The Blue Room (1901) is one of Picasso’s first masterpieces, painted when he was only 19. He was going through his Blue Period which consisted of exactly of what it sounds — paintings in the color blue — and other cool colors — depicting somber subjects.
There has been speculation since 1927 — when The Phillips Collection first acquired this piece — that there might be another painting behind Picasso’s The Blue Room due to the irregularities in the brushstrokes that do not follow the form of a woman bathing. Back in 1990 an X-ray revealed an unidentified image under the painting. Now with advances in technology scientist and experts have decided to take another look.
Using inferred technology, conservators discovered a portrait of a bearded man in a bow tie who appears to be deep in thought. He sits just beneath the surface of The Blue Room in a vertical composition. Upon this exciting discovery Patricia Favero, associate conservator at The Phillips Collection, said, ”It’s really one of those moments that really makes what you do special.”
But then came the question of who is the man in the portrait? Some have suggested that he may be Ambrose Villard, a Parisian art dealer who hosted Picasso’s first show. However, conservators are still continuing to look for clues as to who this may be. They have begun using multispectral imaging and X-rays to try and map the colors of the portrait as that may reveal addition details.
The reason Picasso painted over this portrait may also give some insight into who the man is. Picasso was still a young struggling artist at the time, so it is likely that to avoid having to purchase another canvas, Picasso would just paint over old pictures. While it was common for young artists to reuse canvases, some would even buy old artworks at a thrift shops or flea markets just to paint over them. Though it’s unlikely, there is a chance that the portrait behind The Blue Room isn’t even painted by Picasso at all!
While mysteries in art, such as this, can be thrilling to think about, they also give us real insight into the working habits of one of the most significant artist of the 20th century.
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