Chicago Conservator Unravels Another Picasso Underpainting in “Still Life”

A fascinating aspect of an art conservator’s work is the discovery of another artwork originally painted by a great master underneath a famous painting. Through X-ray technology, art researchers would then apply infrared imaging as a way to have a closer look at the underpainting.

Recently, a conservator and research scientists at the Art Institute of Chicago discovered an underpainting In one of the museum’s pieces of valuable Picasso paintings. The “Still Life,” a 1922 Picasso painting piqued the interest of the conservator because of the complexity of the painting’s surface. It was wrinkled but seemingly a result of multiple layers of paint.


True enough, through X-radiography and infrared imaging, the conservators and researchers discovered an entirely different composition underneath the “Still Life.” Initial findings revealed by their study is that the underpainting is in portrait orientation, as opposed to the horizontal or landscape setting of the surface painting “Still Life.”

What the “Still Life” Underpainting Revealed

The underpainting revealed another still life of a drinking glass and a vase, which researchers said is reminiscent of Picassos’s works in 1922 at the Gothenburg Museum of Art in Sweden, particularly the one that carried the title “Nature Morte.” The year was part of the period when Picasson had experimented with drawing flat grids beneath thick lines and color fields.

In an interview with Artnet News, Kim Muir, the conservator who led the project said a scientific analysis was important in understanding Picassos’s creative process and his methods of manipulating paints as a means for achieving varying effects.

Muir added that their analysis led them to the conclusion that the underpainting was preserved over time. It was in fact the conservation treatment strategy that allowed them to unravel the surface qualities of the underpainting, which had been obscured by layers of discolored overpaint, varnish and grime.

The Still Life” Underpainting, the Second to Have Been Discovered In a Picasso Painting

It is widely believed that a lot of great painters had reused canvasses when they could not afford to purchase a new one. This was the opinion formed when the first Picasso underpainting was detected in 1954, but was only confirmed in 1997.

The Picasso painting in question at that time was the “Blue Room,”which the Spanish artist had painted in 1901. Although the suspicion that another painting lies hidden beneath the “Blue Room,” it was only when the advent of X-Ray technology 40 years later that the suspicion was confirmed.

The fuzzy image revealed by the infrared as the hidden image was that of a bearded man in a jacket and bow tie. It was very much different from the image depicted in the °Blue Room,” which was that of a woman bathing.