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Art-Historical Research


Though useful, the results gleaned from the examination of the painting were only the beginning. Using the x-radiograph and infrared reflectogram as guides, researchers at the Art Institute began scouring photographs of drawings and paintings from Picasso's Blue Period in an attempt to find works that might provide clues to the origin and meaning of the underlying compositions. Art Institute conservators shared their infrared and x-ray images and research with colleagues at the Cleveland Museum of Art. William Robinson, Associate Curator of Paintings at the CMA, identified a sketch in a letter from Picasso to his friend Max Jacob that depicts the same subject as the second composition under The Old Guitarist.

Letter Addressed to Max Jacob from Barc (recto), 1903

The sketch features a mother and child in exactly the same pose (including the mother's right arm extended behind the child) as the figures seen in the infrared and x-ray images taken at the AIC. Also present in the sketch are a calf and the head of a cow, the cow apparently licking the calf's head. Careful re-examination of the x-rays and infrared images of The Old Guitarist confirmed the presence of the cow's head in the top right corner as well as the tongue, originally thought to be the horn or ear of the calf. Picasso mentioned in his letter to Jacob that he was in the process of completing this painting. Dated "Barcelona 1 Mayo 1903," the letter slightly predates The Old Guitarist (late 1903-early 1904). The problem of identifying the second composition beneath The Old Guitarist was finally solved. It is the very painting Picasso described in his letter to Jacob. No one knows why the artist abandoned the earlier painting, but his letter indicates that he considered it important enough to share with his friend.

Infrared with new contour drawing of mother and child

The contour drawings over the infrared reflectogram and x-radiograph were redrawn to reflect the new information.

X-ray with new contour drawing of mother and child

A sketch of the imploring woman (Museu Picasso, Barcelona) was suggested by Mary Mathews Gedo as a possible composition for the first painting. The sketch is one of several images of desolate women executed by Picasso during the Blue Period. The discovery of the dark form over the head of the older woman, which appeared to have no relation to other forms in any of the compositions combined with the lack of a clear link between the outstretched arms and the smaller head of the older woman suggested the first composition may have been more closely linked to this drawing.

Figure, Head and Guitar, 1902-03

X-ray with new contour drawing of imploring woman

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