Beneath Picasso Masterpiece: Mystery Man

'The Blue Room' was painted on top of another portrait

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 17, 2014 9:04 AM CDT

(Newser) – "The Blue Room" is one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces, painted in Paris toward the start of his blue period in 1901—and, researchers now reveal, apparently painted on top of another painting. Scientists and art experts using infrared imagery first identified a man's face hidden beneath "The Blue Room" in 2008, some 54 years after a conservator wrote of odd brushstrokes on the image of a woman bathing that didn't seem to match the composition. Now, after some five years of analysis, the new findings have been revealed to the AP. The man in the vertical portrait is bearded, wearing a jacket, a bow tie, and three rings as his face rests on his hand. But who is he—and why did Picasso paint over him?

The second question may be easier to answer: "When he had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down and realize it," a curator explains. "He could not afford to acquire new canvasses every time he had an idea that he wanted to pursue." Indeed, at least two other Picasso paintings feature hidden pictures underneath. As for the first question, conservators at The Phillips Collection in Washington, which has had the painting since 1927, are still working on figuring it out. They know it's not a self-portrait, and no documentation about it exists. One possibility: Paris art dealer Ambrose Villard, who hosted Picasso's first show in 1901. Experts are also working to recreate the portrait digitally, using special technology to determine what colors Picasso used. An exhibit on "The Blue Room" and the hidden portrait is planned for 2017.

This image provided by The Phillips Collection shows an infrared image of Pablo Picasso’s "The Blue Room," painted in 1901. Scientists and art experts have found a hidden painting beneath it.   (AP Photo/The Phillips Collection)
"The Blue Room," one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces sits in a vertical orientation in front of an infared camera at The Phillips Collection, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Washington.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
"The Blue Room," one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces at The Phillips Collection, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Washington.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
"The Blue Room," one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces sits under a microscope at The Phillips Collection, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Washington.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
"The Blue Room," one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces sits under a microscope at The Phillips Collection, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Washington.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
"The Blue Room," one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces sits under a microscope at The Phillips Collection, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014, in Washington.   (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
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