Property from a Distinguished Collection
In May 1901, aged nineteen and ablaze with unbounded ambition, Picasso arrived in Paris for his second foray in the capital. Inauspiciously, he headed for the apartment at 130ter boulevard de Clichy where Carles Casagemas, his companion during his first trip the previous year, had spent his last weeks before taking his own life. Now, Picasso shared the space with the small-time art dealer Pére Mañach, who paid the rent, and his bed with Germaine Gargallo, whose unhappy affair with Casagemas had fueled the latter’s descent into despair. Like Casagemas and countless other young, impecunious artists adrift in the capital, seeking love and success, Picasso might have succumbed to bohemian pathos and misery—but more than anything else at this moment, he was determined to prove himself on the Parisian stage.
Mañach had persuaded the dealer Ambroise Vollard to host an exhibition of Picasso’s work, a terrific break for a talented unknown in Paris. Picasso had brought only about twenty canvases from Barcelona, though, and needed many more to fill up Vollard’s gallery. For several weeks, he worked at white heat, making no effort to hide the haste in his canvases. The feverish application of thick, buttered-on oil paints betokens the great measure of self-confidence that he felt in his skills, and he was unabashed in showing them off. The present portrait of a young girl dates to this extraordinary moment, which effectively launched Picasso’s international career.
Picasso’s work from spring and summer 1901 also registers his conquest of a range of modernist techniques employed by progressive, post-Impressionist painters. The canvases he had painted in Madrid the previous winter were carefully drawn, and the color is often restrained and somber in the Symbolist-inspired manner that many Spanish artists then shared. Picasso had tentatively experimented with his divisionism in Barcelona that spring—but now, in Paris, he went beyond anything he had hitherto dared, using a heavily loaded brush to create pyrotechnic explosions of intense color. In the present painting, the self-possessed little girl is set off against a ground of fierce orange and surrounded by roses of every hot, heightened hue. In its expressive flurry of painted marks, the canvas harks back to the Dionysian fervor of Van Gogh and looks forward to Matisse, Derain, and Vlaminck during their brilliant Fauve moment of 1905-1906.
When the Vollard exhibition opened on 24 June, 64 numbered entries of paintings, pastels, and watercolors lined the walls; others were stacked in the back to bring out as needed. On Mañach’s advice, Picasso had cut back on low-life subjects and tried his hand at more appealing and salable genres, such as views of Paris, fashionable crowds at racetracks, floral still-lifes, and—as here—images of children. Palau i Fabre proposes that Fillette au pendentif may have been part of a group of paintings collectively titled Portraits, no. 62 in the catalogue. More recently, Marilyn McCully has identified this canvas as a contender for no. 47, L’enfant blanc (exh. cat., op. cit., 2013, p. 180). We might even wonder whether Les Roses (no. 60) might refer to the present portrait, with its profusion of the eponymous blossoms. Alternatively, Daix suggests that the painting could have been done shortly after the Vollard show and included in Picasso’s next major exhibition, at Berthe Weill’s gallery in April 1902.
Another mystery is the identity of the young girl here characterized with such vigor and charm. Picasso was no doubt looking closely at the work of Vuillard and Bonnard, who often included children in their intimiste interiors. Unlike the Nabis, however, Picasso was a poor foreign visitor in Paris, with a bohemian life-style and little first-hand access to situations of proper bourgeois domesticity. Perhaps this cherubic child is in fact the daughter of one of the demi-mondaine women who made their homes near him in seedy Montmartre. Here, she is dressed in her finest clothes, very likely her First Communion gown; a Cézannesque wallpaper ground lends the impression, however illusory, of a comfortable, middle-class home. A contemporaneous portrait depicts a slightly older girl who resembles the present sitter so closely that she may be her sister, likewise enlisted to pose (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 76; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge).
The abundance of flowers in Fillette au pendentif raises the further possibility—speculative but tantalizing—that the girl’s mother was one of the many women who eked out a living peddling cut blossoms on the street, and often resorted to selling their bodies as well. Two paintings from the Vollard show depict this familiar urban type (Zervos, vol. 21, nos. 207 and 281; Glasgow Art Gallery, and Museum Ludwig, Cologne). The sitter here—clad in white, her cheeks gently flushed, clutching a posy of flowers—is the very embodiment of childhood purity; perhaps she reminded Picasso of his beloved sister Conchita, who had died in 1895 at age seven. In a few years, though, would this young innocent find herself on the same path as the teenage flower seller whom Picasso famously immortalized in 1905 (Fillette à la corbeille fleurie; Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller; sale, Christie’s New York, 8 May 2018, Lot 15)?
By all accounts, the Vollard show was nothing short of a triumph for Picasso, with critics lauding a bravura performance and collectors following suit. “He adores the use of color for its own sake,” exulted Félicien Fagus in La Revue Blanche. “He is enamored of all subjects, and every subject is his” (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, vol. 1, p. 199). By the fall, though, whatever fame, advantage, and money Picasso had gained from this success was gone. With Casagemas’s death weighing heavily upon him, he had turned to darker subjects; his style changed as well, into the monochrome, heavily outlined figures of the Blue Period. The Vollard exhibition, Picasso recalled, “went very well. It pleased a lot of people. It was only later, when I set about doing blue paintings, that things went really badly” (quoted in ibid., p. 199).
Property from a Distinguished Collection
Fillette au pendentif
signed ‘–Picasso–’ (upper left)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1932, vol. 1, no. 75 (illustrated, pl. 37).
A. Cirici-Pellicer, Picasso antes de Picasso, Barcelona, 1946, no. 51 (illustrated; titled Niña del collar).
P. Daix and G. Boudaille, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, London, 1967, p. 184, no. V.68 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years, 1881-1907, New York, 1981, p. 535, no. 645 (illustrated, p. 257; titled Little Girl in White).
B. Wright et al., Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, exh. cat., The Courtauld Gallery, London, 2013, p. 180.
Hugo Perls, Berlin.
Henry Reinhardt Galleries, New York.
Private collection, United States (acquired from the above, 21 November 1928).
Acquired from the family of the above by the present owner, 2015.