A  team of researchers at Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) discovered hidden landscape beneath a Picasso painting "La Miséreuse Accroupie (The Crouching Beggar)". Researchers used non-invasive portable imaging techniques to detail buried images in works by Picasso. The discovery offers new insight into the creative process of the innovative artist.

A landscape painting of an unknown artist, hidden under Picasso painting, was revealed as a result of the x-ray analysis. The researchers' technique allowed to study the painting in-depth in just 24 hours. The results of their analysis were revealed at the 2018 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas.

“We often look at an image as if it was meant to be that way from the beginning,” says co-author Marc Walton, a research professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. “But with these analytical images, we can get into the mind of the artist and better understand the creative process.”


Pablo Picasso’s La Misereuse Accroupie analysed at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Photograph: Art Gallery of Ontario


"La Miséreuse Accroupie (The Crouching Beggar)" was painted by Pablo Picasso in 1902, a four-year period of Picasso's life known as the "Blue Period" when he mainly used monochromatic shades of blue and blue-green. 

The painting was sold in 2015 at Christie's auction in New York for $149,000 (£106,000). Now its owner is the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada (AGO).
Пабло Пикассо. Нищенка на корточках
Нищенка на корточках
Пабло Пикассо
1902, 101×66 см
Curators first took X-ray images of this painting in 1992. Metals in the paint responded differently to X-rays, revealing a hidden landscape painted by another artist, who used different colors than Picasso. But the previous X-rays weren't nearly as detailed as technologies today can provide. Also, a newer technique, called X-ray fluorescence scanning, or XRF, revealed new aspects of Picasso's approach to painting that weren't really possible to discern in the '90s.

Left: Sandra Webster-Cook (left) and Kenneth Brummel, both of the Art Gallery of Ontario, examine the portable x-ray fluorescence scanner.

New X-ray fluorescence photos of the canvas not only show a landscape by another artist in the best detail yet, but also reveal new twists to the work of art: a major change Picasso made, plus hidden images he painted over, one of which resembles another famous painting.

By rotating the artist's work 90 degrees, Picasso was able to use some of the landscape forms, such as the lines of the cliff edges into the woman's back, in his own final composition.
It shows that the innovative modernist was inspired by the dominant lines of an underlying landscape painted by an unknown artist.



1.1. The hidden painting by a mystery artist found beneath Picasso's work (PA)
1.2. Pablo Picasso. The Crouching Beggar, 1902

This new discovery presents some fascinating findings with regards to Picasso’s painting practices of working on used canvases. It is believed that one of the reasons of re-using another artist’s canvas was an economic necessity, as the painting was made in the early period of artist's creativity. But most experts consider that Picasso found deep inspiration from the forms and composition of the image already laid beneath his masterpiece. 
“He didn’t scrape the canvas or put a preparatory layer over it,” Brummel says. “Picasso saw this landscape, found inspiration, and decided he was going to paint it, immediately.”

The underlying landscape also tells an evolving story. Initially considered to be the work of Spanish-Uruguayan artist (and Picasso frenemy) Joaquín Torres-García, one of Brummel’s Spanish colleagues very recently identified the mystery landscape as the Parque del Labertino de Horta in Barcelona. But the truth is that Torres-García always painted mythological landscapes, not real places.

“We think now it’s a landscape painted by someone enrolled at the fine arts academy in Barcelona, someone in Picasso’s orbit but not in his close circle,” Brummel says.
For the investigation, John Delaney from the National Gallery of Art performed a series of spectroscopy scans on “La Miséreuse accroupie.” Delaney’s fiber-optic reflectance spectroscopy scans imaged the painting at various wavelengths, from the near-infrared to the infrared. These revealed the precise pigments Picasso had used.
While the distribution of iron and chromium pigments matched well with the figure of the woman as seen today, the spread of cadmium and lead based pigments provided insights into the puzzling surface features.

The distribution of these pigments showed slight differences in the tilt of the woman’s head and revealed that the artist had initially painted the woman with her right arm and hand, possibly holding a piece of bread, before covering it with her cloak in the final version. The researchers also found in the earlier versions, the woman was narrower and had a different head inclination.


Left: Chemical mapping of the pigment layers in "La Miséreuse accroupie" revealed multiple iterations of the woman's hand position. 

When Picasso was in his 70s, he mused
that x-ray technology could one day
discover a lost work underneath one of his early paintings.




Let us remind all fans of the Picasso that this spring National Geographics will release the second season of Genius. The date of the premiere with Antonio Banderas starring as Pablo Picasso is already set for April 24, 2018.


Пабло Пикассо. Суп
Суп
Пабло Пикассо
1902, 38.5×46 см
“The portability of the instrumentation is a gift,” says Sandra Webster-Cook, senior conservator of paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Previously artworks had to be transported for scanning to facilities that can afford and accommodate large commercial scanners. This effort was one of the first times when tools came to art, rather than the other way around.

Webster-Cook says her museum is currently conducting a similar analysis on another of Picasso’s Blue Period works, “La Soupe.” And for his part, Walton is interested in seeing the results of analysis of a Gauguin painting at the Harvard Art Museum, which has curious surface textures that don’t match the visible image.


Left: Pablo Picasso. La Soupe, 1902.



Title illustration: Pablo Picasso. "La Miséreuse Accroupie (The Crouching Beggar)"(detail), 1902.

Based on materials The Guardian, BBC, National Geographic.