Scientists Discover Hidden Landscape Beneath a Picasso Painting

Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 12:56PM
Saturday, 17 February 2018 - 12:56PM
Scientists Discover Hidden Landscape Beneath a Picasso Painting
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Picasso Estate
There's a lot to take in when you examine a piece of artwork by Pablo Picasso. And if you're looking at the right artwork, there might be even more that you're missing which is completely invisible to the naked eye.

A team of researchers at Northwestern University used a non-invasive technique called x-ray fluorescent spectroscopy to scan a painting called La Miséreuse Accroupie (The Crouching Beggar). What they found was a completely different painting underneath - Picasso not only painted over a landscape by an unknown artist, he also incorporated parts of the landscape into his final painting, which only become visible when you have that initial landscape scan as a reference.

For example, the ridges of the mountains eventually morphed into the outline of the woman's back as the painting changed. It's not clear who painted the original landscape, but it doesn't match up with Picasso's style, making the researchers speculate that it came from a different painter in Barcelona.

The painting is from 1902, during a four year period of Picasso's life known as the "Blue Period," when he only created monochromatic paintings using blues and occasionally greens.

And further scanning by the research team revealed even more details: notably, after painting over the landscape, the resulting woman had a visible arm before Picasso changed his mind and covered it with the mustard-colored cloak. Fingers and a disk were visible in some scans.

According to Kenneth Brummel, the assistant curator of modern art at the Art Gallery of Ontario where the painting is displayed, Picasso seems to have reused that arm for a different painting after scrapping it here:

Opening quote
"When we saw the rendering of the lead elemental map, it became clear to me that the arm hidden under the visible surface of 'La Miséreuse accroupie' is the same as the proper right arm of a crouching woman in a Picasso watercolor recently sold at auction" [called "Femme Assise" or "Woman Sitting"].
Closing quote

By exploring this artwork to such depths, the team at Northwestern and the AGO hope to use technology to built up a richer history of the artwork, and unveil more details to appreciate when considering how Picasso and other artists created their masterpieces

After all, if there's hidden art beneath one of Picasso's many paintings, then there could be several more in others.
Science News