Painted in 1901, Au Moulin Rouge is one of the historic paintings with which Picasso made his true debut in France. This picture was exhibited at Vollard's in the precocious Spaniard's now legendary show in Paris in 1901 as no. 11 in the exhibition which saw Picasso launch his career as an international artist. It is therefore a part of the early history of Picasso, and therefore of the very foundations of twentieth-century painting. Writing about this critical early show, the poet Max Jacob, who from this moment would become one of Picasso's greatest friends and admirers, wrote:
'When he arrived in Paris, Picasso led the turbulent life of an apprentice. Thanks to the son of a high official of the Museum of Natural History, he and some other Spaniards used to go at night to the Jardin des Plantes to see the animals. He frequented the Moulin Rouge, the Casino de Paris, and other music-halls that were fashionable at that time... As soon as he arrived in Paris, he had an exhibition at Vollard's, which was a veritable success. He was accused of imitating Steinlen, Lautrec, Vuillard, Van Gogh etc., but everyone recognised that he had a fire, a real brilliance, a painter's eye' (Jacob, quoted in M. McCully (ed.), A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton, 1997, p. 37).
Picasso was only nineteen years of age at the time that he painted Au Moulin Rouge, yet this young painter already had enough of a body of work that he could dominate the exhibition, which he in fact shared with his friend and compatriot, Francisco Iturrino. This latter presented a small group of large canvases, whereas Picasso displayed the opposite, filling the wall space with pictures and apparently showing others in folders, devoid even of a stretcher. Picasso had in fact only returned to Paris a matter of weeks before, and brought with him a group of works that he had executed in Spain. However, with a furious and ambitious energy, he set about filling his canvases with images of life in Paris, swelling his oeuvre. The pure, youthful and exuberant energy with which he painted these pictures is clear in Au Moulin Rouge, which sees the artist veering from the sfumato effects (or Fumism) that had characterised many of his works until now supplanted by an almost Fauve, gestural brushwork. This fully conveys the spontaneity of the scene, the riotous atmosphere of the cabaret, the stockinged legs of the dancers showing underneath the petticoats in the background as they leap around with their cancan kicks.
This movement creates a sharp contrast to the gaze of the figure in the foreground. She appears still in contrast to the bustle of colour and movement of the dancers. There is something confrontational and bracing about this emanation from the shady world of the Parisian nightlife, as though our presence were worthy of accusation. This device makes Au Moulin Rouge all the more gripping, as it involves us, through her character and her interaction with us, with the world of the cabaret beyond. Picasso was, as other artists had been before him, acclaimed with the Baudelairean sobriquet of the 'Painter of Modern Life' because of his exhibition at Vollard's, and here we see how wide a taste for life he had. But crucially he also managed to involve his viewer in that life. The nightclubs, the cabarets, races, streets, corridas, kisses and couples, prostitutes, and even the occasional flower burst from his work with a new energy during this period.
As a 19 year old artist, Picasso was clearly drawn to the nightlife more than to the day. It was a rich source of subject-matter, not least of the more scandalous kind. Indeed, Emmanuel Virenque, an early owner of this painting, was so distressed to find his friends outraged by it that he eventually exchanged the work for another painting from the same period. The Moulin Rouge itself was one of the great spectacles, and was relatively new when Picasso depicted it, having opened only a dozen years earlier in 1889. Located in Pigalle, it was highly convenient for the young artist, then based by Montmartre in the Boulevard de Clichy. The Moulin refers not only to the reconstructed windmill on the building, but also reflects the semi-rural nature of Montmartre during this period, when the area was still dotted with windmills, fields and farms. Being on the outskirts of Paris meant that it was also a good and cheap place for a struggling artist to work and live.
Picasso was then living with his friend Pere Mañach, also his dealer, and it was through him that the young artist was introduced to the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard. Although the two remained friends and occasional collaborators for the rest of their lives, Vollard's memory of the first meeting is uncharitable and in part untrue:
'In about the year 1901, I had a visit from a young Spaniard, dressed in a rather studied fashion and accompanied by a compatriot of his with whom I was slightly acquainted. The latter was called Manache, or something like that, and was a factory owner from Barcelona... The friend 'Manache' now introduced me to was none other than the painter Pablo Picasso, who, though only nineteen or twenty years old, had produced about a hundred works which he now brought to me with a view to an exhibition, but that exhibition was not at all successful' (Vollard, quoted in J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Life and Work of the Early Years 1881-1907, trans. K. Lyons, Oxford, 1981, p. 229).
Not only did Picasso present a smaller number of works at the exhibition and probably to Vollard but also a good number of them appear to have been purchased, signalling some acceptance and recognition from the buying public.
As well as public admiration, many critics were impressed with the skills and the observations that he placed on display at Vollard's, not least the celebrated writer and art critic Gustave Coquiot, whom Picasso painted during this period in a portrait that itself features a background that echoes the frenetic energy of Au Moulin Rouge. In Le Journal, he wrote a long article about the exhibition heralding the arrival of a great new force in the art world:
'This very young Spanish painter, who has been here for only a short time, is wildly enamoured of modern life. It is easy to imagine him-- wide awake, with a searching eye, keen to record everything happening in the street, all the adventures of life. He does not need to contemplate his subject-matter for long; so it is that we see him covering his canvas quickly, as if in a fury, impatient at the slowness of his hand, which holds long brushes laden with colour.
'Here, then, we have an artist who has created a new harmony of light colours, making use of striking yellows, reds, greens and blues. We can see at once that P.R. Picasso wants to see everything and say everything. All too often an artist attracted by just two or three aspects of our times is described as portraying Modern Life, but P.R. Picasso deserves this description more than anybody else. From our own time he has taken prostitutes, country scenes, interiors, workers and so on, and we can be sure that tomorrow he will offer us everything else that he has not been able to attain up to now because of his extreme youth.
'... This is P.R. Picasso's work to date; the work of a painter who takes an interest in every time of day, an artist for whom day never ends in a city where each minute offers a scene worthy of attention. Driven by an all-embracing passion, like a wild yet subtle goldsmith he brings out the most voluptuous yellows, the richest greens, the most glowing reds' (G. Coquiot, quoted in Palau i Fabre, op.cit., 1981, p. 514).
Coquiot did not provide a list of the paintings that he saw, but whirls through the exhibition theme by theme, and was perhaps referring to Au Moulin Rouge when he wrote, 'So we have dance-routines of the Moulin Rouge, where men sway lasciviously, watching the girls perform high-kicking cancans, butterflies on the canvas, whirling their full skirts' (Coquiot, quoted in Ibid., p. 514).
In this enthusiasm, it is clear how refreshing the young artist's vision was, and how well it was being received. However, even more than Coquiot, Picasso was praised in an article by Félicien Fagus in La Revue Blanche, a publication with anarchist ties (Picasso himself was dogged by a reputation for having associated with anarchists during this period, and this was long considered to have been detrimental in his applications for French citizenship). Fagus referred to Picasso as having
'just emerged as a brilliant artist. He paints-- and beautifully; his appreciation substance bears efficient witness to the fact. Like all pure painters he loves colour for itself, and every substance has its own colour. In addition, he is attracted by every subject, and everything can be a subject for Picasso' (Fagus, quoted in Ibid., p. 514).
Fagus' article is noteworthy for its impressive analysis of other aspects of Picasso's work, as well as the above celebration, which chimes well with what Coquiot had written. For later, Fagus explained that, 'Apart from the great precursors, it is easy to detect numberous likely influences: Delacroix, Manet (clearly indicated with his Spanish connection), Monet, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Forain and Rops perhaps... All are momentary; he abandons them as easily as he adopts them: he is clearly in such a hurry that he has not yet had time to forget his own personal style' (Fagus, quoted in Ibid., pp. 514-15).
Picasso was already aware of the sense of personal style that he had achieved, and this was reflected in something simple in his paintings: his signature. For it was at this time that his paintings ceased to be signed 'P. Ruiz Picasso' and that he instead boldly declared himself simply as 'Picasso'. He was now confident in himself, in his abilities, and making-- literally and metaphorically-- a name for himself. He had already, at the age of 19, surpassed his father as an artist, and abandoned his name accordingly, ready to take on Paris, the centre of the arts at that time, on his own terms.
At this time, Picasso was still far from fluent in French, but was beginning to make some headway there, and would advance in leaps and bounds from the moment of the exhibition. For it was then that a small group of characters in the avant-garde cultural scene in Paris began to take interest in him, not least the poet Max Jacob, eventually forming the so-called Bande à Picasso.
Within a short time, largely through Jacob, Picasso had a group of friends around him who were mainly poets, and in a couple more years, he was recognised amongst the artistic circles in Paris as one of the greatest, boldest and most visionary of innovators, lending a validity to the prophetic words with which Coquiot had ended his 1901 article: 'We shall be hearing more of the work of P.R. Picasso' (G. Coquiot, quoted in Palau i Fabre, op.cit., 1981, p. 514).
As well as an interesting exhibition history, Au Moulin Rouge has had a distinguished past in terms of its provenance, not least recently when it was in the collection of John T. Dorrance, the heir to the Campbell Soup Company fortune. At an auction in 1989, the Dorrance collection was shown to include an array of fantastic paintings by great artists including Monet, Bonnard, Van Gogh and of course Picasso. As well as the present work was another, dating from only a year later, that already shows the influence of the Blue Period, filled with its distinctive tinge of melancholy, a contrast to the enthusiastic celebration of life that had marked Picasso's Vollard exhibition and indeed Au Moulin Rouge.
Au Moulin Rouge (Le Divan Japonais)
Oil on board laid down on cradled panel
THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
Signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
Paris, Galerie Vollard, Tableaux de F. Iturrino et de P.R. Picasso, 1901, no. 11.
New York, Gallery of Modern Art, The Collection of Dr and Mrs T. Edward Hanley, January - March 1967; this exhibition later travelled to Philadelphia Museum of Art, April - May.
New Yor, Aquavella Galleries, Exhibition Pablo Picasso, April to May 1975.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso, A Retrospective, 1980 (illustrated in colour p. 36).
São Paulo, 23rd international Sao Paulo Biennial, Picasso, October - December 1996.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Picasso The Early Years 1892-1906, March - July 1997.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, September 1997 - January 1998, no. 55 (illustrated p. 154, titled 'Le Divan Japonais').
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Paris: Capital of the Arts, 1900-1968, January - April 2002, no. 2 (illustrated).
Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Picasso, October 2002 - February 2003; this exhibition later travelled to Bilbao, Guggenheim Museum, May - September 2002.
Washington, National Gallery of Art, Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre, March - June 2005, no. 152 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, July - October 2005, no. 152 (illustrated p. 134).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
27 3/8 x 21 1/8 in. (69.5 x 53.7 cm.)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1895 à 1906, Paris, 1957, vol. I, p. 33, no. 69 (illustrated).
P. Daix & G. Boudaille, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods; A Catlogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, London, 1967, no. V.13 (illustrated p. 165).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years, 1881-1907, New York, 1980, p. 241, no. 619 (illustrated p. 534).
J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, p. 200 (illustrated p. 197).
E. Emmanuel Virenque, Paris.
M. Knoedler & Co., New York, by 1957.
Dr and Mrs T. Edward Hanley, Bradford, Pennsylvania.
Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York.
John T. Dorrance, Jr., New York, by whom acquired from the above on 13 March 1971; his sale, Sotheby's, London, 18 October 1989, lot 37.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 8 November 1995, lot 50.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.