With a double-sided Picasso set to sell for £60 million, we take an eclectic look at paintings that speak to us behind their backs
5) Pablo Picasso, La Gommeuse
Picasso’s image of an absinthe-flushed gommeuse (French word associated with saucy concert singers) is currently valued at $60 million and will be auctioned in November. Turned over in 2000 for restoration, the lonely singer was shown to have a strange companion on the back. Picasso had hidden a scathing portrait of his art dealer at the time, Pere Manach. He strides across the night sky in a woman’s body and angrily pisses over an indistinct landscape.
4) Roy Lichtenstein, Stretcher Frame with Vertical Bars
Canvases are often treated poorly by artists. They are stretched, sanded, left waiting in a corners and sometimes, when inspiration is exhausted, they are violently destroyed. In a reversal of fate, Lichtenstein’s tight yellow frame is the star of this painting. Like a suspicious dealer, we search the back and immediately spot a signature style but what else is there beyond, or behind, this?
3) Roy Nachum/Rihanna, Anti album cover
Rihanna recently revealed she will use two paintings by artist Roy Nachum for her upcoming album. They show a young RiRi holding a red balloon, eyes covered by a golden crown, against the backdrop of a gory red smear. Rihanna’s view is that the image, which also has a Braille poem imprinted on the canvas, plays on the theme of sight—the idea that those who claim to see are actually the blindest. Perhaps there is some vengeful jibe to the music industry behind the paintings but this doesn’t fully come across. They’re more of a Brother’s Grimm frontispiece with the uneasy feel of a dark parable: A child star has been spotted and is promised a dubious future of fame.
2) Marcel Duchamp, The Large Glass
Artists and window cleaners agree that the best medium for prying on lovers is glass. Though cracked when it was moved in the 1920s, we can still gaze through Duchamp’s iconic work and admire the complex ritual taking place. Divided into two glass panels, the top half has a roach-like bride while the lower pane contains nine waiting bachelors, all hung like dry cleaning on metal hangers. The labours of love become the toil of engineering and Duchamp’s glass works as a see-through diagram.
1) Agnolo Bronzino, Portrait of Dwarf Morgante
In mid-16th century Florence, Braccio di Bartolo was the favourite dwarf and jester of Cosimo I de Medici. He joined in all of the court festivities in exchange for occasional humiliation. Bronzino pays a fleshly tribute to the performer and honours him by showing a twin view of a hunting trip—a privilege of the court inner circle. One side is a full frontal and the reverse reveals his proud pumpkin-plump arse on the journey back from the fields, feathery catch in hand. Once considered too brazen, it was painted over with vine leaves and prudishly relabelled an image of Bacchus in the 18th century.