What’s better than one Picasso? How about a second Picasso lost for decades?

That’s exactly what a team of research scientists at the Art Institute of Chicago discovered and wrote about in a report published this week in Applied Science.

Pablo Picasso’s 1922 canvas, Still Life, has been one of the jewels in the museum’s collection since it was donated in 1953 by Alice Toklas on behalf of her late partner, the writer Gertrude Stein. The work dates to Picasso’s late Cubist period, when the artist experimented with flat grids underlying colour fields and thick lines.

Over the course of two weeks, Picasso painted three very similar works, all depicting a guitar flanked by a bottle and a bowl. Researchers at the Art Institute chose to study the painting because of the degree of complexity within its painted surface, which appeared to be wrinkled with multiple layers.

“Scientific analysis of Picasso’s Still Life was crucial to our understanding of Picasso’s creative process and how he manipulated his paints to achieve different visual effects,” conservator Kim Muir, who worked on the project, tells Artnet News.

The researchers applied X-radiography and infrared imaging to get a closer look, and were stunned to find an entirely different composition beneath the painting. And this one was oriented vertically, instead of horizontally, as in the finished work.
Courtesy of Artnet News
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