Narrator: Picasso painted this picture in just a single day in April 1952. It was meant as a memorial to the Greek communist activist Nikos Bellianis (bell-eye-Yannis) who'd been executed two weeks before. Picasso took traditional elements from memento mori paintings - including the skull and the flickering candle - and used just black and white paint. Tate conservator Annette King:
AK: "Although it's black and white there's quite a lot of thought and innovation gone into this painting. The black, we think after analysis, is a house-paint. You can tell it's a house-paint because they use oil which they would boil up to 240 centigrade. And then filter it. And then they would add material to dry the oil and thicken it - things like chalk, talc and kaolin - and if you find these elements in a paint it's quite often thought to be a house-paint. And Picasso is thought to have always had a tin of black and white house-paint in his studio and often used it on paintings. But it's quite difficult to identify without analysis.
The whites on this painting are quite complicated. There's the thin lead-white ground. And if you look at the lines of the bottle you'll see some of the lead-white ground showing through where Picasso hasn't put any paint on the ground. And then there are two different types of white paint. And if you look very closely at the surface textures there are some which have stiff peaks of impasto and this is thought to be a pigment called lithopone - and the reason it makes a stiff paint is because it absorbs lots of oil and you can't actually get it to come runny, it just becomes a nice stiff paste. And Picasso has used this paint largely in the skull of the goat to create the raised impasto peaks.
The other white he used has zinc in it and titanium. And this doesn't absorb as much oil and makes a smoother paste. And if you look at the diamond shape above the goat's skull you can see these squiggles of rather free-flowing, circular, brush strokes. He painted with probably quite thin brushes with this painting. He's also used different thicknesses of paint as we know but if you look at the blacks there are also some very fluid lines - if you look at the loop to the right of the candle it's almost sort of dripping slightly. So although it's a grisaille, it's a very serious subject, he's used the textures and all the different paints - he was a master at knowing which paints to use to create which effects."