Observing the transition from Picasso's Mannerism during his Blue Period, Charles Morice reviewed the artist's exhibition of Rose Period works in early 1905 as follows:
The new works he is showing indicate a fundamental change in his attitudes...what we most disliked in Picasso's early works--which were, all the same, well differentiated by the sheer imprint of a powerful personality--was that not only did he not seem to feel compassion for poverty, he seemed to love it. But his sensibilities have now deepened, just as his technique has strengthened and become more refined. His structures are now more solid. (trans. D. Sutton and P. Lecaldano, The Complete Paintings of Picasso, Blue and Rose Periods, London, 1971, p. 10)
His development from 1904 through 1905 was critical to his maturation from skilled performer, creating wonderful but essentially superficial "effects," to radical surgeon capable of revealing in both a detached yet passionate manner the truth beneath the skin. In this process, the way was paved for the revelations of Les Demoiselles D'Avignon and Cubism.
The first magnum opus conceived by Picasso, the one he expected would establish his reputation (it did not), was Les Saltimbanques (fig. 1) which he began in November 1904 and completed in the autumn of 1905. Grand in scale and subject, it was created under appalling conditions in the top floor studio of a building known as the Bateau Lavoir.
This was Picasso's home until 1909 and for most of that time he shared it with Fernande Olivier, his mistress and model. According to Roland Penrose, the studio building at 13 rue Ravignon was an "untidy bohemian community in the heart of Montmartre still retaining the atmosphere of a village with its intimacy, gossip and passionate drama." (R. Penrose, Picasso, his Life and Work, London, 1958, p. 99)
By day Picasso would visit and gossip with his neighbors who included Kees van Dongen, the Spanish engraver Ricardo Cavals, and the poets Max Jacob and André Salmon. Despite the lack of gas or electricity, Picasso chose to work at night and Jaime Sabartés, who became his life-long and long-suffering secretary, conjures up the image of the young Picasso, hidden away in the depths of Le Bateau Lavoir, working with extraordinary intensity, by the light of an oil lamp or sometimes just the flickering light of a candle held in his left hand:
I generally found him in the middle of the studio, not far from the stove, seated on a dilapidated chair, perhaps lower than an ordinary chair, because discomfort does not bother him and he seems even to prefer it as if he delighted in self-mortification and enjoyed subjecting his spirit to tortures so long as they spur him on. The canvas was placed on the lowest part of the easel and this compelled him to paint in an almost kneeling position.
(W. Boeck and J. Sabartés, Pablo Picasso, London, 1961, pp. 124 and 129)
So we can well imagine the vast effort that he put into Les Saltimbanques which started life even larger than its final measurements of 83 7/8 x 90 1/2 in. Picasso worked on the canvas for almost a year interrupted only by his summer visit to Holland in mid-1905 and it underwent many revisions.
Picasso's choice of subject matter was dictated by his passion for visiting the Cirque Médrano, a local enterprise close to his studio. With Fernande Olivier, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob and others, Picasso was a spellbound and uncritical audience: "I never saw Picasso laugh so happily as at the Médrano, he was like a child and quite unaware of the relative shallowness of the humor." (F. Olivier, Picasso and His Friends, London, p. 127)
The Cirque Médrano was a motley crew of clowns, acrobats, and equestrians that continued to entertain the Parisians until the late 1960s. Unlike Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, who were also drawn to the footlights and rendered the performers in their contemporarty states, Picasso took his tumblers and clowns back in time and rendered them as the saltimbanques who came from the Italian Medieval tradition of wandering entertainer which gradually combined with the uniquely French Harlequin and Columbine. Thus Les Saltimbanques are on the open road, following the tradition of wandering mistrels, as Picasso himself "wandered" from Barcelona to Paris at an early age.
Each of the four males and two females in Les Saltimbanques were developed in other paintings that Picasso worked on simultaneously and led to versions that were elaborated upon and transmuted to suit the artist's purpose. Garçon à la collerette derives from the central figure, the adolescent who, with his right hand on his chest, is holding either a barrel as some critics have suggested, or a drum, as John Richardson more appropriately opines. (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, vol. I (1881-1906), p. 348)
If the rotund jester in Les Saltimbanques is based on Picasso's friend Apollinaire and the smallest acrobat is Max Jacob, Theodore Reff then proposes that this central figure derives from the poet André Salmon:
Similarly, the taller acrobat with a drum on his shoulder is based on the lean, attenuated figure André Salmon, as he appears in Picasso's studies around 1908 and in Fernande Olivier's memoir: 'A dreamer with an alert sensibility, he was tall, thin, distinguished, with intelligent eyes in a very pale face, and he looked very young.' (T. Reff, "Harlequins, Saltimbanques, Clowns and Fools", Artforum, Oct., 1971, p. 42)
In fact, in a 1908 photograph the seventeen year-old Salmon stares directly at the camera, and with his cap of short black hair and striking white collar, and closely resembles Garçon à la collerette. We can imagine how much younger he must have looked three years earlier, when he entered Picasso's conscious or subconscious as the model for this work.
Perhaps not chronologically, but with some certainty, we can relate the calm, assured manner of Garçon à la collerette not only to André Salmon as the drum holder in Les Saltimbanques but also to the young mechanic so gloriously crowned with flowers in Garçon à la pipe (fig. 2).
From his ruffled collar, red tunic and short cropped hair, we see Garçon à la collerette indubitably as a performer. But the countenance, which is more fully developed here than that of the central figure in Les Saltimbanques, is markedly close to Garçon à la pipe. According to Salmon:
After a beautiful series of metaphysical acrobats, dancers like priestesses of Diana, delightful clowns and "wistful Harlequins", Picasso had painted, without a model, the purest and simplest image of a young Parisian working boy, beardless and in blue overalls: having, indeed, more or less the same appearance as the artist himself during working hours.
One night Picasso abandoned the company of his friends and their intellectual chit-chat. He returned to his studio, took the canvas he had abandoned a month before and crowned the figure of the little apprentice lad with roses. He had made this work a masterpiece thanks to a sublime whim. (A. Salmon, La jeune peinture française, Paris, 1912, pp. 41-42)
The genesis of Garçon à la collerette represents in large part the ubiquitous self-portrait, the metamorphosis of which is central to virtually all of Picasso's work. The model is perhaps Salmon, but the subject is definitely the artist himself. Examining the series of young performers completed in late 1905, we can in fact see more of Picasso in Garçon à la collerette than in Garçon à la pipe, although, when we ask the young man to turn in profile for Garçon à la collerette (en profil) (fig. 3) and view a curly haired youth with epicene features, who is more the embodiment of Pan than the figure of Picasso. The gesture of the hands is more theatrical but the expression of the eyes less human than our full-face version. How does one interpret the right hand flat against the upper left chest, with fingers slightly pointed?
All of Picasso's adolescents of this period have highly expressive hands and gestures. A year later this particular gesture is repeated in a study for Jeune homme et cheval (fig. 4). In medieval representations of the Virgin Mary, particularly those with an Annunciation theme, this gesture is associated with modesty or virginity. Garçon à la collerette certainly has an appeal which, while not at all effeminate, is somewhat androgenous. In discussing Gauguin's influence on Picasso, John Richardson mentions "Mahus," males whom Tahitians raised from childhood as women:
For Gauguin, Mahus symbolized the enigma of male sexuality; androgynes were figures of magical power. Hence Picasso's boys and girls have been shorn of hair like priestly initiates. Their timeless, unisex costumes (tights, cloaks and ruffs) and unisex headgear (tricornes, crowns and wreaths) further blur the difference between the sexes. What is the destination of these ambivalent ghosts: a carnival, a wake, or Limbo?
(J. Richardson, op.cit., p. 340)
The influence of Gauguin has also been mentioned by Alfred Barr, who dubbed this period of mid-1905 to mid-1906 as Picasso's first "Classic Period":
As 1905 passed Picasso gradually left behind him his nostalgic, introspective mood and emaciated figures. During the second half of the year his work began to assume a classic breadth and repose...a new style, more objective in feeling, more studied in prose, broadly and more solidly modeled, simpler in color.
Picasso's youthful classicism is informal, fresh, unacademic. He was influenced somewhat by Puvis de Chavannes and the idyllic figure compositions of Gauguin though it is still possible that during his visits to the Louvre he had studied Greek sculpture and painting. (A.H. Barr, Picasso, Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1966, p. 40)
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when Garçon à la collerette was painted but it is certainly during what Palau i Fabre calls the Second Rose Period of late 1905 to distinguish it from the Circus-Rose Period of November, 1904 to June, 1905. Atypically, this painting is convincingly rose in color although, as Daix observes: "The rose which has given its name to the period is never a dominant colour as was the blue. It appears as a dusky rose hue over a grey ground, usually blue-grey, almost metallic, remarkably luminous." (P. Daix, op.cit., p. 74)
This may, in fact be the last full portrait of the Second Rose Period. Palau i Fabre interprets a companion work, Jeune Saltimbanque debout et études (fig. 5) autobiographically, as Picasso's farewell to his past. It might equally be interpreted as a farewell to the theme of acrobats and harlequins.
The Boy with a White Ruff [Garçon à la collerette] is exactly the same young man as we see in Young Acrobat which was drawn during the night of December 24, 1905. His gesture seems to be one of farewell, as if he were saluting the audience after his performance. (J. Palau i Fabre, op.cit., pp. 428-429)
Picasso's journey from external reality to inner truths can be particularized by his courage to develop subtleties of expression in his subjects well beyond the stylized conventions of his soulful Blue Period portraits.
Garçon à la collerette is imbued with a gaze which is gentle yet forceful. He looks into the middle-distance but does not stare at anything. His vision is inward and self-appraising. There is a tinge of sadness but also a sense of strength, will, and resolution. How is all that possible with such economic means? The eyes are the key: dark, hooded and piercing, they will metamorphose in the following months from those of this young man, who will re-appear in Gosol the following spring in Tête de jeune homme (Zervos, vol. I, no. 331) to those of Gertrude Stein (Zervos, vol. I, no. 352) in the summer until they become part of the mask of the artist himself in the autumn of 1906 in Portrait de l'artiste (fig. 6). And here we have again the close-cropped young man from the waist up, a three-quarter view of his torso, face and expressive hands. Albeit bulkier and even more intense, there can be little doubt that these paintings are at least cousins, Garçon à la collerette is perhaps the father of this depiction of the young artist.
One of the early owners of this painting was Oscar Huldschinsky, an important collector of German, Dutch, Italian, and French Old Masters and a friend of the artist Max Liebermann. The sale of the Huldschinsky's collection was front-page news at the time in New York ("Paintings Bring Millions in Berlin Auction of Art," Herald Tribune, May 11, 1928).
One of the more recent owners of Garçon à la collerette was legendary financier André Meyer, a senior partner of Lazard Frères & Company. This work shared the living room wall of his Carlyle Hotel apartment in New York with Rembrandt's Portrait of Petronella Buys. Much of his collection was donated to the Louvre and the Museum of Modern Art in 1979, and Meyer funded new exhibition galleries for the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of European paintings.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Les Bateleurs (Les Saltimbanques), The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (Chester Dale Collection)
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Garçon à la pipe, Mrs. John Hay Whitney Collection, New York
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Garçon à la collerette (en profil), Art Museum, Worcester (Dial Collection)
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Jeune homme et cheval, Tate Gallery, London
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Jeune saltimbanque debout et études, Family of the Artist
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Portrait de l'artiste, Museum of Art, Philadelphia (E.A. Gallatin Collection)
Garçon à la collerette
Signed lower left 'Picasso'--gouache on board
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
Signed lower left 'Picasso'--gouache on board
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum (on loan, 1945-1949)
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Exhibition of the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. André Meyer, June-July, 1962, p. 30 (illustrated)
30 1/8 x 25¾ in. (76.6 x 65.5 cm.)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1957, vol. I (oeuvres de 1895 à 1906), p. XLVII, no. 273 (illustrated pl. 120)
P. Daix, G. Boudaille and J. Rosselet, Picasso 1900-1906, 1966, p. 279, no. XIII.18 (illustrated)
A. Moravia and P. Lecaldano, Picasso blu e rosa, 1968, p. 104, no. 214 (illustrated)
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years 1881-1907, Barcelona, 1985, p. 548, no. 1173 (illustrated, p. 429)
Haldsdurk Collection, Berlin
Oscar Huldschinsky, Berlin
Mrs. A. Furstenberg, Amsterdam
Wildenstein & Co. Inc., New York
André Meyer, New York; sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet Inc., New York, Oct. 22, 1980, lot 32 (illustrated in color)