One of the most famous paintings of Picasso’s early career initially contained one more element that wasn’t seen until now: a cute lapdog seated by a table with a few soused drinkers.
That painting, Le Moulin de la Galette (1900), currently figures in a small exhibition about Picasso’s early years in Paris at the Guggenheim Museum, the New York institution that also owns the piece. The Guggenheim announced the finding of a canine in its press materials for the show, which opened last Friday and runs through mid-August.
According to CNN, conservators with the Guggenheim, working with experts at the nearby Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., made the discovery using X-ray fluorescence. The dog can now be seen clearly, thanks to those scans. It may be a Cavalier King Charles spaniel that wears a red ribbon around its neck.
Julie Barten, senior paintings conservator at the Guggenheim, told CNN, “it was interesting to me that he hastily painted over this dog, which would have been a rather compelling aspect of the composition.”
Why did Picasso remove the dog? Barten said it could be because the ribbon proved too “enticing,” distracting the eye from the blurred dancers who move across the background.
Some background for Picassophiles: Le Moulin de la Galette depicts a popular dance hall in Paris, to which Picasso had moved that same year. He paid close attention to the electric lights—a modern element in a rapidly changing Parisian landscape—and to the intermixing of people of different classes in the space.
The painting was sold for 250 francs by dealer Berthe Weill the year it was made. The Guggenheim faced a restitution claim concerning the work in 2007, with the heirs of its former owner claiming that the painting was sold under duress; the museum subsequently settled with the heirs two years later.
Le Moulin de la Galette is one of 10 works by the artist in “Young Picasso in Paris,” part of a worldwide celebration of the artist this year that marks the 50th anniversary of his death.