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Picasso painting reveals hidden man

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Scientists and art experts have found a hidden painting beneath one of Pablo Picasso's first masterpieces, "The Blue Room," using advances in infrared imagery to reveal a bow-tied man with his face resting on his hand. Now the question that conservators at The Phillips Collection in Washington hope to answer is simply: Who is he?

It's a mystery that's fueling new research about the 1901 painting created early in Picasso's career while he was working in Paris at the start of his distinctive blue period of melancholy subjects.

AP Exclusive: Picasso Artwork Reveals Hidden Man

Curators and conservators revealed their findings for the first time to The Associated Press last week. Over the past five years, experts from The Phillips Collection, National Gallery of Art, Cornell University and Delaware's Winterthur Museum have developed a clearer image of the mystery picture under the surface. It's a portrait of an unknown man painted in a vertical composition by one of the 20th century's great artists.

"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."

In 2008, improved infrared imagery revealed for the first time a man's bearded face resting on his hand with three rings on his fingers. He's dressed in a jacket and bow tie. A technical analysis confirmed the hidden portrait is a work Picasso likely painted just before "The Blue Room," curators said. After the portrait was discovered, conservators have been using other technology to scan the painting for further insights.

Conservators long suspected there might be something under the surface of "The Blue Room," which has been part of The Phillips Collection in Washington since 1927. Brushstrokes on the piece clearly don't match the composition that depicts a woman bathing in Picasso's studio. A conservator noted the odd brushstrokes in a 1954 letter, but it wasn't until the 1990s that an x-ray of the painting first revealed a fuzzy image of something under the picture. It wasn't clear, though, that it was a portrait.

"When he had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down and realize 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."

Scholars are researching who this man might be and why Picasso painted him. They have ruled out the possibility that it was a self-portrait. One possible figure is the Paris art dealer Ambrose Villard who hosted Picasso's first show in 1901. But there's no documentation and no clues left on the canvass, so the research continues.

Favero has been collaborating with other experts to scan the painting with multi-spectral imaging technology and x-ray fluorescence intensity mapping to try to identify and map the colors of the hidden painting. They would like to recreate a digital image approximating the colors Picasso used.

Curators are planning the first exhibit focused on "The Blue Room" as a seminal work in Picasso's career for 2017. It will examine the revelation of the man's portrait beneath the painting, as well as other Picasso works and his engagement with other artists.

For now, "The Blue Room" is part of a tour to South Korea through early 2015 as the research continues.

Hidden pictures have been found under other important Picasso paintings. A technical analysis of "La Vie" at the Cleveland Museum of Art revealed Picasso significantly reworked the painting's composition. And conservators found a portrait of a mustached man beneath Picasso's painting "Woman Ironing" at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan.

Dorothy Kosinski, the director of The Phillips Collection, said new knowledge about Picasso and his process can be discovered through the high-tech collaboration among museums.

"Our audiences are hungry for this. It's kind of detective work. It's giving them a doorway of access that I think enriches, maybe adds mystery, while allowing them to be part of a piecing together of a puzzle," she said. "The more we can understand, the greater our appreciation is of its significance in Picasso's life."

Join the discussion

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wnagle53 June 17 2014 at 9:19 AM

It's Julio Hernandez, Picaso's neighbor. Mystery solved. You're welcome.
Now move along and report on how Obama is subverting the Constitution.
Journalism my ass.

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13 replies
Sparky5229 June 17 2014 at 10:00 AM

Sorry i am not an art lover most of these paintings look like a 10 year old kid did them.

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8 replies
alfredschrader June 17 2014 at 6:36 AM

My neighbor just threw out an old dingey print in a gold metal frame.
I picked it up and looked at it - he said I could have it.
I was going to recycle the print and maybe save the frame for something else.
When I peeled the Kmart print out there was another much older print behind it - obviouly from previous owners.
I looked it up and it's a 1982 Tom Edwards print worth around $80.00
Of course, I put it in the July 20 th auction.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
3 replies
morserick June 17 2014 at 12:08 PM

Masterpieces ????? - Just another One of Picasso poorly Painted Pictures under another Poorly painted Picture - People Wake up and smell the coffee - Picasso was unable to Paint or Draw !

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7 replies
IBruzEZ June 17 2014 at 7:56 AM

We re-gift, he re-painted... no big deal.

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lindiana12 June 17 2014 at 4:20 PM

anybody want to pay me millions for a painting I made? Im not famous but if you buy it I will be and that will raise the value. good investment!

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Jeffrey B. Kull June 17 2014 at 10:03 AM

This is like uncovering a ghost. I'll be interested to see who the subject is, if they can identify him...the three rings may provide a clue, so I'm sure they'll be going through contemporary photos of Picasso and friends and maybe find out that way. I find this intriguing.

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1 reply
Kate Jeffrey B. Kull June 17 2014 at 12:16 PM

It is intriguing, no? The man looks vaguely familiar to me, but I'm sure it's just a coincidence of having seen other paintings and photos from the period.

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clarkkentdlyplnt June 17 2014 at 7:44 AM

I'm more curious about the image of the other man's face, the one with the wavy hair and the double chin just to the left of the man with the bow tie.

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2 replies
rwilliamhoward clarkkentdlyplnt June 17 2014 at 10:39 AM

Kind of looks like a guy with a knitted cap.... Or are there others here? Or arer we seeing what we wnat to see?

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michele clarkkentdlyplnt June 17 2014 at 2:17 PM

I saw it! At first I thought you were being facetious, but then I looked again and saw it! Fascinating, accident or intentional ya think?

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bronzemarigolds June 17 2014 at 2:24 PM

Maybe Piccaso was doing a portrait of the guy and got stiffed. Since he did not get paid for his work, the artist just reused his materials.

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1 reply
peacockjp bronzemarigolds June 17 2014 at 3:19 PM

Sometimes -- also It's all a matter of Finances -- An artist is low on funds - and has a painting he/she isn't wild about - So -- just Paint over it.

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1 reply
mpeters151 peacockjp June 17 2014 at 3:45 PM

As I understand it, this sort of thing happened a lot in the past. Maybe, it continues today. Why not recycle?

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harry June 17 2014 at 5:10 PM

maybe its me... but I just don't see anything appealing in any of Picasso's paintings.

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1 reply
Dennis harry June 17 2014 at 5:52 PM

It's not just you!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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