If you visit the museum these days you will be able to enjoy something not very habitual: the live restoration of what is considered to be the leading work from the formation of the artist, Science and Charity, a piece of large dimension, created in 1897, and that this year is celebrating its 120th anniversary.
Picasso painted Science and Charity in Barcelona, in the highest flat of the street Plata, 4, a studio rented by his father, and that today has been turned into a hotel. The work was presented in the exhibition of 1897 in Madrid, where it was awarded with one of the one hundred and twenty five honourable mentions that were granted. Once the exhibition was over, it ended up in Malaga, in the home of his uncle, Salvador Ruiz. In 1918 it returned to his family home of Passeig de Gràcia, until 1970, the year in which Picasso donated it to the Museu Picasso of Barcelona.
Pablo Picasso. Science and Charity. Barcelona, [March-April of] 1897. Oil on canvas 197 x 249.5 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donation Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.046. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Photography, Gasull Fotografia
The first restoration of the painting dates back to the same year as the donation, in 1970. The work was found to be in a poor state of conservation, as documented by photos from the period and various oral testimonies. The specialists and technicians worked under great pressure with the aim of being able to present it in time for the inauguration. At that time, a major restoration was carried out, with an integral treatment of the support and the pictorial layer, with the criteria and materials that were available at the time. Half a century later, some of the materials applied during that restoration have aged; the pigments applied in the touching up of the colour and the varnishes have become altered, thus modifying the correct vision of the work.
Restoration of the work Science and Charity in the Palau Nacional. Barcelona, 1970. Photography, Pérez de Rozas. Photographic Archive of Barcelona
In 2008, the first scientific-technical study was carried out of the painting Science and Charity. The aim of this study was to take an in-depth look at the pictorial technique of Pablo Picasso and to assess the state of conservation. The study was carried out with the scientific support of Patrimoni UB and the collaboration of the MNAC.
The result of this work could be seen in the exhibition «Science and Chairty Revealed», presented in the Museu Picasso on 29th November 2010.
Exhibition poster of Science and Charity Revealed. 29/11/2010. Exhibition open from 30th November 2010 to 20th February 2011. Organised and Produced by the Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Museu Picasso, Barcelona
The aim of the Museum with regard to the second study, now in 2017-2018, was not to do an aesthetic intervention of the work. The action aimed to physically settle the work so as to reestablish the stability lost over the years. The project counts on the application of latest generation technology and with the collaboration of a multi-disciplinary team that allows us to carry out an in-depth study and a non-invasive intervention of the work.
In the phase prior to the restoration, during the month of July 2017, thousands of high-resolution images were taken of the pictorial surface of the work, captured by visible, ultra-violet and infrared light, and by means of a robotic mechanical system with different sensors that have captured 130 images with 21 megapixels each, allowing an image of 1.7 gigapixels in total to be obtained. By means of a pyramid viewer software it will be possible to explore to the smallest possible details of the work, thanks to a strong zoom, by browsing the website of the Museum, with a computer, tablet or telephone.
One of the main novelties of this restoration is the fact of it being done live, specifically, in room 3 of the Museum, with the aim of minimising the impact that the removal of the work from the permanent circuit would cause, while at the same time involving the visitors, allowing them to participate in the life of a museum. Therefore, during the month of December 2017, in situ work is being carried out on the cleaning phase of the painting. In January 2018, once this first phase is completed, the work will be moved to the workshop in which the fixing process will be carried out. By mid February it is foreseen that the painting will return to the rooms of the museum so as to continue the retouching of the colour. During the month of May the restoration of the work will be finished and the gigapixel photo will be repeated that will allow us to contemplate the work in its full splendour.
Written by the Museu Picasso