Researchers have uncovered a small dog that was intentionally concealed in one of Pablo Picasso’s early paintings included in the Young Picasso in Paris exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan. In the foreground of the artist’s “Le Moulin de la Galette” (1900), a dark brown form that appears to be either the back of a chair or a coat draped over it was Picasso’s attempt at covering up the light-colored lapdog with a red bow tied around its neck, according to scanning X-ray fluorescence conducted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The painting in question portrays a Bohemian party taking place in the dimly lit dancehall in Montmartre’s Moulin de la Galette, a windmill that opened as a cabaret for French nightlife in the 18th arrondissement of north Paris. Colorfully dressed men and women wearing the finest hats dance, drink, and gossip across Picasso’s candlelit composition, pointing to his excitement in involving himself with the Parisian arts and culture scene upon moving there that year at age 19. The little dog sat at the table beside the smirking woman in the painting’s lefthand corner, staring directly at the viewer with a rather nondescript face that matches the loose, swishing forms throughout the rest of the painting. But the pooch didn’t make the cut for the finalized composition and Picasso haphazardly covered it up with a dark brown mass.
Megan Fontanella, curator of the Young Picasso in Paris exhibition at the Guggenheim, told Hyperallergic that it is not uncommon to find singular figures looking out at the viewer, seemingly “acknowledging their presence.”
“In the earlier composition for ‘Le Moulin de la Galette,’ the lapdog in the foreground would have played this role and been an enticing point of connection,” Fontanella said. “By eliminating the dog, Picasso focuses more attention on the figures and the space. One may now observe how nuanced the act of looking unfolds in ‘Le Moulin de la Galette,’ with patrons of the dance hall casting their eyes in various directions.”
The dog’s general form is still somewhat identifiable despite its concealment, with the shape of its floppy ears and the splotches of dark paint making up its eyes and snout standing out in particular. According to the Guggenheim’s senior painting conservator Julie Barten, an x-ray taken of the painting in 2017 for the Thannhauser Collection: French Modernism at the Guggenheim book indicated that there were additional pigments beneath the brown form that required more imaging to discern. It was the 2023 exhibition that necessitated further research into the layers of the painting.
“Scanning x-ray fluorescence maps the distribution of elements contained in the painting, including inorganic pigments,” Barten told Hyperallergic. “The image of the dog is a false-color visualization that was generated by mapping the distribution of the pigments vermillion red, zinc white, and iron-containing ochres.”
Now I can’t think of a more appropriate place for a little French dog to be other than seated at the table with its fellow partygoers, and quite frankly, neither could Picasso himself, as evidenced later in his life when he became the parent (more like personal attendant) of a brazen little Dachshund named Lump who had a seat at the dinner table in his Cannes mansion from the late 1950s to early 1960s.
“This was a love affair,” Picasso’s friend and photojournalist David Douglas Duncan said of their affectionate relationship, having documented Lump’s role in the household. “Picasso would take Lump in his arms. He would feed him from his hands. Hell, that little dog just took over. He ran the damn house!”
It’s not exactly clear why Picasso covered up the dog in “Le Moulin de la Galette,” but such a practice isn’t out of the ordinary, either. Many of Picasso’s paintings have been examined, scanned, and X-rayed to reveal hidden figures or revamped compositions, including but not limited to a concealed portrait in “The Blue Room” (1901). Some experts allege that the artist would paint over his old works due to tight funds and reportedly burned his older work to keep warm during times of abject poverty in the early 1900s.
Young Picasso in Paris opened on May 12, a month after the 50-year anniversary of the artist’s death. There has been a recent spark in renewed scholarship and examination of Picasso’s process, works, livelihood, and allegations of violent and abusive behavior toward his multiple partners and the female subjects featured in his work.