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Benjamin Palencia - Head of a Woman

Benjamin Palencia - Head of a Woman

Benjamin Palencia was a leading figure in the Spanish avant-garde movements of the 1920’s and 30’s. Between 1929 and 1932, the artist worked regularly on paper with a schematic graphic language influenced by both prehistoric art and Surrealism. In this striking piece, Palencia applied ink and wax crayons to create a figure which was titled “rooster” in the 1975 publication “Dibujos de B. Palencia” by Garfías. Palencia kept the work in his collection until the 70’s, when it was sold to a gallery owner, Agustín Rodríguez Sahagún, an art lover and an important political figure in the Spanish transition period to democracy after Franco’s death (he was a minister twice and was mayor of Madrid from 1989 until 1991). After Rodríguez Sahagún’s death in 1991, the artwork became part of the collection of his widow. It was eventually acquired by a private British collection in 2012 and was brought to John Jones for conservation work in 2013.

Our team were pleased to remove the work from a harmful, acidic board support. The artwork was washed by repeat immersion in mineral water to remove fragments of the board and adhesive residues from the back, a process which significantly reduced discolouration and brightened the overall paper tone of the piece. Tears in the paper and areas of media loss were repaired and re-touched using specialist 100% cotton rag Japanese papers, watercolours and candle wax to imitate the surface texture of the original crayon media. Rather than hinging the artwork using tabs, we chose to inlay the piece to a sheet of Japanese paper to lessen the risk of localised distortions and more evenly restrain the edges of the artwork.

Upon removing the artwork from its original board support, we discovered an original inscription on the back of the piece reading ‘Cabeza de mujer’, which translates to ‘Head of a woman’. This revelation contradicts the previous ‘rooster’ title and the traditional art historical reading of the image.