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Picasso's 'The Blue Room' has man hidden beneath surface

The Blue Room sits under a microscope at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
The Blue Room sits under a microscope at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.
Published Jun. 18, 2014

For Pablo Picasso, 1901 was a pivotal time to experiment and find his own unique style. At just 19 years old, he was living in Paris, painting furiously and dirt poor, so it wasn't unusual for him to take one canvas and reuse it to paint a fresh idea.

Now scientists and art experts are revealing they've found a hidden painting beneath the surface of one of Picasso's first masterpieces, The Blue Room. Using advances in infrared imagery, they have uncovered a hidden portrait of a bow-tied man with his face resting on his hand. Now the question that conservators at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., hope to answer is simply: Who is he?

It's a mystery that's fueling new research about the painting created at the start of his distinctive blue period of melancholy subjects. Curators and conservators revealed the discovery of the portrait for the first time to the Associated Press last week.

"When he had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down and realize it," Phillips curator Susan Behrends Frank told the AP, describing how Picasso had hurriedly painted The Blue Room over another complete picture. "He could not afford to acquire new canvases every time he had an idea that he wanted to pursue."

Experts long suspected there might be something under the surface of The Blue Room, which has been part of the Phillips Collection since 1927. Brushstrokes on the piece clearly don't match the composition that depicts a woman bathing in Picasso's studio.

Scholars have ruled out the possibility that it was a self-portrait. The research continues.