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Picasso’s Paint

February 18, 2013

High-energy X rays have resolved a longstanding question about Picasso’s materials.



Picasso meets physics.  I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

It’s been suspected that Picasso was among the first major artists to work with house paint.  To settle the matter, the Art Insitute of Chicago teamed up with Argonne National Laboratory physicist Volker Rose.

VOLKER ROSE (Argonne National Laboratory):

I have a history in studying zinc oxide nanostructures…

… and zinc oxide is a major component of white paint.  Rose’s team used high-energy X-rays to look at Picasso’s paintings on the nanometer scale – resolving features a thousand times finer than a human hair.   That allowed them to match the paint to an early commercial housepaint, made by the French company Ripolin.  Zinc oxide and its impurities were key to the detective work.  Rose says the X-ray technology could be applied to other issues in art history and conservation.

Now we can open to this community a new approach to their problems.


I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Pablo Picasso in 1962 (Vea y Lea)