Produced in Paris when the legendary artist was still relatively unknown, the portrait depicts an almost-skeletal woman pressing clothes in a darkened room. She leans into her work with both arms, struggling amidst a muted palette of dark blues and grays.
Woman Ironing has intrigued scholars for decades since a 1989 infrared scan revealed an upside-down portrait of a man located just below the surface.
Long-considered a hallmark of Picasso's somber Blue Period, the piece has intrigued scholars for decades since a 1989 infrared scan of the canvas revealed an upside-down portrait of a man located just below the surface. But due to limitations in imaging technology, little has been known of the male sitter or if Picasso himself even painted him.
Thanks to a grant from the Bank of America Art Conservation Project — the same initiative that helped restore several John Chamberlain works at the Menil Collection — conservators at New York's Guggenheim Museum, which owns the piece, have been able to clean and restore Woman Ironing to the point that imaging devices show a surprisingly clear picture of Picasso's subject.
A recent New York Times article notes that, while the jury is still out on the identity of the mystery man, scholars widely agree on two possibilities — Fernández de Soto, a sculptor whose portrait the artist painted in 1901, or fellow Parisian painter and noted Picasso rival Ricard Canals.
Picasso Black and White is on view through May 27 in the Beck Building of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.