Issue 102, Spring 1987
Pablo Picasso died in 1973 without a will, leaving his wondrous personal estate to be divided among his heirs and the French government. The latter made its selection first. Because Picasso had never given gifts of artwork during his lifetime to his granddaughter Marina Picasso (the daughter of Paulo, Picasso’s son with his first wife, the Russian ballerina Olga Koklova) she was given the right to select next. With the aid and representation of art dealer Jan Krugier, she acquired about twenty-two percent of her grandfather’s enormous private collection, thus instantly becoming the owner of one of the great assemblages of Picassos in the world paintings, drawings, sculptures, prints, ceramics, and notebooks ranging from 1895 to 1973. Jan Krugier spent months making his selections for Marina. The experience made up, in a way, for the one time he had met Picasso in the fifties. “I was brought by a Spanish friend of mine who, like me, had been in the concentration camps,” he recalls. “I came with some drawings of my own war experiences to show Picasso. But I was too frightened and shy. I hardly said a word. My Spanish friend was furious. I was paralyzed with fear. Perhaps that is what happens when you come face to face with such extraordinary genius — a one person musée extraordinaire.”
The following selection from Manna Picasso’s collection, accompanied by notes by James Barron, focuses on Picasso’s women —a leitmotif of his work, a constant inspiration. It is the first time this work has been reproduced in the United States. All works by Picasso are reproduced courtesy of Jan Krugier Fine Art, New York.
Picasso first visited Paris in October, 1900. In 1901, after briefly returning to his native Barcelona, he settled in Paris at 130, boulevard de Clichy (the studio of his recently-deceased friend, Casagemas). There Picasso developed a painterly, expressionist style resonant with deep psychological intonation and concerned with the underside of the city: the brothels, bars, and dance halls he had seen in reproductions of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec and Théophile Steinlen while still in Barcelona.
In Nu couché (1901, Chinese ink and colored ink washes), the nude woman is most likely of the demimonde. She appears both threatened and threatening, her passivity empha-sized by her immobilized hands and feet while her predatory nature is evident in her erotic gaze. The subject of the prostitute, which recalls the reclining nude in Manet’s Olympia, would become a recurrent theme in Picasso’s work, most notably in the revolutionary Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso is drawn here to the nude, yet his pen does not admire her con-tours: he exposes lumps and rolls, the scars of wear. The field surrounding her is described with quick vertical hatch marks, at once Edenic and hellish.
During the Barcelona years, most of the artist’s works were signed “P. Ruiz Picasso,” indicating the surnames of his father’s and mother’s families respectively. By 1901, the year he drew Nu couché, he was signing the maternal “Picasso,” an Italian name probably adopted during the family’s migration to Spain.
Now living in a decrepit studio at 13, rue Ravignan (given the name “Bateau-Lavoir” or “Laundry Barge” by his friend. Max Jacob), Picasso took up with Fernande Olivier, his companion for the next seven years, and after whom La Couseuse (1906, chalk on paper) is clearly modeled. Fernande had been married in 1898 at the age of seventeen but had been deserted by her husband in 1904. By the time Picasso met her later that year, she had changed her name from Percheron (the name of her husband) to Olivier.
The domesticity of Picasso’s life with Fernande is clear in La Couseuse. The dress suggests a mountainscape out of which Fernande’s delicately rendered face rises. Fernande does not model for the artist; rather, Picasso has classicized a small domestic moment into an emblem of womanhood: a symbolic Madonna cradling an imaginary Christ child. Although Picasso rarely worked with strict ecclesiastical themes, through-out his career he elevated everyday life into a religious concept of his own.
In Femme de dos, bras croisés (1907-8, pencil and india ink on paper), Picasso’s classicizing spirit is combined with his new-found interest in Iberian and African sculpture as well as in the paintings of Cézanne. In 1907, Picasso had acquired two Iberian stone heads (which he had not known were stolen from the Louvre by his friend Apollinaire’s secretary—the scandal was exposed in 1911 with much journalistic fanfare); then, fol-lowing the lead of Matisse and Derain, he also purchased his first African sculptures. These influences, along with Picasso’s interest in Cézanne’s experiments in fragmenting nature, are evident in this work. (Cézanne’s death in October of the previous year had been followed by several influential retrospective exhibitions). The roughness of the woman’s shirt collar and braid are recorded as though, in the act of drawing, Picasso was undressing the woman with his pen. Although still utilizing classical perspective, Picasso is obviously wrestling with the possibility of abandoning this Renaissance tradition in favor of a new concept of space. In this work he seems to be drawn to the idea of dissecting a moment into successive visual acts—an idea Picasso would explore for the next decade of his life.
Mademoiselle Léonie is a character in the book Saint Matarel, written by Max Jacob and published in 1911 by Picasso’s dealer, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler. The book, the first of three volumes, concerns a Parisian subway worker, Matarel, who, by converting to Catholicism and becoming a monk, attains sainthood. His mistress, Mademoiselle Léonie, undergoes her ;own transformation —from kitchen girl to exotic dancer in a night club.
Picasso and Fernande had moved from the “Bateau-Lavoir” to more comfortable quarters at 11, boulevard de Clichy. The new apartment offered a view of a park and the couple began to accumulate furniture, musical instruments and, among other things, a small Corot painting. “In spite of all this,” Fernande wrote in Picasso et ses amis, “Picasso was less happy here than he’d been before.”1 Later he would say: “Of all — hunger, misery, the miscomprehension by the public —fame is by far the worst. It is the castigation by God of the artist.”2
In Mademoiselle Léonie (1910, pencil and ink on paper), Picasso has completely embraced the revolutionary Cubist principles of space he had developed with Braque. Picasso nicknamed Braque “Wilbur”—as in the Wright Brothers — and he saw Braque and himself as equally innovative frontiers-men exploring a new, technologically-inspired, perceptual realm. In this drawing, the face no longer asserts an illusionistic three-dimensional form, but suggests a new aesthetic located entirely on the surface of the work. The whole has a peculiarly machine-age quality resembling the ubiquitous industrial mechanisms which would become the subjects of Chaplin’s Modern Times and the paintings of Léger.
In 1916, Jean Cocteau introduced Picasso to Serge Diaghilev. The following year Picasso started designing sets for the Ballet Russes’ production oi Parade which opened later that year in Rome. While collaborating on the ballet with Cocteau, Leonide Massine, Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and Leon Bakst, Picasso met a ballerina from the troupe named Olga Koklova. He returned with her from Rome for the Paris opening of Parade and then followed the company to Madrid and Barcelona. The production continued its tour to South America, but Olga abandoned her role to remain in Spain with Picasso. They were married in July, 1918.