Who was the mysterious man in the bow tie?
June 1, 2019
Picasso’s painting was analyzed with X-rays and ultraviolet lighting. An image emerged—and what an image it was!
Starving artists are known to paint over existing canvases to create different images that they will hopefully find more pleasing. Picasso’s masterpiece, The Blue Room has been admired for a century. The 19 7/8 inch x 24 ¼ inch work is an oil painting on canvas.
It was painted when the young Spaniard was working in Paris, and he had been inspired by impressionists and post-impressionists such as Degas and Lautrec. He was working in a studio on Boulevard de Clincy and yes, he was poor.
The oil painting of a woman bather was executed mostly in blue tones, a stellar example of Picasso’s Blue Period. In the painting, a rendition of Lautrec’s poster art is on the wall.
Admiration of The Blue Room begat close scrutiny by curators and art historians for decades. At one point the admirers noticed some fine raised brush marks on the canvas—brush marks that did not follow the painting’s pattern scheme. They got out their magnifying glasses. All agreed that there was another painting underneath The Blue Room.
In 2014 the painting was analyzed with X-rays and ultraviolet lighting. An image emerged—and what an image it was! It was a man with a beard and moustache—and he wore a bow tie. Who was this man, and did Picasso himself paint it?
The second question was easy to answer. Picasso did paint it. The paint was Picasso’s exact formula and his painting-style signatures were evident. Who was the subject? That question has never been answered.
The man in the hidden painting looked so familiar. I was sure I had seen him before as I pored over antique images. I was convinced it was an impressionist painter living in Paris at the time. Perhaps it was an artist that knew some of the artists in Picasso’s circles. Degas was the first to come to mind. I looked up images of Degas through his life stages and he was very similar—even with beard and bow tie—but it was not quite right.
In my search, I pulled up another image quite by accident on a page of photos. It was an image of the musician and composer Claude Debussy. Could it be he? He lived and worked in Paris. I next had to find out if he actually knew Pablo Picasso.
That would make my guess more acceptable. He was much older than Picasso, but I learned that they had a friend in common: Igor Stravinsky, another composer. Stravinsky and Picasso were on very good terms. Pablo had captured Igor on paper and canvas many times.
This made my hypothesis more than a little likely, even if Picasso did not know Debussy, he probably had met him and there can be no doubt that he had heard Stravinsky go on and on about him.
My guesses are far-fetched. We don’t know who the man in the bow tie is. The image might be a composite of several people—but there are images of Debussy online that show a man with the same facial structure, same beard and mustache, the same pose, and the same bow tie. He is a friend of Picasso’s friend Stravinsky—a friend of a friend, you might say.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of the award-winning Curious Indeed, a collection of true stories about the unusual and the unexplained. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.