Please note that in the interactive dissolve page the image on the right is an outline of the hypothesized figure, discussed below, super-imposed on the X-ray.
Click on this image to view an interactive dissolve between the x-ray and reproduction of Full Fathom Five. Shockwave plug-in required.
(The dissolve may be temporarily unavailable.)


Pollock often worked on his paintings in successive campaigns, over varying periods of time. The surfaces show several layers of paint, and the final composition often reflects his response to, or masking of, the initial design with which he began. In an extreme case such as Full Fathom Five he appears to have painted over a fully developed earlier painting. An X-radiograph (X-ray) of Full Fathom Five helps us assess its earlier appearance.

The white shapes that show up in the X-ray are likely passages that were executed in a white lead paint (which is opaque to X-ray radiation). These shapes seem to suggest a standing figure with parted legs. The figure seems to raise its right arm, and to cross its torso with its left arm, in the center of the canvas. The X-ray also shows the wide array of extraneous material -- including thumbtacks, nails, buttons, and a key -- that Pollock buried in the surface of this painting. As the X-ray shows, these materials are distributed in a way that is far from random, but appears instead to relate to the earlier, figural composition. Also visible in the X-ray are several vertical lines which may be traces of the floor on which Pollock initially painted the picture.The pressure of the brush (for the first layers of the canvas were brushed or set down with a palette knife, rather than poured) would have registered the divisions of the boards below.

When we photographically "overlay" the final painting on top of the X-ray, we can see ways in which the composition as we now know it was built up in response to these earlier, now hidden layers.
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