Experts have discovered a “quite adorable” dog within a masterpiece by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), hidden for over a century beneath layers of paint. Dog lovers and art aficionados alike can see the painting as part of an exhibition about the his early career at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
At only 19 years old, Picasso painted one of his most famous formative pieces ‘Le Moulin de la Galette’. It depicts a popular Parisian dance hall filled with partying revellers lit by the glow of revolutionary electric lighting. But until recently, the smallest member of the party – an auburn King Charles Spaniel wearing a bright red bow around its neck– had gone unnoticed.
“What we know is that in many instances, Picasso painted aspects of the composition and then subsequently obliterated them and transformed them into other compositional elements. This was really part of his practice,” explained Julie Barten, Senior Paintings Conservator at the Guggenheim.
Conservators from the museum, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, began to suspect something was hidden in the foreground of the artwork when they removed layers of grime and varnish. “We could certainly make out that there was something there,” Barten said. “But we couldn’t say what it was at the time.”
Modern imaging technology consequently unveiled an earlier version of the painting. If viewers look closely enough, they can now see glimpses of red paint peeking through the top layer and the subtle contour of the pup’s head. Picasso’s energetic brushstrokes suggest he painted over the canine rather quickly, although his motivation behind this decision remains a mystery.
“It completely changes how one would have encountered this picture,” reflected Megan Fontanella, the museum’s Modern Art Curator. “You would have seen this really quite adorable dog in the foreground, looking almost directly at the visitor with this wonderful red bow. One can only speculate why Picasso would have concealed this. But certainly now my eye is drawn to all these wonderful figures in the composition.”
The exhibition “Young Picasso in Paris” will run at the Guggenheim Museum in New York until 6th August 2023.