Picasso’s Mystery “Blue” Man

The painting of the bearded man beneath Picasso's "The Blue Room." Photo Courtesy of Daily News.
The painting of the bearded man beneath Picasso’s “The Blue Room.” Photo Courtesy of Daily News.

Have you heard about this exciting new discovery in the art world? Beneath one of Picasso’s famous early Blue Period paintings, The Blue Room, art conservators have found a hidden painting through the power of X-rays. The finished painting, held in The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, since 1927, was completed in 1901 and depicts a woman bathing herself in Picasso’s studio, a blue room (thus giving it the title).

"The Blue Room" by Picasso, 1901. Photo courtesy AP.
“The Blue Room” by Picasso, 1901. Photo courtesy AP.

However, according to BBC News, conservators have long speculated about a hidden painting beneath the Picasso masterpiece, at least as long ago as 1954. A letter written by one of the conservators in that year remarked that some brushstrokes on the piece do not match the rest of the painting.

In the 1990s, an X-ray confirmed the suspicion, but it did not provide a detailed-enough image to make out what the picture depicted. Finally, in 2008, infrared imagery revealed a bearded man, and improved technology over the past few years has allowed better images to be made. The hope is to be able to analyze the image well-enough to figure out the colors in the painting and make a digital re-creation of the work. The Guardian reports:

“It’s really one of those moments that really makes what you do special,” said Patricia Favero, the conservator at the Phillips Collection who pieced together the best infrared image yet of the man’s face. “The second reaction was, well, who is it?”

That is the question everyone seems to be asking. The most popular possibility is the Parisian art dealer who organized Picasso’s first art show, Ambroise Vollard.

So why did Picasso paint over this portrait? CNN writes:

“It was a period in his life when he was broke and he needed to repurpose canvasses,” The Phillips’ associate curator Susan Frank explained. “Picasso is an artist who worked so quickly and had so many ideas that reusing these canvasses to capture a current idea was part of his process.”

This is not the first time hidden paintings have been found under Picasso’s paintings. Blind Man’s Meal, La Vie and Woman Ironing all have had similar discoveries made under their surfaces.

Picasso, one of the greatest 20th-century artists, is featured in seven Art Docent Program lessons, including “Pets” for first grade, “Feelings” for third grade, and “Cubism” for fifth grade.

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