Beneath Picasso’s The Blue Room

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Left: Paint sample from Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901) showing how yellow, blue, and green paints were mixed while still wet to create a variegated effect. Right: X-ray map showing zinc, chromium, and lead-containing pigments. © 2014 Jennifer Mass, Winterthur Museum

There has been a lot of buzz this summer around the Phillips’s The Blue Room by Pablo Picasso, a 1901 painting created at a time when the young artist was trying on different artistic personalities. In June, an AP exclusive story revealed the image of an underpainting—hidden beneath the surface of the masterwork—uncovered by a team of scientists and conservators from the Phillips, Cornell University, National Gallery of Art, and Winterthur Museum. However, this discovery did not happen overnight. It is the result of many years of collaborative research between the four institutions to reveal details of the contemplative man painted in the hidden image and better understand Picasso’s materials and methods.

On Wednesday, the technical details of this scientific analysis were presented by Winterthur Museum’s Dr. Jennifer Mass at the Synchrotron Radiation and Neutrons in Art and Archaeology Meeting (SR2A 2014) in Paris. Her presentation addressed the palette and painting methods Picasso used for the two works and the relationship between those palettes. She also explored the wealth of information acquired through the combination of the cross-section studies, molecular analyses, hyperspectral reflectance imaging, and XRF imaging.

The Blue Room is currently being exhibited in an international exhibition at the Daejeon Museum of Art in central Korea, but the collaborating institutions will continue their research efforts as the museum prepares for a 2017 exhibition that centers on Picasso and this seminal painting.

Behind the Blue: The Outliers

After discovering a hidden painting underneath the Phillips’s The Blue Room (1901) by Pablo Picasso, conservators and curators are still researching the identity of the person in the portrait. You’ve been calling, e-mailing, tweeting, and posting your ideas about who the mystery man might be. We’re sharing information on the most popular suggestions here on the blog. Today, we focus on some of the most fun, though perhaps unlikely, suggestions.

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Images left to right: (Top) James Lipton; Georges Braque; Louis CK (Middle) Lady Gaga; Infrared of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901). The Phillips Collection, copyright 2008; Vincent van Gogh (Bottom) Paul Cézanne; Paul Gauguin; Luciano Pavarotti

While the suggestion may not have been a serious one, we can’t help seeing the striking resemblance between James Lipton (top left) and the portrait found behind Picasso’s The Blue Room (center) after one of our Facebook fans suggested it to us. Same goes for Louis CK; Lady Gaga, however, is a bit more of a stretch even in jest. Above are some of our favorite suggestions thus far, comedic or otherwise.

Send us your idea of who the mystery man may be with #BlueRoom or in the comments below.

Behind the Blue: Ambroise Vollard and Pío Baroja

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Images, left to right: Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Ambroise Vollard, 1910. Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia; Infrared of Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room (1901). The Phillips Collection, copyright 2008; Pío Baroja, photographed by Prieto.

After discovering a hidden painting underneath the Phillips’s The Blue Room (1901) by Pablo Picasso, conservators and curators are still researching the identity of the person in the portrait. You’ve been calling, e-mailing, tweeting, and posting your ideas about who the mystery man might be. We’re sharing information on the most popular suggestions here on the blog. Today, we focus on Ambroise Vollard and Pío Baroja.

One of the most frequent suggestions continues to be Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939), a foremost European art dealer at the turn of the century. Known for his keen eye in recognizing rising stars, he amassed an impressive list of artistic connections, including Paul  Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse, and Vincent van Gogh. Vollard boasted the first one-man exhibition of Picasso’s work, and in fact the artist did create a portrait or two of his dealer during his lifetime. However, this was not a terribly uncommon practice. One Phillips patron wrote in noting that the small lips, body language and type, as well as outfit seem very similar to other portraits of Vollard.

Another name that has come up several times is Pío Baroja (1872–1956). Baroja was a writer best known for his seminal work The Tree of Knowledge. While his novels never reached the height of popularity, likely due to his penchant for pessimism, he is still considered one of the leading Spanish novelists of the period. Baroja was a member of the Generation of ’98, a group that lead the way in avant-garde change in Spain and which paved the way for artists like Picasso. A Phillips follower tweeted that Picasso drew him for Arte Joven while in Madrid.

We want to hear your thoughts! Send us your suggestions for who the mystery man may be with #BlueRoom or in the comments below We’ll collect the most popular (and some of our favorites) on the blog over the next week.