In Pablo Picasso’s 1900 painting “Le Moulin de la Galette,” revelers in sporty dresses or top hats appear to be drinking, dancing and chatting. Among the revelers, beneath layers of paint, is a hidden dog that the artist seems to have painted over hastily.
For decades, the dog went unnoticed. But recent research and extensive restoration of the painting for an exhibition revealed a maroon-coated King Charles Spaniel with a red bow.
The painting, on display at New York’s Guggenheim Museum through August 6, is part of the 10-part “Young Picasso in Paris” exhibition, which showcases some of the Spanish artist’s early work when he lived in France.
Before the exhibition, the Guggenheim, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, restored the painting and removed dirt and varnish. The treatment revealed subtleties—such as the brushwork, color palette, and spatial definition—that had previously gone unnoticed in the painting. Subsequently, technical imaging revealed an earlier version of the painting with the lapdog in the foreground.
Julie Barten, a restorer of paintings at the Guggenheim, said in an interview that the painting had undergone an entire year of treatment. That process, she said, was “critical to better understanding this photo” and revealing the “quick strokes he used to obliterate the dog.”
In retrospect, Ms. Barten said, she realized that on an x-ray of the painting, you “really can make out a dog.”
“We could definitely tell something was up,” Ms. Barten said. “But we couldn’t say what it was at the time.”
Megan Fontanella, a curator at the Guggenheim, said it was a “surprise and delight” to discover the dog hidden in the painting.
“When we start analyzing a photo,” she said, “it’s not often we know we’re going to find something as interesting and enticing as a dog.”
On Tuesday, visitors to the museum stopped all day in front of the painting to take pictures of it or pose next to it. Some knew about the dog and stopped to look for it. Others, completely unaware of Picasso’s hidden gem, walked past the painting without looking at it. A woman sat on a cushioned couch with her back to the painting, scrolling on her phone.
Krystal Lauk, 37, who was visiting from San Francisco, didn’t initially see the dog in the painting.
When she learned about the hidden pup, it took her a while to find him.
“Is it the blob in the foreground?” asked Mrs. Lauk.
Anna Beatriz, 27, who was visiting New York from Brazil, said she knew nothing about the dog and that she was at the Guggenheim because she is interested in architecture. But when she heard about the dog, she promptly gathered friends to see if they could see him.
While the dog’s discovery came as a surprise to some museum-goers, art experts say it wasn’t unusual for Picasso to leave such Easter eggs behind.
“We know that Picasso did this in his earlier work,” Ms Fontanella said. “He often leaves these kinds of remnants of earlier compositions.”
For example, a hidden arm was discovered a few years ago in Picasso’s “La Miséreuse accroupie”.
“It was really part of his process of constantly transforming one thing into another and often leaving clues as to what lay beneath,” Ms Barten said.
However, there is little evidence as to why Picasso finally decided to do away with the dog.
Tom Williams, an art history lecturer at Belmont University in Nashville, said that “it’s hard to imagine that this particular painting has a dog in the foreground.”
“I’m not sure a dog, especially a lap dog, would want the dark, awkward and erotically charged atmosphere that Picasso so brilliantly conjured in this picture,” said Mr. Williams.
But at the Guggenheim on Tuesday, Mrs. Lauk, the visitor from San Francisco, wondered why Picasso had painted over the spaniel.
“Maybe,” she said, “he didn’t feel the dog.”