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Pablo Picasso’s The Blue Room gets high-tech scrutiny
By Eric C. Rodenberg

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Although painters often paint over earlier canvases of their work, researchers have discovered a painting hidden underneath Pablo Picasso’s 1901 masterpiece The Blue Room.

Anything Picasso is news, and the early turn-of-the-20th century painting marks the beginning of the artist’s distinctive blue period of melancholy subjects and undertones.

“Our audiences are hungry for this,” Dorothy Kosinski, director of The Phillips Collection, told the Associated Press. “It’s kind of detective work. It’s giving them a piece of access that I think enriches, maybe adds mystery, while allowing them to be part of a piecing together of a puzzle. The more we can understand, the greater our appreciation is of its significance in Picasso’s life.”

Conservators long suspected there might be something under the surface of The Blue Room, which has been part of the The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., since 1927.

In the 1990s, an X-ray of the painting first revealed a fuzzy image beneath the paint. In 2008, improved infrared imagery revealed for the first time a man’s bearded face resting on his hand with three rings on his fingers.

Currently, The Blue Room is part of a tour of South Korea through early 2015. However, the research continues, with researchers asking: Who is he?

He’s dressed in a jacket and bow tie.

Scholars have ruled out the possibility of a self-portrait. One possible figure is Paris art dealer Ambrose Villard, who hosted Picasso’s first show in 1901. However, there is no documentation and no clues left on the canvas.

“It’s really one of those moments that makes what you do special,” said Patricia Favero, the conservator at The Phillips Collection who pieced together the best infrared image of the man’s face.

Favero has been collaborating with other experts to scan the painting with multi-spectral imaging technology and X-ray fluorescence-intensity mapping in attempts identify and map the colors of the hidden painting. Their goal is to recreate a digital image approximating the colors Picasso used.

Curators are planning the first exhibit in 2017 focused on The Blue Room as a seminal work in Picasso’s career. It will examine the revelation of the man’s portrait beneath the painting, as well as other Picasso works and his relationships with other artists.

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