Homme assis à la pipe assis dans un fauteuil, executed late in 1916, is one of the most complex of a group of works in different media dealing with the theme of a man seated in an armchair. In less than eight years Cubism had developed from the monochromatic austerity of the Analytical masterpieces of 1908-11 to the more colorful and playful pictorial language of the Synthetic style. By 1916 Picasso began to re-examine the naturalistic manner that had he had mastered while still a student in Spain. Douglas Cooper has commented that “Picasso was hoping to find for himself a workable equation of values between Cubist reality, visual reality and the accepted pictorial reality created by the eye-fooling methods of naturalism. Now Picasso had not lost that inventive spirit which, in 1912-13, had inspired his experiment of introducing a ‘real’ element into a painting through collage. In 1915-16 this spirit re-asserted itself and prompted Picasso to attack reality simultaneously from two angles. Thus while continuing to work in a synthetic Cubist idiom, he again began to make naturalistic drawings of people and objects, and in some paintings one finds side by side a naturalistically drawn object, another re-created in analytical terms and a third created by a synthetic procedure” (Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch, London, 1994, pp. 211, 215)
The full range of possibilities available to Picasso at this time can be seen from a comparison between the Ingresque pencil Portrait d’Ambroise Vollard of 1915 (see fig.1) and the abstract, planar Homme accoudé à une table (see fig. 2) of the following year. In the latter a largely vertical arrangement of layers of opaque, spotted and stippled planes represents the seated figure and his table, while his head is reduced to two circular shapes in a black geometrical form. In comparison the present work is much more loosely organized with as many curved shapes as there are geometrical and a ghostly suggestion of a domestic setting in the white areas of the paper that flank the seated figure. In ascending order of naturalism, from the silhouettes of his shoes, by way of his pipe, to the moustache, mouth and ear, visual clues act as counterpoint to the abstract scaffolding.
Compact and colorful, the present work is an outstanding example of Picasso’s ability to use the devices of Cubism in a free-wheeling and humorous way. This was the moment when he began to work with Eric Satie and Jean Cocteau on the ballet Parade in which these two-dimensional configurations became three-dimensional and began to move in real space.
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Portrait d’Ambroise Vollard, 1915, pencil on paper, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Homme accoudé à une table, 1916, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Switzerland
Fig. 3, The artist in his studio, Paris, 1916.
Oil, gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper laid down on canvas
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Cubist Epoch, 1970-71, no. 275
12 5/8 by 9 3/4 in. 32 by 24.8 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 2**,Paris, 1942, no. 560, illustrated pl. 259
Pierre Daix and Jean Rosselet, Picasso, The Cubist Years 1907-1916, Boston, 1979, no. 887, illustrated p. 355
Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso Cubism: 1907-1917, New York, 1990, no. 1465, illustrated p. 475
Alphonse Kann, Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Denis Varin, Paris
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the above on December 15, 1966)
Rita and Taft Schreiber, Beverly Hills (acquired from the above in 1967)
By descent to the present owner