The art world was stirred recently by an intriguing discovery in a celebrated Picasso painting. “Le Moulin de la Galette,” created in 1900, has long been celebrated for its vivid depiction of a bustling Parisian dance hall.
However, new imaging technology has unveiled a charming detail that has remained hidden for more than a century – a small dog, thought to be a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, adorned with a red ribbon around its neck.
The revelation was made possible by X-ray fluorescence imaging spectroscopy, a cutting-edge technology that allows researchers to examine layers of paint without causing any damage to the artwork.
This tool enabled experts from the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to unveil the dog’s presence, which was previously obscured by Picasso’s brushwork.
Julie Barten, the Guggenheim’s senior paintings conservator, had harbored a suspicion about the presence of a hidden element within the painting for years.
Following a meticulous process of examination, including years of microscopic studies and X-ray technology, Barten’s hunch was confirmed, bringing the concealed canine into full view.
The unexpected discovery has transformed the perception of the painting. Megan Fontanella, the Guggenheim’s Modern Art curator, spoke of the significant impact of the new discovery.
The inclusion of the adorable dog in the foreground would have dramatically altered the original experience of viewing the painting.
Now, with the dog hidden, the viewer’s focus is drawn to the diverse figures occupying the dance hall, highlighting the energy and complexity of the composition.
Barten noted that Picasso had a habit of editing his own work, often repurposing elements within a piece into new forms.
It appears that the dog was hastily obscured by a few quick brush strokes, leaving a faint, ghostly impression of the pet.
This editing style aligns with Picasso’s later approach to his art.
“Le Moulin de la Galette” portrays a popular dance hall, a subject that captured the imagination of other celebrated artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
The painting, considered one of Picasso’s early masterpieces, is currently held by the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
It is the centerpiece of the exhibition, “Young Picasso in Paris,” which presents a compelling narrative of Picasso’s initial years in the French capital through a range of paintings, drawings, and photographs.
The exhibition forms part of a global celebration marking the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death in 1973, the Picasso Celebration 1973-2023.
Alongside the unearthing of the hidden dog, the painting underwent a full restoration process led by Barten to prepare it for the exhibition.
The restoration involved brightening the colors and removing the old yellowing varnish, returning the painting closer to its original state when Picasso completed it in 1900.
Despite the unresolved mystery of why Picasso chose to hide the dog within his painting, this new discovery has added a layer of intrigue to an already fascinating work, and has undoubtedly deepened our appreciation for Picasso’s evolving artistry.
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