Pablo Picasso’s ghost painting

Infrared analysis of early work ‘The Blue Room’ has revealed a portrait painted underneath

The mystery man beneath Pablo Picasso's ‘The Blue Room.’
The mystery man beneath Pablo Picasso's ‘The Blue Room.’

Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room was not as blue as it seemed. The masterpiece, which dates from Picasso’s early period and hangs at The Phillips Collection in Washington DC, has revealed a hidden image after being analyzed using infrared light.

This imaging technique has allowed scientists and art experts to discover a preliminary painting of a man wearing a bow-tie and three rings, with his face resting in his hand.

Now, the question being asked by museum curators is: who is he? The mystery of Picasso’s ghost is still an open case.

This is not the first time that infrared imagery has uncovered hidden paintings under existing canvases

The Málaga artist finished this work around 1901, at the beginning of his career. He was living in Paris, where he produced a series of paintings whose predominant color was blue, reflecting feelings of despair, solitude and melancholy. The pessimism that pervaded Picasso’s life was being transferred to his art.

This is not the first time that infrared imagery has uncovered hidden paintings under existing canvases. In 2011, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam found a concealed work by Goya, painted by the Spanish artist under the Portrait of Ramón Satué (1823). The figure lying beneath it was painted between 1809 and 1813. The find was made possible by a new technique combining X-rays and fluorescence, developed jointly by the Antwerp University in Belgium and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

Another old master, Rembrandt, was found to have concealed a portrait beneath his Old Man in Military Costume (1630-1631), which hangs at the J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A. Meanwhile, experts at the Victoria & Albert Museum discovered a hidden landscape behind Branch Hill Pond: Hampstead (1828) by John Constable. Most recently, a portrait of a beautiful young woman emerged beneath The Last of Old Westminster (1862) by James McNeill Whistler.

It was probably Van Gogh who recycled his own canvases the most. Experts believe that at least a third of his paintings conceal further paintings. In 2008, a team of Belgian and Dutch scientists discovered one such ghost painting, which had remained concealed for 121 years. An X-ray generated by a particle accelerator allowed researchers to reconstruct the portrait of a peasant woman, painted by Van Gogh around 1885 and concealed behind Patch of Grass. The image is surprisingly similar to a series of dark portraits made by the artist in the Dutch town of Nuenen, where he created The Potato Eaters, his first great masterpiece.