One of the iconic images of the Blue and Rose periods, Garçon à la pipe probably began as a study from life in Picasso’s immediate surroundings but was dramatically transformed in a moment of sudden inspiration. According to André Salmon: “After a delightful 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” (André Salmon, La jeune peinture française, Paris, 1912, pp. 41-42, quoted in Joseph Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years 1881-1907, New York, 1981, p. 428).
Picasso’s work of the Rose period has always been admired for its melancholy charm and haunting poetry, contrasting with the deep gloom of the immediately preceding Blue period, yet in both instances the source of inspiration was in his immediate surroundings. Since 1904 he had been living in the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre, so named because of its resemblance to a Seine washing barge, and when not socializing there he would meet his friends in inexpensive restaurants and cabarets such as Le Zut and Le Lapin Agile. As described by Roland Penrose, Montmartre, “being a village within a city…was almost self-contained. Within a small distance a great variety of amusements and theatres were at hand. For some years the most popular place of entertainment was the Cirque Medrano, which to this day still continues to enchant successive generations of Parisians. Its clowns, acrobats and horses had delighted Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Forain, Seurat and many others. There, behind the scenes and outside among the sideshows of the fair that traditionally occupies the whole boulevard during the winter, Picasso made friends with the harlequins, jugglers and strolling players. Without their being conscious of it, they became his models” (Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 1981, p. 110). The entertainment provided by street fairs and the acrobats who performed there provided inspiration for many of the works created in 1905-1906, culminating in the great Saltimbanques in the National Gallery, Washington D.C (see fig. 1) .
Although the model for the present work has sometimes been identified as an actor, it seems likely that he was an adolescent known as “p’tit Louis,” who was frequently to be found at the Bateau Lavoir along with, in Picasso’s own words, other “local types, actors, ladies, gentlemen, delinquents…….He stayed there, sometimes the whole day. He watched me work. He loved that” (Hélène Parmelin, Picasso Says, London, 1969, p. 71, quoted in John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. 1, 1881-1906, New York, 1991, p. 340). A number of preliminary studies for the present painting show Picasso depicting his model in a variety of different positions, standing, sitting, leaning against a wall, lighting a pipe or simply holding it in his hands (see figs. 2,3). The most painstakingly worked study depicts the boy seated in the pose utilized in the final composition, although he clasps his left elbow with his right hand (see fig. 4) instead of letting it hang down in front of him.
The painting differs radically from any of the preliminary studies, transforming the young boy who might light his pipe into a slightly more mature adolescent who gazes absently into space. Even before the addition of the garland of flowers, any trace of the anecdotal had been removed. The pipe is held in the left hand with the stem pointing away from the youthful smoker, as an emblem of maturity, perhaps, rather than a purveyor of tobacco smoke. “P’tit Louis” has become a mysterious presence, crowned with roses and framed with two large bouquets on the wall behind him. The effect is not unlike that of some of the late portraits of Odilon Redon who frequently surrounded his sitters with masses of flowers (see fig. 5). Roseline Bacou has remarked that, “On a few occasions Redon even created flowers for his sitters- not a bouquet in a vase, but a luminous floral mass, suspended in mid-air, such as that which enframes Mme. Arthur Fontaine; while flowers surge before the young Yseult Fayet and Violette Heyman. They appear as though a projection of the sitter’s dreams, or perhaps that of the artist-poet who captured them” (Roseline Bacou, Odilon Redon. Pastels, New York, 1987, p. 16).
John Richardson suggests that the present painting might have been inspired by a poem of Verlaine: “One of the most poetic Rose period images is the Boy with a Pipe. It conjures up Verlaine’s poem ‘Crimen Amoris,’ about a palace in Ecbatana where ‘adolescent satans’ neglect the five senses for the seven deadly sins, except for the most handsome of all these evil angels, who is sixteen years old under his wreath of flowers… and who dreams away, his eyes full of fire and tears” (John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, p. 340).
The suggestion is plausible although it was precisely at this moment that Picasso began to show signs of dissatisfaction with the literary direction in his work, turning away from the stylization of his emaciated figures of the previous eighteen months in favor of a more harmonious classicism. Painted at the same time as Garçon à la pipe, Femme à l’eventail (see fig. 6) is evidence of a renewed interest in Egyptian bas-reliefs and the expression of volumes on a flat surface. Although not depicted in profile, the present work is related to Femme à l’eventail in its concentration on a single figure, mysterious in gesture and detached from the everyday world. It is this haunting ambiguity that has ensured for Garçon a la pipe its status as one of Picasso’s most celebrated images of adolescent beauty and as a masterpiece of his early years.
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Les Saltimbanques, 1904-05, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., Chester Dale Collection.
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Hommes assis et mains. Etude, 1905, India ink on paper, Private Collection.
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Hommes assis, debout et main à la pipe. Etude, 1905, India ink on paper, Private Collection.
Fig. 4, Pablo Picasso, Etude pour Garçon à la Pipe. Trois sujets, 1905, pen and black ink on paper mounted on a second and third paper support, Baltimore Museum of Art. Cone Collection.
Fig. 5, Odilon Redon, Bust Length Portrait of Ari, circa 1895-1900, pastel, The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Kate L. Brewster.
Fig. 6, Pablo Picasso, Femme à l’Eventail, 1905, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gift of the Averill Harriman Foundation in memory of Marie N. Harriman.
Oil on canvas
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, New York Private Collections, 1951
New York, Paul Rosenberg & Co., Collector’s Choice, 1953, no. 28
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Paintings from Private Collections, 1955, no. 107
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso, 75th Anniversary Exhibition, 1957
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Picasso, 1958, no. 18 (titled Boy with Pipe)
London, The Tate Gallery, Picasso, 1960, no. 24 (titled Boy with Pipe)
London, The Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1960-61, no. 42
Paris, Galerie Nationale du Grand Palais, Hommage à Pablo Picasso, 1966-67, no. 30 (titled Enfant à la pipe)
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, 1980
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1983, no. 54
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, 1996
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Picasso – The Early Years, 1892-1906, 1998, no. 138
San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art; Dallas, Museum of Art; Bilbao, Fundación Museo Guggenheim, The Artist and the Camera: Degas to Picasso, 2000, no. 498
New York, The Frick Collection, Six Paintings from the Former Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney on Loan from the Greentree Foundation, 2000-2002
39 1/4 by 32 in. 99.7 by 81.3 cm
Jean Cocteau, Picasso, Paris, 1923, illustrated pl. 3
Jacques Lassaigne, Picasso, Paris, 1949, illustrated pl. 16
William S. Lieberman, Picasso, Blue and Rose Periods, New York, 1954, illustrated pl. 31
Denys Sutton, Picasso, Peintures, époques bleue et rose, Paris, 1955, no. 43, illustrated p. 8
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1895 à 1906, vol. 1, Paris, 1957, no. 274, illustrated p. 120 (titled Garçon à la pipe)
John Rewald, Catalogue of the John Hay Whitney Collection, 1960, no. 42
Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings, 1900-1906, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1966, no. XIII.13, illustrated p. 278
Lael Wertenbaker, The World of Picasso, New York, 1967, illustrated p. 50 (titled Boy with a Pipe)
Albert Moravia and Paolo Lecaldano, L’opera completa di Picasso blu e rosa, Milan, 1968, no. 217, illustrated p. 104
Joseph Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years 1881-1907, Barcelona, 1985, no. 1166, illustrated p. 428
Pierre Daix, Picasso Créateur, La vie intime et l’oeuvre, 1987, discussed p. 64 (English translation 1993, discussed p. 52)
John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, discussed pp. 325, 340, illustrated p. 341
Picasso 1905-1906: From the Blue Period to the Ochres of Gosol (exhibition catalogue), Museu Picasso, Barcelona; Kunstmuseum Berne, 1992, illustrated p. 266
Pierre Daix, Dictionnaire Picasso, Paris, 1995, listed p. 387
Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot and Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 89, illustrated pl. 181
Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Berlin (probably acquired circa 1910)
Countess Else Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Kesselstett (née Lavergne-Paguilhen), Berlin and Switzerland (by inheritance from the above)
Walter Feilchenfeldt, Zürich (acquired from the above)
Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (acquired from the above on January 13, 1950)