Experts have uncovered a portrait of an unknown man under the surface of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room. The Blue Room has been the subject of exploration since 2008 by experts from the Phillips Collection, National Gallery of Art, Cornell University and Delaware’s Winterthur Museum.
The Blue Room has been part of the Phillips Collection since 1927. Conservators suspected back in 1954 it may have had another painting below its surface, as brushstrokes did not match the composition of a woman bathing in Picasso’s studio. But it was not until the 1990s that an X-ray revealed a “fuzzy image” of something under the main image. Improved infrared imagery has now allowed them to see a full portrait of a man wearing a jacket and bow tie, resting his bearded face on his hand with three rings on his fingers. Analysis has confirmed the hidden portrait was likely to have been painted just before The Blue Room.
“When he had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down and realise it,” curator Susan Behrends Frank told the AP, revealing Picasso had hurriedly painted over another complete picture. “He could not afford to acquire new canvasses every time he had an idea that he wanted to pursue. He worked sometimes on cardboard because canvass was so much more expensive.”
“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?’ We’re still working on answering that question.”