Picasso and non-traditional techniques

If the invention of the lead tube as a container for oil paint enabled the Impressionists to get out of the studio and work in the open air, capturing nature at first hand, the use of industrially manufactured paint provided the ultimate freedom to the artists of the early twentieth century.

Under the title From Can to Canvas, an international colloquium was held in Marseille last May at which restorers and conservators from Europe and America got together to discuss non-traditional painting materials and techniques, putting forward an alternative, complementary vision of the history of art based on the study of the creative process.


It is generally accepted these days that museums need to review their collections in order to understand artists’ techniques more precisely and have more detailed information at their disposal in addressing conservation issues. This major challenge can only be met by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, promoting close cooperation between institutions and bringing the findings of scientific research into the museum. By taking advantage of the latest technology, with its ever-smaller and increasingly portable equipment, which makes it unnecessary to take the artwork to the laboratory, we are bringing the laboratory into the museum.

The art of the first half of the twentieth century was marked by a break with tradition. One day in 1909, Braque introduced the young Picasso to the use of decorative painting, revealing to him the secrets of the trade and its materials (wallpaper, imitation marbling, fake wood…), and anything and everything was legitimate for developing the new language of Cubism and making a definitive break with tradition. From that moment on paint no longer had to come from the palette and the brush was not the only tool with which to apply it! The can of house paint had made its way into the artist’s studio.

Reyes Jiménez during de colloquium

Just as easily and naturally as artists today use video and new technologies, Picasso, Braque, Picabia, Siqueiros and others were the advance guard of modern art in making the most of what the chemical industry had to offer: new formulas in artificial pigments, products used in the nascent film automobile industries such as nitrocellulose lacquers or purified spirits, fast-drying products that they could mix with traditional oil paints to achieve innovative effects.

The Museu Picasso’s representatives at the conference took an active part in the closing round-table at which interdisciplinary approaches were discussed. We took the opportunity to talk about our research and the need to establish closer contacts for better communication between institutions.

Those few days of fruitful exchange of information among colleagues have brought us all a little closer to the working methods of Picasso and his contemporaries. Many thanks to the Musée Picasso in Antibes, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Centre interrégional de conservation et restauration du patrimoine (CICRP) de Marsella for a valuable initiative.

Reyes Jiménez
Preventive Conservation and Restoration

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