Executed at the height of Picasso's Blue Period in 1903-04, Jeune femme accoudée is a tender and delicate drawing of a woman leaning her head thoughtfully upon her hand. The area around the face, neck, hair and shoulders has been depicted with careful hatching by Picasso, who has deliberately left much of the rest of the sheet in glowing reserve.
The image of a thin woman leaning, looking melancholic and forlorn, was one of the recurring motifs of Picasso's Blue Period: this waif-like beauty recalls the images of absinthe drinkers, frugal repasts and other gaunt, expressive figures immortalised in those works. Picasso used a potent atmosphere of sadness in his oils in particular, having supposedly explained to his friend, the poet Jaime Sabartès: 'art emanates from Sadness and Pain... Sadness lends itself to meditation... grief is at the basis of life. We are passing through... a period of uncertainty that everyone regards from the viewpoint of his own misery... a period of grief, of sadness and of misery. Life with all its torments is at the core of [Picasso's] theory of art. If we demand sincerity of the artist, we must remember that sincerity is not to be found outside the realm of grief' (Sabartès, quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: Volume I: 1881-1906, London, 1991, p. 217). The features and even the mannered pose are elements that reverberated throughout the Blue Period and the later transition to the Rose Period in such paintings as Femme aux bras croisés of 1902 and La repasseuse of 1904, now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
While there is an element of the forlorn in Jeune femme accoudée, the picture also appears to be a highly-observed drawing by the artist seemingly made from life, implying that it may have been a portrait of one of the women who provided the artistic DNA to the Blue Period 'type' of Picasso's paintings. John Richardson has pointed out that Picasso took elements from each of three women with whom he spent time during the Blue Period in order to create the ultimate female expression of the emotion that he sought. These were Madeleine, who features in the celebrated painting showing her in a translucent chemise in the Tate, London; Margot, the stepdaughter of Frédé Gérard, who ran the legendary Lapin Agile; and Alice Géry. Looking at Jeune femme accoudée, this picture bears striking similarities to two inscribed drawings of Alice shown in profile, one in the Musée Picasso and the other formerly in the collection of Siegfried Rosengart.
Alice embodied the life of Montmartre and the Bateau Lavoir, in which Picasso and so many other bohemian artists, poets and characters lived. Gertrude Stein describes her as, 'rather a madonna like creature, with large lovely eyes and charming hair. For many years Alice was the mistress of the mathematician and civil servant, Maurice Princet. Indeed, some people have considered her introduction of Princet to Picasso to have helped lay some of the foundations of the Cubism that Picasso would later develop.
Gertrude Stein recalled that Alice was 'faithful to him in the fashion of Montmartre, that is to say she had stuck to him through sickness and health but amused herself by the way' (G. Stein, op. Cit., New York, 1993, p.31). Perhaps this goes some way to explaining the intimacy of Jeune femme accoudée, showing its sitter with her shoulders bare in a comfortable though contemplative mood. Despite her fragile appearance in Picasso's drawings, Alice was a far from fragile, strong-willed woman who was unafraid to live her life as she intended. When she and Princet eventually married, largely because Princet's promotion necessitated a respectability not served by living in sin with a mistress, Picasso asked 'why should they marry simply in order to divorce' (Stein, op. cit., p.31). He himself helped fulfil his own prophecy by deliberately introducing Alice to André Derain. This sparked off a whirlwind romance which ended her first marriage and became her second. Although Picasso had suspected that the pair would have an affair, he could not have anticipated its amazing success. Alice's marriage to Derain was ended only by the artist's death in 1954.
It is a tribute to her character and her friendship with Picasso that she was photographed at a party with the artist; in that image, she is next to Picasso, while Fernande Olivier, the partner whose emergence in Picasso's life coincided with the end of the Blue Period and eventually ushered in Cubism, is also present. That photograph, when compared to the portraits that Picasso inscribed to Alice, also implies that the artist added his own Blue and Rose Period filters to such depictions, stylising her looks in order to suit the aesthetic that he was seeking at the time; this appears also to be the case in the more frontal image of Jeune femme accoudée.
Jeune fille accoudée
Blue crayon on paper
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed 'Picasso' (lower left)
Pablo Picasso , Drawings & Watercolors
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
14½ x 10½ in. (36.8 x 26.7 cm.)
M. Raynal, Picasso, Munich, 1921 (illustrated, titled 'Tête de femme', dated '1901').
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Supplément aux volumes 1 à 5, vol. 6, Paris 1954, no. 558 (illustrated pl. 68).
Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild; sale, Christie's, London, 6 February 2001, lot 17.
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, London, 20 June 2005, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.