The three figures are depicted as actors on the stage, with a flood light in the upper left-hand corner.
The figure in the center is also the set painter. He is climbing on a pair of steps, holding two large paint buckets and a broad paintbrush close to his abdomen. These autobiographical clues, identify him as Picasso, who for almost a decade, worked for Diaghilev's ballet company, "Les Ballets Russes."as a set painter and costume designer.
The figure on the left is identifiable with similar portraits of Picasso's mistress, Marie Therese Walter, such as "The Dream," of 1932. Her costume and square head covering, is also similar to Picasso's costume design for, 'la marchand des poissons', from Picasso's favorite ballet, Diaghilev's 1920 production of Pulchinella.
The figure on the right, conveys the sense of poise and strength one might associate with a professional dancer. There are a number of indications in this and Picasso's other work , that reveal this mysterious figure to be a mask for Picasso's wife, Olga Koklova. Picasso met Olga in 1917, while she was working as a dancer for the "Ballets Russes."
The dark background on the right-hand side of the composition has the appearance of a theatrical curtain with a large fringe running along its bottom edge.
Above the fringe and just behind Olga's thighs, appears a geometric motif which contains all the letters of the name 'Picazzo.' This was a name adopted by Picasso around 1900, at the time of his first exhibition in Barcelona. "Picazzo," is also a signature that appears in a number of Picasso's drawings from that period. It's geometric, art-deco appearance, evokes the type of theatrical emblem often found on theatrical curtains of the 1920's and 30's.
Other theatrical allusions in "The Unknown Masterpiece" include the appearance of: a pantomime horse, puppetry and the pivotal scene from the second act of Wagner's ultimate opera, Parsifal.