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Orginal ‘Woman Ironing’                              Painting underneath ‘Woman Ironing’

Picasso’s “Woman Ironing” was cleaned recently, revealing a clearer picture of an image underneath the painting!

“Woman Ironing” was given to the Guggenheim Museum by the German dealer and collector Justin K. Thannhauser in 1978 and has since been one of the museum’s most prized possessions. It is the first canvas visitors see as they climb the ramp of the museum’s rotunda to view “Picasso Black and White,” a blockbuster exhibition that opened this month.

‘Woman Ironing’ was painted by Picasso in the age of 22 in 1904 in Paris. But since 1989, when the painting was studied using an infrared camera, the art world has known that hidden beneath the surface of ‘Woman Ironing’ was another example of Picasso’s blue period featuring a three-quarther length portrait of a man with a mustache. But the art world have never been able to study the other painting more clearly in order to get to know weather it is a Picasso and who the man in the painting might be. Earlier some experts thought the man in the painting might be Benet Soler, a Bercelona tailor and friend of Picasso. But is was only a guess.

One afternoon in late September, Ms. Stringari, with Julie Barten, the museum’s senior conservator, stood in front of “Woman Ironing” at the Guggenheim’s conservation studio. Ms. Barten had just finished cleaning the painting, part of a yearlong process of conservation and close study that turned out to be a lot more complex than anyone had imagined.

In 1952 Thannhauser lent the painting to the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris. A thief entered the museum and tried to cut it out of its frame by slicing two sides of the canvas (including the bottom, where Picasso’s signature was) before he was caught. The thief didn’t succeed in stealing the painting, but damaged it badly. At that time the painting was repaired with linen. But in this process glue was left on the surface of the painting, which has turned parts of yellow into brown during the last decades, discoloring the surface and obscuring the subtleties of Picasso’s palette and brushwork. Ms. Barten has therefore spent months cleaning tiny bits of glue from the canvas, which has rebirth the original lightning and colors in the painting. And furthermore, a senior imaging scientist at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, John K. Delaney, was called to reveal the painting beneath the ‘Woman Ironing’ using the most modern hyper-spectal and multi-spectral infrared cameras. This has created a completely new and changed understanding of the painting beneath ‘Woman Ironing’.

The mustache and eyes of the person was now for the first time visible. Small pink colors were also added to the painting, creating uncertainty as regards when Picasso actually painted ‘Woman Ironing’ – the pink colors could suggest that the painting maybe belongs to the beginning of Picasso’s Rose Period, whereby he maybe has painted the picture in 1904 or 1905 in reality. Even the mans clothes was revealed. And furthermore, Dr. Delaney was able to see, that Picasso had placed the eyes of the man several places in different positions. The identity of the man still remained unknown. Never less it seems to be a Picasso painting. But by studying old pictures, helped by a Mr. Richardson, expert in Picasso, the identity of the man slowly seemed to be revealed. Mr. Richardson methodically ruled out all but one: Mateu Fernández de Soto, a sculptor and brother of Ángel Fernández de Soto, a dandy whose portrait Picasso painted in 1903. Both men were friends of Picasso. But Ms. Stringari, Ms. Barten and Carmen Giménez, the curator who organized Picasso Black and White disagreed. All three of them believed the man on the painting to Richard Canals, another artist. But Mr. Richardson argued that Canals and Picasso at this time (around 1901) wasn’t friends yet, but rivals. On the other hand Ms. Stringari believes that the discovered pink colors in ‘Woman Ironing’ could suggest that the painting underneath ‘Woman Ironing’ actually  was painted later in spring 1904, whereby Canals would be a more likely subject.

But, well, maybe the true identity of the man beneath ‘Woman Ironing’ will never be revealed – maybe the painted person is none of suggested subjects – we can only guess!

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