The monumental Homme et femme exemplifies the textural richness that Picasso could achieve with the medium of pastel. Completed in his Paris studio in the spring of 1921, this work is one of several large pastel compositions on paper that occupied the artist during this period, when his draughtsmanship was at its most refined. The picture is a fascinating stylistic hybrid of the geometrically-derived Cubist aesthetic that dominated his production during the war and his more recent interest in classical figuration. Although his work during this period was chiefly devoted to a clear and emphatically linear style of draughtsmanship, Picasso did not entirely divorce himself from the radical manipulation of form that had made him the undisputed leader of the avant-garde. "I put everything I love in my paintings," he told Christian Zervos in 1935, and the present work beautifully expresses the variety of his aesthetic preferences.
The early 1920s marked the period when Picasso's style consciously evoked the elegance and grandeur of Greco-Roman art and of the Neo-Classical paintings by Ingres. His emphasis during these years was on the strength of line and the exaggeration of form, and his figures often resembled the classical sculpture that he encountered on trips to Italy and Fontainebleau during those years. When he applied this particular style to more intimate subjects, the results were striking (fig. 1). The monumentality of the couple in the present work is a clear derivative of Picasso's fascination with the rigid formation of Classical sculpture. Yet, the rendering of the two forms is emphatically modern, interpreted through Cubist angularity. Indeed, Picasso continued to use a Cubist stylistic vocabulary well into the decade, and some of his most dynamic figural compositions rely upon that aesthetic, including the present work and Les trois musiciens (fig. 2), also created in 1921.
The pairing of the couple in Homme et femme relates to a theme that had occupied Picasso the previous fall, when he rendered a major work in pastel of a female couple, now in the Musée Picasso (fig. 3). Like that composition, the present work features the two models as a unified mass, seated and with interlocking limbs. But in Homme et femme, Picasso uses a radically simplified linearity to render the facial features, foreshadowing some of abstraction principles he would use in his later drawings of Marie-Thérèse Walter. The stylizing of the present composition is also indebted to Picasso's work on set designs for Serge Diaghilev's production for Cuadro Flamenco. The artist's maquette for the stage features angular, seated couples and architectural embellishments that are modelled similiarly to Homme et femme.
Picasso completed this pastel a few months after the birth of his first son, when his marriage with Olga was still very much intact. While many compositions from these months feature the theme of maternity, the present work is a rare instance of Picasso returning his focus to the male-female couple in this intense period of familial redefinition. In the 1920s, the picture came into the possession of Picasso's dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who ran the Galerie Simon in Paris during the interwar years. Kahnweiler presumably sold it to Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, a noted collector of Picasso's Cubist works during the 1920s. Later on, it was acquired by the art historian Douglas Cooper, who was a great friend of Picasso during the last decades of the artist's life. Cooper's companion during those years was Picasso's biographer John Richardson, whose summary of the artist's neo-Classical period aptly characterizes the present work: "Picasso's classicism was rooted in his atavistic Mediterraneanism... his art was always to be inherently Spanish in its darkness and intensity, its savagery, paradox, and irony" (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 181).
Charcoal and pastel on paper
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1982 (on loan)
41 by 29 1/2 in. 104 by 74 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1920 à 1922, vol. 4, Paris, 1951, no. 224, illustrated pl. 78
Wilhelm Boeck & Jaime Sabartes, Picasso, London, 1955, no. 106, illustrated p. 467
The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Neoclassicism I, 1920-1921, San Francisco, 1995, no. 21-101, illustrated p. 194
Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso 1917-1926, From the Ballets to Drama, Barcelona, 1999, no. 1008, illustrated p. 268 (titled Le Couple and incorrectly dated April 18, 1921)
Pophanken, ed., Die Moderne und ihre Sammler: Französische Kunst in Deutschem Privatbesitz vom Kaiserreich zur Weimarer Republik, Berlin 2001, no. 94, p. 404
Galerie Simon, Paris
Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, Lausanne
Douglas Cooper, Argilliers
Jacques Ullman, Paris
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Private Collection, London (in 1990)
Acquired in 1995