Who's hiding in Picasso's 'Blue Room'?

Thu Jun 19, 2014 1:50pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Art experts will be combing the archives, analyzing correspondence and scrutinizing sketches and photographs to try to identity a mystery man whose portrait was discovered hidden under "The Blue Room," a 1901 painting by Pablo Picasso.

Infrared scans revealed the image of a well-dressed gentleman under "The Blue Room," painted during the artist's early days in Paris. Art experts are eager to learn who the man was, how he was connected to Picasso, and why his portrait was painted over.

"We will try to identify, if at all possible, who the sitter might be," said Susan Behrends Frank, associate curator for research at The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.

"We're trying to gather information about individuals Picasso had any opportunity to have contact with, or whose paths he may have crossed during his crucial early weeks in Paris," she said.

Researchers are hoping that material from the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, and another museum in Paris, will offer clues to solving the puzzle.

Knowing more about the man shown seated with his right hand touching his cheek could help researchers understand the process and changing style of the celebrated artist who died in France in 1973 at age 91.

A conservator at The Phillips Collection, a private institution, suspected something was underneath the "The Blue Room" as early as the 1950s when he noticed inconsistencies in the brush strokes. In 1997, X-ray images revealing a murky image confirmed his suspicions.

But it wasn't until infra-red scans were performed in 2008 that a clearer portrait of the bearded man in a bow-tie was revealed.   Continued...

Pablo Picasso’s painting “The Blue Room” is seen in this undated handout photo. REUTERS/The Phillips Collection/Handout