Press release available only in original language.
TECHNICAL STUDY OF PICASSO’S HARLEQUIN WITH A MIRROR (1923) 28 April to 8 October 2017
To mark the celebration of its 25 th Anniversary the #museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is presenting a special display in order to show the results of the technical study undertaken by its Restoration department in collaboration with the department of Modern Painting on one of the most celebrated works in the museum’s permanent collection: Harlequin with a Mirror (1923) by Pablo Ruiz Picasso.
The project aims to introduce visitors to the most interesting aspects of the process behind the creation of this painting, showing in detail how it was conceived and thus facilitating an understanding of Picasso’s working methods. The study undertaken made use of the different procedures habitually employed in museum laboratories: infra-red reflectography, pigment analysis and complete photographic documentation. The use of this methodology allows experts to establish details of the technique employed, the composition of the materials and their distribution in various layers, as well as the changes and corrections made during the process of the work’s creation.
In addition to the infra-red photographs and X-radiographs exhibited alongside the painting, this display, which has benefitted from sponsorship by the German company Leifheit, includes a video that uses the information provided by the present project to recreate how Picasso painted his work. It also includes details on the materials and paint layers, images in raking-light and macro- photographs which allow every detail of the painting to be appreciated.
WHAT WAS KNOWN ABOUT THE PAINTING
Initially conceived as a self-portrait, Harlequin with a Mirror (1923) combines various characters from the worlds of the circus and the Commedia dell’arte, which particularly fascinated Picasso and which he identified with: Harlequin, wearing his two-cornered hat; an acrobat through his clothing; and Pierrot through his face which, transformed into a mask, camouflages the artist’s identity.
The monumental figure of Harlequin reflects the new artistic language inspired by the works of the great masters of art that Picasso had begun to employ following his trip to Italy in 1917. While the Italian experience resulted in a return to classical approaches, Picasso’s interpretation was not a literal one and was rather based on the freedom acquired during his prior Cubist phase.
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY Infra-red image
Infra-red reflectography provides information on what lies concealed beneath the layers of paint visible to the viewer. Providing the material conditions are suitable for its use, this type of image shows any preparatory under-drawing executed by the artist. The infra-red reflectograph of Harlequin with a Mirror reveals various aspects of Picasso’s working method, for example the fact that over the preparation he applied an initial layer of priming with slight differences, defining the forms with areas of grey-brown paint and emphasising the volumes in white.
Next he used the brush to rapidly define some of the outlines then applied different layers of colour and emphasised the outlines in black. The lines of the initial preparatory drawing and those used to subsequently strengthen the outlines of the figure are very similar, suggesting the extremely confident way in which Picasso worked and which is characteristic of this great artist’s method in general.
X-radiographs also provides extremely valuable information not visible to the naked eye, revealing details of the pictorial technique used, the composition and the material history of the work.
An examination of the X-radiograph of Harlequin with a Mirror shows how Picasso laid in the figure in white and used loose, rapid brushstrokes to define the work’s composition. During this initial phase he painted Harlequin with his legs apart to create a solid, balanced body. The subsequent modification, with the left leg turned inwards, gives the final figure a slight sense of instability and movement. This foreshortening is not evident in the X-radiograph due to the materials used.
The X-radiograph reveals how Picasso used painting in the manner of a preparatory sketch and how he started with a more naturalist composition based on vibrant brushstrokes which he gradually covered over and made less agitated through the use of planes of colour in a manner derived from his Cubist period.
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