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Monday, May 16 • 9:30am - 10:00am
(Paintings) An Investigation into the Materials and Techniques in Francis Picabia’s 'La Terre est Ronde,' 1951.

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Francis Picabia is known to have commonly re-worked or completely painted over earlier versions of his paintings; however, the original image that lies beneath the surface often remains a mystery. The artist’s re-painting affects not only the visible image, but also the painting’s physical characteristics and changes in condition over time. Intentional visible alterations to the painted composition of La Terre est Ronde (1951, private collection), possibly the last painting completed by Picabia, were explored using detailed examination techniques combined with scientific analysis and research. The painting depicts an abstracted, white, cylindrical form resting on a white and light blue rounded Earth, contrasted against a dark blue background, with two large bright green circles above, and smaller white circles surrounding the columnar form. Pentimenti was indicated by vertical brushstrokes extending upwards and downwards from the white form, which did not correspond to the visible paint application. These were compared against a previously known possible source image of ‘the Angel from the Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse,’ an illumination from the Beatus d’Urgell manuscript (Catalan artist, 10th C.). Technical examination and X-radiography images taken using a digital X-ray detector confirmed that Picabia omitted anatomical aspects of the source figure as he originally painted it. He reworked his composition to create a fully abstracted form, covering the angel’s head and censer with bright green circles, and painting out its arms, legs, and feet. Furthermore, unexpected physical characteristics, condition issues, and unintentional alterations in the painting’s appearance over time were encountered during examination and testing, which impacted the course of conservation treatment. Picabia experimented with various paint media throughout his career, which may have contributed to unique condition concerns. An extensive network of open cracks in the green painted circles, and the presence of small, white, crystalline efflorescences in the blue background merited scientific analysis and research to better understand their physical components, and assist in devising an ethical and effective treatment strategy. In-depth scholarly research and technical examination included infrared reflectography, ultraviolet photography, and photomicrography. Samples of pigments, crystalline efflorescences, and two varnishes were analyzed using scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (SEM/EDS), micro X-ray diffraction (XRD), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), and light microscopy (LM). Pigments present in the green paint were found to be rather unusual, and may merit further investigation and comparison against pigments identified in Picabia’s other late paintings. This paper will discuss Francis Picabia’s materials and techniques used in La Terre est Ronde, and how they have contributed to unexpected condition issues, requiring thoughtful preparation, research, and treatment to stabilize and best preserve this unique Dada painting.


Emily Prehoda

Associate Paintings Conservator, Kuniej Berry Associates, LLC
Emily Prehoda earned her B.A. in the History of Art from Michigan State University, and her M.A. in Art Conservation, specializing in Paintings Conservation, from Queen’s University. She is currently an Associate Paintings Conservator at Kuniej Berry Associates, LLC, a private conservation... Read More →

avatar for Joseph R. Swider

Joseph R. Swider

Senior Research Scientist, McCrone Associates, Inc
Joseph R. Swider earned a BS in Chemistry and Art History from the University of Rochester and a PhD in Nuclear Chemistry from the University of Maryland at College Park. During a portion of his graduate studies he was employed by the Science Department at the National Gallery of... Read More →

Monday May 16, 2016 9:30am - 10:00am EDT
Room 710 A