Dog found hidden in Picasso painting

Adorable pup intentionally concealed by Picasso in 1900 painting is discovered by X-rays ahead of display at NYC’s Guggenheim Museum

  • Conservators at some of the US’ foremost art institutions uncovered a hidden pup in a famed Picasso painting now on display at the Guggenheim 
  • According to the lead Guggenheim painting conservator, the small dog would have ‘stolen the show’ were it still part of the piece
  • The conservators uncovered the painted-over dog using x-ray technology that allowed them to map out layers of pigment in the painting

Conservators working with the Guggenheim Museum in New York have uncovered a small dog hidden beneath the painted surface of a Pablo Picasso painting.

The pup has been a secret for nearly 100 years as black brush strokes covered him from public view.  

The image of the small lapdog, who sports a red bow, was discovered by museum professionals during a technical analysis of the artist’s painting ‘Le Moulin de la Galette,’ ahead of an exhibition of his early works.

The show, which opened at the Guggenheim last week, is called ‘Young Picasso in Paris’ and is comprised of 10 paintings and drawings done by the Spanish artist upon his arrival in the French capital in 1900.

‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ is the centerpiece of the Guggenheim’s current ‘Young Picasso in Paris’ exhibit. An elite unit of conservationists recently uncovered a small dog in the foreground of the painting that was hidden for nearly a century

‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ depicts a scene at the famous Parisian dance hall of the same name. The venue was painted by other artists of a similar period, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

A crowd of well-dressed couples are depicted dancing in elegant coats and hats. Three well-dressed women are seated at a white table in the foreground of the painting.

During a study of the painting carried out by Guggenheim conservators in conjunction with professionals from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, a fourth guest was found at the table.

The small dog had been covered up by a patch of dark paint on the canvas. But, conservators were able to generate an image of what the dog originally looked like using X-ray fluorescence, a method of imaging that maps out elements – including pigments – in a painting.

Julie Barten, the museum’s senior painting conservator, told CNN it was interesting to her that Picasso ‘hastily painted over this dog, which would have been a rather compelling aspect of the composition.’

The dog, noted the museum, bears a close resemblance to a Cavalier King Charles spaniel.

Barten said she suspects Picasso might have removed the dog from the table because its charming face and lively red bow would have been distracting.

‘It would have stolen the show,’ she said, noting that painting over the dog gave viewers the opportunity to examine more carefully ‘all of these other wonder figures in the composition – to experience the space in different ways.’

The study also revealed other changes that Picasso made to the work, including swapping the genders of a dancing couple, and painting over an empty chair.

Modifying paintings was a practice Picasso grew into. Barten said that ‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ was one of the earliest examples of this.

‘As he developed a composition, he would paint out certain elements, or transform them into new compositional details. And, very often, he would leave aspects of the underlying original compositions still evident to a viewer who was looking very closely,’ she said.

The Guggenheim’s senior painting conservator, Julie Barten, reveals what the small dog in the painting once looked like

Closeup of what the small dog in the painting would have looked like. Barten speculated that the lapdog may have been a Cavalier King Charles spaniel

The pup is now covered by strokes of black paint

The Guggenheim’s exhibition is one of more than 50 global exhibitions honoring the late Picasso, who passed 50 years ago this year

The Guggenheim’s ‘Young Picasso in Paris’ is one of more than 50 exhibitions and events taking place around the world this year to mark half a century since the death of the artist in 1973.

Famously, Picasso arrived in Paris at the age of 19 in 1900, during the final weeks of the world’s fair. The Exposition Universelle had featured one of his earlier works.

Nearly half-a-decade later, Picasso returned to Paris and settled there and entered one of his most prolific periods of production.

‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ is the centerpiece of the Guggenheim show. In addition to finding hidden gems beneath the work’s surface, Barten worked to remove decades of dirt and non-original varnish from the masterpiece. 

‘The painting was really veiled by this layer of surface grime,’ said Barten. But now, ‘all of the subtleties in his palette and his brushwork… all of the lavish textiles and expressions and gestures have really come to life.’ 

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