Study and restoration of Pablo Picasso's Mujer en azul (Woman in Blue)


Presentation of the stages of study and intervention in the work Mujer en azul (Woman in Blue) that Pablo Picasso painted in 1901.

The procedure performed

The restoration work is carried out with the patronage of the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, via their Art Preservation Project. The study and restoration project lasted one year and consisted of two phases.

An initial study phase

(see attached file for the report in Spanish) during which the following actions were taken: 

A second phase of chemical analysis and intervention

To better understand the painting's state of conservation, high precision technology has been applied. This has made it possible to obtain a high resolution image with zoom effect that lets us see inside the painting.

The looping animation shown in the link is the result of superimposing images acquired by means of infrared light, ultraviolet light, visible light and radiography. To take these images a Cartesian robot system was used, allowing cameras to move all over the surface, capturing images free of any type of deformation. This robot moves with great precision and makes it possible to work very close to the surface of the paint, with lenses designed for macrophotography. The precision of the movement is such that in the postproduction of the final images there is no need to apply geometric correction tools to the proportions. This means that the images reflect the original as closely as they possibly can, as is required of a scientific study.

Chemical analysis and intervention

The intervention on Picasso's work Woman in Blue has made it possible not only to perform a minute material study of the painting but also to recover, to the extent allowed by natural aging, its original appearance.

It has also allowed for a methodical elimination of old interventions, common in those days, which involved the addition of different elements: thick patches of fabric to cover various holes and tears; a lining comprised of cotton fabric; paint touch-ups that covered part of the lower section of the original, where some gaps in the paint had appeared; various layers of varnish that changed the colour and appearance of the painting, due to both the aging of the varnish and the remnants of dirt that were trapped between layers.

This intervention opted for current restoration criteria and practices, which are less invasive, affect only the damaged surface, prefer systems and materials that are easily reversible, apply scientific methods and modern technology and are based on teamwork. All of this has led to a deeper understanding of and greater respect for the artist's original intention.

Technically the treatment consisted of replacing the old patches with non-woven linen fibres, putting in a loose lining and eliminating touch-ups and varnishes, thus bringing back the painting's original colour scheme. Small flaws have been covered and reintegrated chromatically in an easily reversible manner, in a way that makes them distinguishable from the original when viewed from a short distance away. No new layers of varnish have been applied to the paint; instead, the different textures of the oil paint remain visible, thus returning to the original intention of the author, who did not varnish this painting.

This entire process relied heavily on the previous photographic studies using different types of illumination, infrared reflectography, radiography and spectral characterization of the surface for the chromatic study (detailed above) and also on the numerous chemical analyses needed to perform the study of the materials present, both the originals and the ones added at a later date. Such analyses are based on different techniques, including optical microscopy, scanning electron microscopy, Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and pyrolysis-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry.

The attached photos reflect various moments of the process in the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Department and some close-ups of the appreciable change in the painting.

  • Estudio y restauración de la Mujer en Azul de Pablo Picasso
  • Estudio y restauración de la Mujer en Azul de Pablo Picasso
  • Estudio y restauración de la Mujer en Azul de Pablo Picasso
  • Hoja de inscripción de “Una Figura” para la Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes de 1901. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte; Archivo General de la Administración caja 31/6842. (Pág.1)
  • Hoja de inscripción de “Una Figura” para la Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes de 1901. Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte; Archivo General de la Administración caja 31/6842. (Pag.2-3)
  • Estudio de la imagen de reflectografía infrarroja
  • Observación de la imagen radiográfica
  • Sección transversal de micromuestra azul, borde lateral derecho. Objetivo 20x
  • Sección transversal de micromuestra verde, borde lateral izquierdo. Objetivo 20x
  • Definición de la estrategia de trabajo en función de los diferentes problemas y zonas de la obra
  • Pruebas puntuales en zonas representativas para la eliminación de materiales añadidos
  • Discos de ensayo de celulosa, usados como soporte para evaluar el riesgo asociado al método de limpieza
  • Aplicación de técnicas analíticas
  • La técnica de espectrometría infrarroja por transformada de Fourier permite el análisis de diferentes tipos de compuestos que forman parte de aglutinantes, adhesivos, recubrimientos, pigmentos o productos de deterioro
  • La técnica de pirolisis-cromatografía de gases-espectrometría de masas permite la identificación, entre otros, de polímeros sintéticos. Identificación del componente acrílico presente en el recubrimiento
  • Puesta en común en el Departamento de restauración sobre los criterios a seguir
  • Protección local de la capa pictórica en las áreas de parches antes de la intervención
  • Eliminación del antiguo reentelado
  • Proceso de eliminación de los parches existentes
  • Limpieza del reverso mediante un gel rígido
  • Nuevo refuerzo de desgarros tras la eliminación del antiguo parche
  • Eliminación de ligeras deformaciones en la mesa de baja presión
  • Colocación de bandas perimetrales
  • Bastidor con la tela del reentelado flotante donde se aprecia su transparencia
  • Observación de la superficie con el microscopio binocular
  • Proceso de eliminación de barnices
  • Proceso de eliminación de barnices
  • Enrasado de la preparación añadida
  • Colocación de la obra en su enmarcado