Hidden painting found under Picasso masterpiece


One of Pablo Picasso's most famous works, The Blue Room, was painted over an earlier work now revealed by infrared imaging. The hidden image, of a large man in formal attire resting on his hand, would have been created early in the artist's career, reports The Associated Press.

Though the existence of an earlier work beneath The Blue Room was long-suspected, it took years to develop techniques to expose it in detail. Earlier X-rays showed an image so "fuzzy" it wasn't even clear that it was a portrait. Now there's a new mystery: The identity of the subject himself.

Picasso, Pablo The Blue room 1901Picasso's The Blue Room

Scholars are researching who the man might be and why Picasso painted him. They have ruled out the possibility that it was a self-portrait. One candidate is Paris art dealer Ambrose Villard, who hosted Picasso’s first show in 1901. But there is no documentation and no clues left on the canvas, so the research continues.

Ms Favero has been collaborating with other experts to scan the painting with multi-spectral imaging technology and X-ray fluorescence intensity mapping to try to identify and map the colours of the hidden painting. They would like to recreate a digital image approximating the colours Picasso used.

Curators are planning the first exhibit focused on The Blue Room as a seminal work in Picasso’s career for 2017. It will examine the revelation of the man’s portrait beneath the painting, as well as other Picasso works and his engagement with other artists.

We covered multispectral imaging ourselves in a trip to the Library of Congress. The same techniques revealed that a draft of the Declaration of Independence originally named Americans "subjects" instead of "citizens".

Notable Replies

  1. Who would described this as one of Picasso's most famous paintings? I certainly wouldn't.

  2. Kimmo says:

    I'm more interested in whether it'd ever be possible to see the colours.

    Now that'd be an impressive trick.

    ...Can anyone think of a use for this tech that doesn't fall under anthropology, IOW an application other than formalised navel-gazing?

    (Not that the navel-gazing doesn't have its uses, but occasionally you might get the feeling some folks have lost sight of the whole point of being smart with science...)

  3. I'm not sure whether multispectral imaging can do that or not, but I do know people use x-ray fluorescence imaging to reconstruct color images of ancient artwork and inscriptions. Many pigments are (or were) made using heavy metals you can measure with x-rays, and chisels leave traces of metal in stone tablets.

  4. Well, what are we waiting for? Let's get the strippers and the solvents out, and dig a few test trenches-- see if we can't confirm our geophys results!

  5. This blogpost reproduces the X-ray, but it also implies that Dali was not interested in being an entirely "objective" art historian.

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