Last month as I was preparing to head off to art class I received a call from my husband who was at work. His company, TWI, does non-destructive thermal imaging for a myriad of clients, mostly aerospace related. However, on this day, they were inspecting a very different kind of material; an original Parisian work of Art from 1916. He invited me to come down and see it up close in person.
TWI had previously done inspection work for MoMa. They put TWI in touch with a Florida lawyer who was assisting his friends in researching an original work of art from the Spanish Cubist Juan Gris. They had acquired the two-panel Papier Colle’ while vacationing in Argentina.
Once at TWI, I met the couple and their lawyer. A professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a second academic gentleman proficient in manuscript analysis were also present and had already conducted their analysis of the piece.
The couple’s journey began about two years ago when upon returning home from vacation, the husband placed the two panels in his home office and just stared at it for about 6 months, trying to make sense of the Cubist collage.
After some time, he began to notice that among the drawings of the clouds, bottles, fruit, revolver, bullet holes, military figure, French newspaper clippings and note cards, were various books drawn within books. On the right-hand side of the left panel, the artist drew in a book binding with “Juan Gris Paris 1916” printed at the top.
Trying to make meaning of the collage, the owners showed the piece to an art curator. She noted the round bottle and flat-bottomed clouds of the left-hand panel were characteristic of Pablo Picasso. While Gris’ collage work was usually very colorful, Picasso’s were more neutral. Some of the hand writing also looked like Picasso’s.
By 1916, WWI had taken a major toll on France. Gris, a pacifist, did not fight. We also know that Picasso did not enter the war. Actually he and Gris’ were nearly the only two in their circle that did not go to war. As such, both men were in Paris in 1916.
While each panel has Juan Gris’ name on it, the real mystery, and million dollar (literally) question is whether Pablo Picasso collaborated on the papier colle’. If so, it would be the only documented collaboration (that we know of) between the two artists and worth millions of dollars!
We did not solve the mystery on this day, but their journey will continue. Eventually the piece will be auctioned off at Sotheby’s and either way, the couple will be all set. I wish them the best!
As for me, it truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity 🙂