Two Portraits of an Unknown Person

Due to the rotation of the works of the permanent collection of the museum, two portraits of youth of the same person have been selected to be exhibited, which haven’t been on show to the public in recent years. Both works belong to the legacy that Picasso donated to the city of Barcelona in 1970.



Prior to exhibiting them once again, a process of restoration was carried out, which included the necessary study of the existing photographic documentation from 1970, which provides privileged information about the state of the works, prior to the restoration carried out in the workshops of the Museum of Art of Barcelona. These photographs in black and white come from the Francisco Melich collection conserved in the archive of the Museu Picasso.



The careful observation of this documentation reveals that the canvases were fragments that were not mounted on supporting frames. The marks of the drawing pins could be seen on the upper edge that indicate the way in which it was attached to a rigid support during the execution of the paintings. The folds and losses of material bear witness to the vicissitudes of these two canvases preserved in the family home over the years, until the donation. The remnants of paint on this same edge highlight the traces of a clip that completed the fastening in the moment of being painted. Could this small remnant indicate that initially the background was dark, as in the full face portrait produced with little time difference?

Are we faced with a study of a portrait, of full face and profile, of a colleague from the academy prior to his journey to Madrid?

The inscription on the portrait of the profile of the unknown person locates and dates the work to be in “Barcelona March 1897”. Until that moment there had been a reading error that dated it in 1899, the year in which the artist was in Barcelona. However, in 1897 it is known that Picasso had entered the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. This period in Madrid took place between October 1897 and June 1898, and supposed a change in his work.


Detall de Retrat d'un desconegut


The examination and study of these two works has allowed us to identify the processes carried out in the restoration of the 1970s: both canvases were painted and mounted on supporting frames which were slightly bigger than the original canvases. The plasterwork was placed in the areas where there were losses and they were subsequently reintegrated.

Both works present signs of oxidized varnish. In the case of the profile portrait, the areas of plasterwork were not level, and the magnificent orange background was the most aesthetically damaged part due to the altered retouching.

The full face portrait hardly presented any losses of material. In both works, a cleaning process was carried out with solvents, and the old plasterwork was eliminated. Subsequently it was plastered again and reintegrated.

The current intervention has allowed us to recuperate the chromatic unity in both works. The full face portrait, despite being painted on a dark background, has gained in terms of nuances, and the profile portrait has recuperated the luminous and strong orange background that perhaps foreshadows the boldness of the artist from Malaga.





Blanca López de Arriba

Restorer of painting

  • Sílvia Company Salip
    May 7, 2016

    Bona tarda,

    Només volia dir-los que hi ha un error en els anys que diuen que Picasso va viure a Madrid (parlant dels retrats del desconegut que es van incorporar recentment a la col·lecció), que es veu clarament que ha estat per descuit: “Aquest període madrileny va transcórrer de l’octubre de 1887 al juny del 1888 i va suposar un canvi en la seva obra”.

  • Museu Picasso
    May 9, 2016

    Gràcies Sílvia! efectivament ha estat un “error de picatge”. Ja està corregit.

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