Researchers in Spain have discovered a painting that may be a portrait by Pablo Picasso of his sister, Maria Concepción, who died of diphtheria in 1895 at age seven.
The family that owns the painting wishes to remain anonymous and lives in Malaga, Picasso's hometown. At the owners' request, a team of art experts at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia has been studying the work, which, according to Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, was painted over for unknown reasons in the 1930s. This fact would explain the lack of documentation regarding it in studies of Picasso. An image of the work is known to have appeared only in a book on the artist written by Manuel Blasco, Picasso's cousin, who described the painting as "definitely by Pablito."
Due to the repainting, it was impossible to use laser spectroscopy to identify the molecular makeup of the paint. But through infrared reflectography — in which electromagnetic waves expose underlying images on a canvas — researchers have discovered deeper layers of color and claim to have identified the paint types and tones that Picasso used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They have also found similarities in style between this painting and his work from that early period. After six months of restoration, the painting now looks entirely different from its previous painted-over state, and now Picasso experts will be invited to weigh in.
The painting's provisional title is "La Niña" ("The Girl"). If it is accepted as a Picasso, it would become one of his earliest known works. The Polytechnic University researchers say that Picasso probably did not paint the portrait before his sister's death in 1895, since he was 13 years old at the time and his style was not yet developed. They hypothesize that he painted it later from memory, perhaps helped by two sketches of her from 1894 that are in his notebooks at Barcelona's Picasso Museum.
Picasso painted his sister once before, in 1894, in a painting titled "La Enferma" ("The Sick Girl"). The death of the girl, who was affectionately known as "the little chubby one," was very hard on the family, which soon afterward moved from Malaga to Barcelona. The given name of Maya Widmaier-Picasso, daughter of the artist and Marie-Thérèse Walter, is also Maria de la Concepción.