Lively in color and character, this portrait of Picasso's son Claude was completed a few weeks after his second birthday in the summer of 1949. It portrays the child as if he were a roughly-cut paper doll, posing with a favorite toy that is just as animated as the boy himself. Claude à deux ans is one of two oil versions that Picasso painted of this subject and marks the advent of an important new stage in his artistic development. Beginning in 1949 and continuing throughout the early 1950s, Picasso completed a series of portraits of Claude and his younger sister Paloma in their nursery. These pictures are characterized by a linear simplicity that calls to mind the naiveté of childhood, and they can also be seen as direct responses to the "playful" cut-outs that occupied Picasso's arch-rival Matisse around the same time. But the deceptively simple formalism of these pictures is counter-balanced by a powerful subjectivity that was rarely seen in 20th century portraits of children.
Claude's arrival on the 15th of May 1947, followed two years later by the birth of his sister Paloma on 19th of April 1949, marked a new period of creativity at this advanced stage in Picasso's life. Picasso himself claimed that, up until this point, he had never been able to draw like a child, but it was only after playing and drawing with these young children that he could finally tap into this more fundamental artistic talent. Although Picasso had been a father prior to Claude and Paloma, he was finally at a point in his life when he could allow the powerful experiences of parenthood to infiltrate his art. As Michael FitzGerald writes, "Unlike earlier pictures of his first son Paulo (born in 1921), which generally present the youngster in a formal pose and fancy dress, and the more uninhibited portrait of Maya (born in 1935), the images of Claude and Paloma reflect Picasso's joyful immersion in their world, and a liberation from adult expectations... Having brought us into sympathy with the child's universe, Picasso then immerses us into their world by inverting an old canard against modern art. He took the conventional dismissal of non-naturalistic styles as 'something a child could do' and employed it to project the perceptions of a youngster not yet adjusted to his or her own body, or certain of how to navigate the outside world" (M. C. FitzGerald, "A Triangle of Ambitions: Art, Politics and Family during the Postwar Years with Françoise Gilot," Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 430).
"In terms of content, the period is rich and various," Werner Spies writes of Picasso's depictions of Claude and Paloma and their place within his oeuvre. According to Spies, "The suite devoted to Picasso's two youngest children surpass earlier depictions in this regard. An increasing number of pictures emphasize the fragility of the infants, and show them preoccupied with their toys. The resulting compositions are more relaxed, but also more complex, a feature that has a positive effect during this stylistic phase. The earlier tendency to employ figures silhouetted against a background begins to make way for an integration of motifs into a pictorial continuum. To achieve this compositional structure with its emphasis on flatness, Picasso revived certain Cubist means of depiction. The dress patterns, toys, children's chairs and beds, and a repetition of forms sever to create an interweave of figure and pictorial space" (W. Spies, Picasso's World of Children (exhibition catalogue), Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf & Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1995-96, p. 47).
Although Spies places Picasso's portraits of young Claude on the continuum of avant-garde art in relation to Cubism, Claude à deux ans has also distinct connections to Picasso's grand masterwork, Guernica, and his numerous studies for that painting. In Picasso's historic depiction from 1937, an agonized horse takes center stage alongside a distraught Spanish mother and child as a symbol of wartime atrocities. Twelve years later, the same animal's gaping mouth has taken on the expression of a whinnying hobby-horse, and the child – Picasso's own – exists in an untroubled world of post-war priviledge. For the reflective Picasso, who was nearly 68 when he painted this portrait, Claude à deux ans et son cheval de bois can be seen as a celebration of the joys and triumphs of a long life.
This work has been requested for the forthcoming exhibition Picasso and the Horse, which will be held from 17 May to 5 September 2010 at the Museo Picasso in Málaga.
Oil on canvas
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Pablo Picasso, 1953, no. 106, illustrated in the catalogue
51 3/8 by 38 1/4 in. 130 by 97 cm
Maurice Raynal, Picasso, Souillac, 1952, illustrated in color p. 116
Wilhelm Boeck and Jaime Sabarte, Picasso, New York, 1955, illustrated no. 212, illustrated p. 478
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1946 à 1953, vol. 15, Paris, 1965, no. 144, illustrated pl. 87
Jean Leymarie, Picasso: Artist of the Century, New York, 1972, p. 19 (titled Claude with Hobbyhorse)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Liberation and Post-War Years, 1944-1949, San Francisco, 2000, no. 49-033, illustrated p. 229
Private Collection, Switzerland
Frank R. Heller, Beverly Hills (1967)
Mr. Wally Findlay, Palm Beach (1973)
Estate of Andrea Hunter Milbank (acquired from the above in October 1976 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 18, 1983, lot 75)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
Perls Galleries, New York
Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1985