Lecture: Francesca Casadio

Apolinère enameled: enamel paints and the making of avant-garde art  | THURSDAY, October 23rd, 2014  |   5:30 pm   |    157 Cochrane Woods—Art History

Oil-based enamel paints, manufactured for household and other uses in the beginning of the twentieth century became popular among avant-garde European painters because of their surface qualities and handling properties: Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, René Magritte and others are reported to have used Ripolin house paints in their works. These paints were so renowned that the term ‘ripolin’ was often used to refer to a broader class of enamel paints in general and soon became synonymous with modernity, sophisticated technology, excellent quality and high performance. Surprisingly, little attention has been given to the study of industrial paint chemistry and technology including house, architectural, car and boat paints produced in the beginning of the twentieth century. For the past several years a research project has been carried out at the Art Institute of Chicago to fill this gap, approaching the study through sophisticated scientific analysis, in-depth study of the industrial technical literature of the time, and analysis of paintings by Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries. 

The analysis of artists’ paints, hierarchically complex materials typically composed of binder, pigments, fillers, and other additives is a challenging, multiscale problem. Techniques as simple as visual observation under a visible light stereomicroscope and as complex as high resolution nanoprobe Synchrotron Radiation- X-ray fluorescence (SR-XRF) mapping are deployed by museum scientists to answer questions about composition, stability, manufacturing technology, and even the artist’s intention. 

For the past eleven years a state of the art scientific laboratory has been developed at the Art Institute of Chicago to enhance our understanding and long-term preservation of the works in the collection. In this talk Dr. Casadio will present a behind the scenes look at the research taking place in preparation for exhibitions and scholarly catalogues. Part forensic science, part detective work, this lecture will unravel the creative and technical feats of art giants such as Pablo Picasso. It will illuminate how the tools of science and archival research into technical and industrial sources can shed new light on the work of conservators and art historians and potentially alter the way in which the public looks at each work of art. 

Francesca Casadio joined the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003 to establish and direct a state of the art conservation science laboratory. As the Museum’s first A.W Mellon Senior Conservation Scientist she is in charge of planning and carrying out scientific research in support of the preservation and study of the Museum’s collection. Dr. Casadio has also established and co-directs the Northwestern University/ Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS). Francesca Casadio received her Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Chemistry from the University of Milan, Italy. 

In 2006 Dr. Casadio was awarded the L’Oréal Art and Science of Color Silver Prize for distinguished contribution to the creative meeting of science and art through color with her collaborative research with Professor Richard P. Van Duyne of Northwestern University. Her work has been featured on air, online and in print on: Reuters online media, US National Public radio, The Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Italy’s il Corriere della sera, il Sole 24 ore, Vogue Italia, radio rai, and other media.

Presented in partnership with the Department of Art History & the Materials, Research in Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC).


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