimony of the relation between Picasso and his friend, but, at the same time it has allowed us to highlight the need to get the documentary material close to the restoration. Unfortunately, many times information gets lost due to the fact of not working in a joint way in these two fields or because of not giving value to the contents of some of the documents. In this case, it was already known that Picasso had denied the authorship of this painting but what we have been able to recuperate is a document that, besides confirming the denial, shows use the system used by Picasso to dismantle, as far as it was possible, the network of falsifications that had been built up around the painter and which was filling, in his name, the art market. Reconstructing the broken negative, protecting it, storing it and making it accessible, has increased the value of this object in various aspects: material, documental and historical.
Conservator-restorer of cultural goods