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Guggenheim conservation of Pablo Picasso's "Woman Ironing" reveals underlying painting
Pablo Picasso, Woman Ironing (La repasseuse), Bateau-Lavoir, Paris, spring 1904. Oil on canvas, 116.2 x 73 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser© 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Kristopher McKay © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum recently completed extensive conservation work on Picasso’s Woman Ironing and is releasing the findings today. The marquee piece of the “Picasso Black and White” exhibition, currently on display at the Guggenheim, Woman Ironing is proving to be more than simply an evocative portrait of a Parisian laundress. In addition to unveiling a more accurate version of the painting, the conservation work has gleamed insight into the identity of the subject of the underlying painting.

The conservation work was made possible through a grant from Bank of America, as part of their global Art Conservation Project, through which the company has helped to restore 70 unique works of significant cultural and historical importance in 22 countries around the world. Bank of America is also sponsoring the Picasso Black and White exhibition.

A study of Woman Ironing completed in 1989 revealed an apparent portrait of a man beneath the surface of the 1904 composition. Technological limitations prevented further discovery about the underlying portrait until recently, when developments in imaging techniques allowed researchers to see it with greater clarity.

With this support from Bank of America, the Guggenheim Conservation Department has been able to conduct an in-depth, scholarly study of the earlier portrait, incorporating advanced imaging techniques as well as chemical analysis of pigments and historical research. Two of Picasso’s close friends, artist Ricard Canals and sculptor Mateu Fernández de Soto, are thought to be the subject of the inner painting, although experts and conservators are torn about which one the piece truly pictures.

“We understand the importance of conservation to the integrity and lasting reflection of works like Woman Ironing. The conservators have done magnificent work - the painting has been restored to its original glory and we have gained greater insight into the inner workings of Picasso himself. We are delighted to have been able to support this effort and to make it possible for many people to enjoy the painting through Picasso Black and White,” said Rena DeSisto, International CSR and Global Arts and Culture executive at Bank of America.

The results have obtained a better visualization of the underlying male subject and will enhance existing scholarship on Picasso’s working methods and materials. Conservation treatment of the painting has been a central component of the project, and has comprised overall cleaning, stabilization, and editing of old and mismatched restorations. The cleaning exposed extraordinary nuances in Picasso’s brushwork and palette and helped recover the painting’s original luminosity and depth. Subtle chromatic differentiations emerged among the various grays and flesh tones, and the overall palette proved cooler than it had previously appeared.

Woman Ironing is on display at the Guggenheim through January 23, 2013.

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