The history of this discovery has two dates, 2004 and 2010. In the summer of 2004, during a visit to the Diocesan Museum in Barcelona to see the exhibition “Els 4 Gats. From Casas to Picasso”, I first saw a very unusual drawing by Picasso, on loan from a private collection. The work was presented as if it were complete and was in the form of a vertical strip, long and narrow (59 x 12.6 cm), on which only a building and a carriage could be discerned. The medium was pastel, in vibrant tones. Surprising and little known as the work was, there could be no doubt it was a picasso.
I bought the catalogue and immediately scanned the image to include it in my Picasso archive, among those works that deserve a special follow-up. For days I was haunted by that image, which from the very first moment had seemed familiar. As soon as I saw it I was convinced that there was another part, in that everything about it gave the impression it was incomplete. Picasso would never have signed a piece of work such as this — and it was clearly signed in his hand.
Vertical strip. Photo: Gasull Fotografia
The strip of paper featured an iconographic reading evocative of Steinlen and Munch, and technical characteristics that dated it almost certainly to 1900 or 1901: in other words, to Picasso’s first two visits to Paris, and most likely to the first, when he used pastels after the manner of Toulouse-Lautrec and above all Degas. I looked over all of the pastels from that period and I soon found the key to the puzzle, on a visit to the Museu Picasso, where I spent some time looking at the superb pastels from the Paris years.
As I contemplated one of the best, The Embrace, I realized that in both its chromatic range and its structure, it matched the strip. At that moment I didn’t have the two images together so as to compare them, but I was already almost totally convinced. I hurriedly concluded my visit, eager as I was to try the comparison, and sure enough, it was a perfect match: the strip was indisputably the left side of The Embrace, from which it had been separated for so many years. At that time, however, I didn’t know who owned the pastel, so I merely added it to my file as a small discovery, without pursuing the matter any further.
The Embrace. MPB 4263. Photo: Gasull Fotografia
In the spring of 2010, in connection with the preparation of the exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol”, I had an informal conversation with Ignasi Domènech, the curator of Cau Ferrat in Sitges, who told me of the existence of a picasso in a private collection in which he thought I might be interested. I hear a lot of this kind of thing, but in a very high percentage of cases the attribution of the work is more than doubtful. When I asked him about the piece the first thing he said put me on the alert. ‘It’s a vertical strip,’ he said. Usually, the first information people give about a work of art is the subject (‘it’s a landscape’) or the medium (‘it’s an oil’), but rarely the format. But this time the format was the first piece of information precisely because it was the most specific, the one that most clearly differentiated it from others. I immediately guessed that it might be the work I had seen in 2004 and at once I asked for a chance to see the work.
And so it was: about a month later we went to visit the owner, who showed us the work, and the hypothesis was confirmed definitively. We asked for a loan of the piece for the exhibition, the owner very kindly agreed, and now the two sides are framed together, just a few millimeters apart, very nearly as the work was originally conceived.
This new presentation invites a very different reading; compositionally there is a lateral shift of the central scene, in that the couple who are the subject have lost their centrality. The road adds depth and gives movement and dynamism to a space hitherto dominated by the immobility of the two figures, who are fused in almost sculptural fashion.
Both parts are signed, but in my view signature on the narrow strip is chronologically the first. The work was almost certainly mutilated by the artist himself, or with his consent, and then signed again, this time with a dedication to ‘Doctor Bilaró’ (sic). Whatever the circumstances, it seems clear that it was mutilated very shortly after completion because the signatures are almost contemporary: the first (P. R. Picasso) is from the autumn of 1900 and the second (P. Ruiz Picasso) is from a little later in the same year or at latest 1901, the year the artist definitively began signing himself Picasso.
Exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol. Photo: Xavier Torres-Bacchetta
Sadly, The Embrace will remain in its original state or only a few months more. On 5 September 2010, when the exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol” closes, the strip will return to the private collection from whence it came. But it will never be the same again: we will never look at The Embrace as we did before, when we had it as a complete work. Now it has a whole story behind it, a story which, combined with its technical quality, will make it all the more exciting in our eyes.
Museum conservator and curator of the exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol”