Detail of face of The Handsome Pork-Butcher c.1924–6, c.1929–35 by Francis Picabia under raking light
Detail of face of The Handsome Pork-Butcher c.1924–6, c.1929–35 by Francis Picabia under raking light
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2017
Photo © Tate

This issue explores paintings hidden beneath paintings on the same canvas. The seven works examined here – three by Pablo Picasso and four by Francis Picabia – nearly all began life as different compositions and were repainted by the artist to create completely new images. Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair 1932 is the exception, painted very rapidly, possibly in a single day. Technical examination using X-radiography with ultraviolet and infrared imaging, infrared spectroscopy, pigment and medium analysis, and high-resolution microscopy as well as documentary evidence reveal these hidden images and help shed new light on the thought processes and techniques of these two artists.

The research for these papers was generously supported by the Clothworkers’ Foundation.

Contents

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

Picasso transformed an earlier painting of a boy to create this profile of a slender young woman. This paper uses X-radiography and infrared imaging to look beneath the surface of the painting and unravel the way in which Picasso transformed the male figure into a female figure with a few deft brushstrokes. The contemporary Parisian context and the identity of the sitter are discussed, as well as the skill and delicacy of Picasso’s early painting techniques.

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

Devastated by the death of a friend in 1925, Picasso painted this ‘dance’ of intertwined sinister figures, the story and composition of which have been so well scrutinised by scholars. However, new technical imaging has revealed that the final painting was rapidly executed and is the last in a series of three paintings begun on this canvas. Relating the X-radiographs to a now-lost Picasso painting – The Dance 1923 – the possible date and appearance of the earlier compositions are explored.

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

This sensual portrait of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter was painted at the artist’s Normandy estate in 1932. Picasso dated this work very precisely, suggesting he completed it in one day, which this study shows to be entirely possible. 1932 was an extraordinary year for Picasso and this essay examines the materials and techniques which produced such an assured and historically important painting.

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

A sardonic attack on censorship and prudery, The Fig-Leaf provoked the conservative art establishment when it was exhibited in 1922. Picabia painted this work over an existing painting, Hot Eyes, which had caused controversy itself only a year earlier. This paper draws upon technical examination to reveal the appearance and colour of the painting hidden underneath the surface, and confirms that Picabia used commercial paints, specifically a number of Ripolin products, for both images.

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

This sardonic collage portrait of Raymond Poincaré, President and Prime Minister of the French Republic, was made with everyday objects such as combs, needles, curtain rings and pen nibs, all embedded in thick oil paint. Picabia subsequently ripped off the collage elements and painted the outline of a femme fatale over the ruins of the portrait.  This canvas exemplifies Picabia’s creative methods, investigated in detail here using X-radiography and other technical imaging, material analysis, and a contemporary photograph. 

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

Picabia’s so-called ‘transparency’ paintings – of which Otaïti is a prime example – have not been the subject of much technical analysis, until now. Otaïti appears to be unique in the series, with layers of deliberately incompatible media applied between layers of varnish. The delicate structure of the painting is examined here in detail for the first time, while the central image of the naked woman is revealed to have originated from a scandalous contemporary photograph.

Annette King, Joyce H. Townsend and Bronwyn Ormsby

Portrait of a Doctor is actually two paintings: one was painted on top of the other at a later date. This paper reveals the very different techniques Picabia used to make the two iterations of the painting, and that the first version developed from his earlier ‘transparency’ series. Picabia’s choice of materials is also discussed in relation to the date at which the work was re-painted, which remains open to speculation.