National Post (Latest Edition)

AGO study peels back Picasso’s layers

- AdinA Bresge

TORONTO •Ithaslongb­een clear to Sandra WebsterCoo­k, a conservato­r of paintings at the Art Gallery of Ontario, that there is more to Pablo Picasso’s “La Soupe” than meets the eye.

The thick layer of bluehued paint hinted at a compositio­n that Picasso had scraped away, Webster-Cook said, but what lay beneath was a mystery.

Now, researcher­s have technologi­cally peeled back layers of compositio­ns embedded in two of Picasso’s blue period paintings to uncover new insights about the artist’s process.

Kenneth Brummel, assistant curator of modern art at the AGO, said the revelation­s will be featured in a 2020-21 exhibition coorganize­d by the Toronto gallery and the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

“We’re able to build a rich narrative about Picasso’s formation as an artist during the blue period,” Brummel said.

“The exhibition will unpack the transforma­tions in his style across the blue period based on what we see on the canvases, but also what we’re uncovering underneath.”

Webster-Cook said the AGO teamed up with American scientists to conduct sophistica­ted imaging and micro-analysis of “La Soupe,” which depicts a slumped over woman holding a bowl towards a child’s outstretch­ed arms.

The scans revealed an earlier compositio­n featuring the outline of a woman shown from the back. Webster-Cook said Picasso used the silhouette to form the contours of the woman and child depicted in the final scene, and further obscured the figure with the plumes of steam rising from the soup.

“It’s really interestin­g to see the specific choice of materials, the manipulati­on of materials and the extent to which Picasso really deliberate­s about the forms,” she said.

The findings build on research into another blueperiod painting in the AGO’s collection, “La Misereuse accroupie.” Brummel said the canvas originally featured a landscape likely painted by a Barcelona artist, which Picasso then rotated and painted over, using the ridge of the mountain to shape the crouching woman shown in the final compositio­n.

Webster-Cook said the multi-disciplina­ry study could be used to analyze the works of a range of artists, but said Picasso was an ideal candidate because of his practice of reusing canvases.

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