The fleeting puzzle of Picasso’s The Embrace. The story of a discovery

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.

The embrace

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

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.

The embrace

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.

Picasso versus Rusiñol

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.

Eduard Vallès
Museum conservator and curator of the exhibition “Picasso vs. Rusiñol”

  • Carles V
    July 26, 2010

    Molt interessant la descoberta d’aquesta “abraçada” entre la llenca vertical i la resta del quadre.

  • Museu Picasso
    July 26, 2010

    Voleu jugar a fer vosaltres l’enganxada de les 2 parts?
    A Facebook ho podeu fer a

  • Museu Picasso
    July 31, 2010

    ¿Queréis jugar a pegar los dos fragmentos de la obra?
    En Facebook lo podéis hacer en

  • Museu Picasso
    July 31, 2010

    Would you like to play putting the 2 pieces together?
    You can do it on Facebook at

  • Rene
    December 6, 2011

    This is a “beautiful” piece! Actually, I like it better without the missing strip. It seems to take away from the main subjects in the painting. Any available/published theories as to “why” Picasso might have mutilated this particular piece? Were there many prints made of “The Embrace” in its original state? If so, how many? Did the original require a great deal of restoration It’s absolutely wonderful! I’d love to own a print! Gracias for sharing this.

  • Eduard Vallès
    December 9, 2011

    Hi Rene, the two images were published together for the first time in 2010, on the occasion of the exhibition Picasso versus Rusiñol, which I curated. Before then the two pieces were known separately, but had never been identified as forming a unit. We have no knowledge of any extant image of the original state before the mutilation, and in all probability none exists. The reason for this is that the mutilation occurred within a year of the execution of the work in Paris in 1900. We can be sure of this because the second signature is from 1900 or 1901 and no later, because that year he started to sign himself Picasso. Thus the two pieces have been separate almost from the beginning, making it difficult for there to be a photograph of the original whole.

    While we do not know the reason for the mutilation, it seems beyond doubt that it was done by the artist himself, because he signed it again, dedicating it to Dr. Vilaró, which suggests that it may have been a gift. In some cases a work was mutilated in this way because the artist felt that it was improved, or simply to mount it in a smaller frame. In this particular case we have no first-hand testimony and are limited to hypotheses.

    The mutilated version certainly has a more balanced composition, placing the couple in the centre of the image. This is the more closed and static version. The original has greater vitality and dynamism, however, thanks to the street and the carriage. At present the mutilated portion is not in the possession of the Museu Picasso but in a private collection, and was kindly loaned to us in order that the two parts could be shown together in two exhibitions. The reconstituted original is published in the catalogues of these exhibitions: Picasso versus Rusiñol (curated by Eduard Vallès, 2010, pp.100-101) and Picasso in Paris 1900-1907. Eating Fire (curated by Marilyn McCully, 2011, p. 22). Thanks for your interest!

  • Rene
    December 24, 2011

    Thank you for all of the interesting information on this “lovely” piece and for taking time to post it. I have two more questions about this work. First, I read somewhere that Picasso did this work in Crayon? Is it crayon? It doesn’t look like watercolor. Also, are there any prints anywhere on the planet of this? I love this, and would love to own a simple print. I know the “original”, with the strip, is nonexistent, as you said, but surely there were some prints made at some point, “post-mutilation?” I truly like this work better without the missing piece, as its focus is clearly more on the subjects. It’s awesome this way! Do you have any idea how many prints might have been produced, and if perhaps there are any of those in existence other than say…a private collection? I can’t find as much as a “poster” of this work for sale anywhere online. This puzzles me. Thank you again for posting! Happy Holidays!

  • Anna Guarro
    January 4, 2012

    Hello Rene, happy New Year! For prints on works from the museum collection, please check with our store, Regarding the technique, this work, as you mention, is a crayon, not a watercolor. If you are interested on more information on these techniques, please check the Wikipedia, there are very interesting articles on both. Thanks for you interest in our collection!

  • Juan Castresana
    June 1, 2013

    Hola Eduard, me gustaría contactar con usted para enviarle documentación sobre un autorretrato atribuido a Picasso. Si no le importa envíeme su email para que pueda enviarsela por correo. Muchas gracias y enhorabuena por tan brillante exposición de los autorretratos así como por este descubrimiento.

  • Museu Picasso
    June 6, 2013

    Hola Juan, para autentificaciones de cualquier tipo de obra de Picasso debes dirigirte a la Administración Picasso en París. Aquí puedes encontrar el contacto:
    Muchas gracias

  • David
    January 25, 2016


    M’agradaria tenir l’oportunitat de poder contactar amb l’Eduard Valles.

    Actualment estic immers amb un projecte de Picasso per a una editorial (Editorial amb molta Relevancia i Projecte important), voldria tenir la possibilitat de contactar amb L’Eduard per exposar-li el projecte. La idea seria poder compartir el contingut generat i per descomptat, convidar-ho a què ell sigui partícip de més generació de continguts.

    Espero no causar-hi cap tipus de molèsties.

    Resto a l’espera de la vostra resposta.

  • Museu Picasso
    January 25, 2016

    Hola David, ens posarem en contacte amb l’Eduard i quan tinguem la resposta te la farem arribar. Moltes gràcies

  • mercè claros pañella
    November 22, 2016

    Realment és genial …..

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