Frieze Masters: Virgin. Muse. Heroine.London
with Galerie Leiris, Paris
with Marlborough Gallery, Rome
where purchased by Marchesa Albani, Rome, 1975;
By descent in the family.
LiteraturePablo Picasso: 172 Dessins Récents, exh. cat. Galerie Leiris, Paris, 1971–72, p. 93, no. 138.
Pablo Picasso: opere dal 1912 al 1972, exh. cat. Marlborough Gallery, Rome, 1974–75, no. 29a, 29b, illustrated.
P. C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 33, Works from 1971–1972, Paris, 1978, p. 163, no. 474, illustrated, and p. 165, no. 485, illustrated.
ExhibitionsParis, Galerie Leiris, Pablo Picasso: 172 Dessins Récents, 21 November 1971–18 August 1972
Marlborough Gallery, Rome, Pablo Picasso: opere dal 1912 al 1972, November 1974–January 1975
This boldly rendered, double-sided work on paper from 1972 represents the remarkable creative outpouring and extraordinary vitality of Picasso’s final years. Two figures depicted in profile—a monumental female nude at right and a lascivious male figure with wild hair and a grizzled face at left—fill the recto of the sheet with an explosive and erotically charged force, evoking something ambiguously in between a voyeuristic encounter and an embrace. Despite the abstracted quality of their physiognomies and facial features, the female figure may be understood to be Picasso’s wife Jacqueline Roque, while the male figure represents the artist himself. Jacqueline, whom Picasso married in 1961, was the artist’s last great love and the source of inspiration for much of his later work. “Jacqueline came to embody–from the abstract to the concrete, from portraits to representations of the essence of woman–each and every one of the characters Picasso needed, as he had always done in the past, to activate the pictorial formulae that corresponded to his enduring obsessions” (E. de Diego in Picasso, Musas y Modelos, exh. cat. Museo Picasso, Málaga, 2006–7, p. 30).
Picasso was relentlessly inventive in his approach to the female nude in the last several years of his life. His reclining nudes at the outset of the 1960s are typically presented in profile, in repose on a divan, “Then, in 1967, he swings the body round to give a frontal view, while keeping the face in profile. This perspectival view, and the foreshortening that places the soles of the feet in the foreground of the picture, makes it necessary for him to arrange the parts of the body around a central focus, which is the vulva” (M.-L. Bernadac, “Picasso 1953–1972: Painting as Model,” in Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953–1972, exh. cat. Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 79). This significant development finds an echo in the present work.
Picasso’s use of his young wife as muse—in contrast with other artists of the era, who employed professional models—infuses works like the present sheet with a sense of intimacy that blurs the lines between viewer and voyeur. At the same time, such works recall Picasso’s most explicitly sybaritic depictions of the Marie-Thérèse from the 1930s, while in these later iterations, the inclusion of the male figure might perhaps be interpreted as the elderly Picasso reclaiming the sexual vigour of his younger days. “These are deeply and strikingly personal drawings. It is as if, by looking at intricately detailed fantasies of young women rendered by the old artist, we are stealing a peek at someone’s diary, invading Picasso’s privacy” (Michael Kimmelman, “31 Late Drawings By Picasso in a Show,” The New York Times, February 5, 1988). “No doubt about it, Picasso’s ‘super-real’ (his word) women are threatening” wrote John Richardson, who argued that these massive, primeval creatures with their “terrible toes and banana-sized” fingers, as we see here, present a frank challenge to the glamorously sterile images of women prevalent in the 1960s (John Richardson, “L’Epoque Jacqueline,” in Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints, 1953–1972, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London 1988, p. 42). Picasso’s nudes, who “expose themselves in a matter-of-fact, unerotic way, threatened a generation nurtured on art that had been deodorized and sanitized, a generation that had mostly turned away from reality except in the gimmicky or eye-fooling forms of pop-art or photo-realism” (ibid., p. 42).
Meanwhile, on the sheet’s verso, the viewer is confronted with a startlingly close-up image of a face, which bears comparison with Picasso’s final self-portraits, executed around the same date, namely in late June and early July of 1972. The visage here pares the expression of fear found in those other drawings, said by Picasso himself to convey the fear of death itself, down to its essentials—the nostrils flare, the mouth is squared, the eyes are heavily lidded and fixed in terror. At the same time, indications of unruly facial hair tie the face here to the figure on the sheet’s recto. As noted by David Sylvester “The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours [...]. At twenty-five, Picasso's raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality” (David Sylvester in ibid., p. 144). The visage on the verso of this sheet, with its countenance reminiscent of a tribal mask, embodies this “raw vitality” that distinguished both the early and late Picasso, and provides the connective tissue between the two.