Normally one supposes that painters carefully blend, refine and mix their own oil-based paints, or at least buy the very best available. Not if you’re the idiosyncratic genius Picasso. Recent scientific analysis has shown he used common house paint.
Always known as an innovator and experimental with his painting style, it had long been suspected that to achieve some of the effects he did in his work he had used unconventional methods.
For instance, traditional oil paint takes a very long time to dry and readily shows brush marks. However, Ripolin, the very first commercially available house paint dried quickly and was designed not to show brush marks. Plus it lent itself to various useful properties like edging and marbling, and dried to a high gloss finish, techniques Picasso utilised in his work.
But until very recently there was no way to check this.
Francesca Casadio is senior conservator scientist at Chicago’s prestigious Art Institute. She explained that they needed to reverse-engineer a sample of Ripolin to isolate its unique properties – a genetic fingerprint basically – that could then be looked for in his pictures.
They were only able to do this thanks to their collaboration with physicists at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois – and e-bay!
Samples of the decades-old paint turned up on the popular auction site, enabling deep x-ray scans to be taken of it using the laboratory’s state-of-the-art Nanoprobe.
This amazing device was able to get right down to the chemical structure of individual paint cells and map their unique signature.
Thankfully, modern artwork copying by suppliers such as http://www.river-studio.com/services/index.php are able to turn out immaculate reproductions of works by the likes of Picasso and other major artists.
The Red Armchair
The next stage was persuading owners of Picasso’s work of the appropriate period to allow their precious paintings to be tested. Luckily, the Chicago Art Institute itself is the proud possessor of ‘The Red Armchair’, painted in 1931 and perhaps the defining example of this period of Picasso’s long career.
The results vindicated the long-held belief.
Argonne’s Volker Rose, research leader, released a statement declaring that the nanoprobe had revealed such unparalleled information about the paint’s chemical composition that any lingering doubt that the great artist had indeed used common house paint was gone.