An Elephant in the Room or a Whale in the Painting

When people say “Elephant in the Room”, they usually mean something huge and obvious that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. But what do you say when there’s a Whale in the Painting and nobody has a clue that it’s there? This past June was a month of such discoveries in the art world, when unexpected objects were found on 2 very different paintings:

Beached Whale Painting
Image Credit: Fitzwilliam Museum

The first painting with a hidden agenda turned out to be an unassuming 17th century Dutch painting, depicting a serene beach scene. However, right in the middle of it, discretely painted over was… an enormous beached whale, which was covered up sometime in the 18th or 19th century. Whether the whale offended somebody’s sensibilities or simply didn’t fit one’s decor is a mystery. There’s no record of it being altered and the discovery was purely accidental, made by Shan Kuang, a conservation student at the University of Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum during cleaning and restoration effort.

Picasso The Blue Room Mystery
Image Credit: The Phillipps Collection

The second discovery was much more public, because it was hiding just under the surface of one of the Picasso’s first masterpieces – “The Blue Room” which has been part of The Phillips Collection for almost 90 years.  Young struggling painter, has been known to “recycle” his canvas. It has been suspected since 1950s that there might be something underneath the odd brushstrokes of the famous painting. But only during the last 5 years, with the help of recent advancements in imaging technology, the underlying image of a bearded man in a bow tie was finally reveled in relative clarity. Experts are still working trying to recreate the original colors Picasso used. Who is the man in the picture remains a mystery, for now… Let the detective work continue!