Lonely Planet Writer

Scientists reveal secrets hidden in Picasso's artworks

A team of scientists has uncovered some of the secrets hidden in famous works by Pablo Picasso. The research team looked beneath the layers of paint of The Crouching Woman – or La Miséreuse accroupie – and found that the canvas had actually been used before.

Pablo Picasso. La Miséreuse accroupie, 1902. Art Gallery of Ontario. Anonymous gift, 1963. © Picasso Estate.

The work from the artist’s Blue Period normally hangs in Canada’s Art Gallery of Ontario and was painted in 1902. The scientists used special non-invasive imaging techniques to look at the canvas … finding images connected to other works by Picasso as well as the presence of another picture, thought to have been by a different Barcelona painter (identity unknown).

Scientists examine the painting. Image by Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

The remnants of that landscape painting were eventually incorporated into the picture with Picasso re-using cliff edges from it as lines for the woman’s back. In the painting, the woman also originally held a disk in her right arm, but it was later covered over with a cloak for the final work. Research professor Marc Walton said: “Picasso had no qualms about changing things during the painting process … [our work] has begun to tease apart the complexity of [the picture] uncovering subtle changes made as he worked toward his final vision.”

Tête de femme (Fernande), Paris, automne 1909, bronze, Musée national Picasso – Paris, (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris), (C) Succession Picasso 2018

A separate study of dozens of Picasso’s sculptures has also uncovered some fascinating details, using a similar set of scientific techniques. The research team could trace five bronzes cast in Paris during World War II to the foundry of Emile Robechhi for the first time. The type of metal alloys used in those sculptures varied significantly between 1941 and 1942 presumably because of difficulties in finding material during the Nazi occupation. They believe that scarce metal resources were being used by the Germans to bolster the war effort while the foundry was forced to re-use scrap metal from every day brass objects.