A mystery that began in 1954 has recently been solved: Curators have confirmed that there's a completed portrait of a man that Pablo Picasso painted on the same canvas as his masterpiece "The Blue Room." Painted vertically along the canvas, it's a portrait of a man, dressed in a coat and bow tie, resting his head on his hand. The Spanish painter completed this in the early 1900s, and soon after, painted "The Blue Room" over it during his time in Paris where he worked on his blue collection of paintings.
To some curators, this new finding really isn't too surprising: Picasso, like many artists at the time, couldn't wait to purchase a new canvas every single time he had a brilliant idea, or simply didn't have the money for it. "When he had an idea, you know, he just had to get it down and realize it," Behrends Frank told the Associated Press. "He could not afford to acquire new canvasses every time he had an idea that he wanted to pursue. He worked sometimes on cardboard because canvas was so much more expensive."
Obviously Picasso was willing to part with the mustache guy for a better idea he had in mind. Still — the man must have meant something to Picasso if he took the time to paint his portrait in the first place, right? But who the mustache man was, exactly, is a question that The Phillips Collection conservators are still working to answer.
The journey to this new discovery began in 1954 when conservators first took notice of a potential image under Picasso's masterpiece because the brushstrokes didn't match "The Blue Room." Using infrared imagery, conservators from The Phillips Collection, Winterthur Museum in Delaware, Cornell University, and the National Gallery of Art worked for several years to uncover a clearer image of the painting after the man's face was discovered for the first time in 2008. It is, in fact, a work of Picasso, which was confirmed through a technical analysis, according to curators.
This new finding only adds to the appreciation of Picasso's life and work, says Phillips Collection director Dorothy Kosinski. "Our audiences are hungry for this. It's kind of detective work. It's giving them a doorway of access that I think enriches, maybe adds mystery, while allowing them to be part of a piecing together of a puzzle."
The Phillips Collection conservator Patricia Favero, the woman responsible for bringing the best complete image of the mystery man together, says:
It's really one of those moments that really makes what you do special. The second reaction was, 'well, who is it?' We're still working on answering that question.
For now, Picasso's masterpiece will continue on a tour to South Korea through early next year. The research into who the mustache man is continues, and no, it's not Pablo Picasso himself. So far, the only person it's suspected to be is Ambrose Villard, the art dealer from Paris who actually hosted the first art show for Picasso in 1901. However, since there's no evidence that it's Villard so the hunt continues for more answers.