Our Pledge To You

News

Even Pablo Picasso used recycled materials, Chicago researchers find

This landscape by another artist is the painting hidden beneath Pablo Picasso's masterpiece La Miséreuse accroupie, X-ray radiography found. | Art Gallery of Ontario

Pablo Picasso painted one of his masterpieces atop a work of art by an unknown Spanish artist, researchers at the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Art have found.

Using advanced imaging technology, the researchers found another painting under Picasso’s La Miséreuse accroupie (The Crouching Woman), a work from 1902, during the artist’s “Blue Period.”

Picasso not only changed the subject of the previous painting, from a landscape to a portrait, he also changed its direction, from horizontal to vertical.

Using advanced imaging technology, researchers found another painting under Picasso’s oil-on-canvas masterpiece La Miséreuse accroupie (The Crouching Woman), a work from 1902, during the artist’s “Blue Period.” | Art Gallery of Ontario

Mountains in the original painting became the outline of the back of the subject in Picasso’s work, which depicts a crouching, cloaked woman.

The discovery of the artwork hidden beneath the surface allows us “to look inside Picasso’s head and get a sense of how he was making decisions as he was painting the canvas,” says Marc Walton, a cultural heritage scientist at Northwestern.

The findings were announced at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin.

In addition to painting over the older work, “Picasso had no qualms about changing things during the painting process,” Walton says. “Our international team — consisting of scientists, a curator and a conservator — has begun to tease apart the complexity of La Miséreuse accroupie, uncovering subtle changes made by Picasso as he worked toward his final vision.”

The artist initially painted the woman with a right arm and hand holding a disc but then covered them with her cloak in the final work.

“We now are able to develop a chronology within the painting structure to tell a story about the artist’s developing style and possible influences,” says Sandra Webster-Cook, senior conservator of paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario, which owns the artwork.

A research team from the Musée national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts traced the bronze “Head of a Woman, in Profile” to the foundry of Picasso collaborator Émile Robecchi. They also dated the bronze work, which was cast without a foundry mark in Paris, to 1941. | Musée national Picasso-Paris

The researchers used special non-invasive methods they adapted to the study of paintings. The state-of-the-art tools allowed the scientists to analyze the painting relatively quickly at the gallery.

Art historians believe the painting underneath was created by an unknown artist “in Picasso’s orbit but not in his close circle,” according to Smithsonian magazine.

Also at the same scientific meeting in Texas, researchers from the Musée national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts revealed discoveries from a priceless group of 39 Picasso bronzes (cast from 1905 to 1959) and 11 painted sheet-metal sculptures (from the 1960s) in the Musee National Picasso-Paris’ collection.

The scientists used special techniques to analyze the alloys in the Picasso bronzes for clues about how, when and where they were cast.