Painted in 1967, L'Aubade exemplifies the dynamic force of Picasso's late work on a magnificent scale. Picasso presents a panegyric to the power of music framed within the central dialogue between artist and model. The male figure, a recognizable amalgamation of self-portrait and mosquetero, serenades a reclining female nude who recalls the recumbent beauties of Rubens and Ingres. With its foundations in this trajectory of art history, L'Aubade is a towering accomplishment and a dynamic depiction of an historic theme.
In June of 1967, Picasso painted three monumental works focused on the dialogue between the flautist and nude. On June 16th, he depicted his subjects in a horizontal plane with a clear delineation between figures, while two days later he completed the same subject in a vertical format. When he completed the present work, on June 20th, he re-situated his characters in a horizontal format. This final iteration of the theme expresses dynamism in the meeting of the figures who inhabit the entire compositional field. The refined monumentality of this work situates it among the masterful depictions of lovers from the artist's late oeuvre, including works such as Le Baiser from 1969 (fig. 4).
Gert Schiff has written about the significance of these pictures, observing how they offer an escape from the struggles of everyday life in a manner similar to Gauguin's pictures of his Tahitian paradise: "Here the old artist revives one last time that dream which Paul Gauguin had impressed so forcibly upon his generation: the flight from civilization. To think there are whole peoples who lie in the sand and pipe upon bamboo canes! To think that it should be possible to rid oneself of all norms and necessities of modern life, of the curse of individuality – to live a life without memory, hence without death; to come into being and disintegrate like a plant and to span the interim safely embedded in the mythical collective of a primitive society. Could it be that the brain itself is the result of a faulty development? This question seems to lurk behind those large paintings like Nude Man and Woman and The Aubade in which Picasso transforms his bucolic figures into budding primeval giants" (G. Schiff, Picasso, the last years, 1963-1973 (exhibition catalogue), The Grey Art Gallery, New York University, New York, 1983).
Picasso painted L'Aubade while living above the town of Mougins at Nôtre Dame de Vie (fig. 2). The location provided a necessary solitude for the artist, as John Richardson describes: "The construction of a high-rise apartment building overlooking La Californie obliged Picasso to move to a more secluded property: a former mas handsomely rebuilt by the financier Benjamin Guinness in the 1930s and situated on a hillside above Mougins with a panoramic view extending to the Mediterranean. The property included a pilgrimage chapel, hence the name: Nôtre Dame de Vie. Picasso, who was immensely superstitious, thought this a good omen. After moving in, he and Jacqueline got married in March 1961. At first they welcomed friends to their idyllic new house, but little by little, as the demands of work increased, they shut themselves away from all but a small group of trusted friends and collaborators..." (John Richardson, "Great Late Picasso," in Picasso: Mosqueteros (exh. cat.), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 17).
The interweaving of music and eroticism has a clear lineage in the works of the old masters to which Picasso turned increasingly in the 1960s. Artists such as Caravaggio, Titian and Ingres famously personified this idea in oft-exhibited paintings of which Picasso was certainly aware (figs. 1 and 6). The latent sensuality inherent in a serenade had been a compelling subject for Picasso in his earlier years (see fig. 5) but here, in 1967, he returns to the theme with the renewed vigor and explosive spontaneity of his later years.
While the direct gaze of the female figure depicted at left reveals a lineage to Manet's seminal Olympia (fig. 3), her image is further inspired by the artist's wife during these years, Jacqueline. The almond eyes and dark hair pulled back from her face serve as clear signifiers of her presence. Estrella de Diego describes the entrance of Jacqueline into the life and work of the artist: "Jacqueline appeared at a perfect moment in the life of Picasso, an older man who was beginning to be overwhelmed by many things, from his family life to his success, as [Roland] Penrose explained. And as a result of a casual encounter, which recalls that between Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal, a shop assistant before she posed for the English artist, Jacqueline came to embody – from the abstract to the concrete, from portraits to representations of the essence of woman – each and every one of the characters Picasso needed, as he had always done in the past, to activate the pictorial formulae that corresponded to his enduring obsessions, even including a certain unfashionable orientalism. And she ended up being, suddenly, the model, that recurrent character in Picasso's painting ever since Les Demoiselles d'Avignon; bodies on the stage... where the gaze of the voyeur can finally be at ease: everything is there, right there" (E. de Diego, "Self-Portrait of the Artist with Model Nearby," in Picasso, Musas y Modelos (exh. cat.), Museo Picasso, Málaga, 2006-07, p. 30).
The early owners of the present work were esteemed Californian collectors Mr. and Mrs. Sydney Barlow. Sydney was an active member of the Beverly Hills community and founded the Gibraltar Savings and Loan Association. He was an essential force in the creation of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art as well as the Music Center and the American Film Institute.
Oil on canvas
Basel, Galerie Beyeler, Artistes Espagnoles - Gris, Miró, Picasso, Tàpies et Chillida, 1969, no. 52, illustrated in the catalogue
51¼ by 76¾ in. 130.1 by 195 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1967 et 1968, vol. 27, Paris, 1973, no. 27, illustrated pl. 8
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Sixties II, 1964-1967, San Francisco, 2002, no. 67-248, illustrated p. 357
Picasso: Mosqueteros (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, illustration of the work in situ p. 82
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Mr. & Mrs. Sydney Barlow (by 1971 and sold: Sotheby's, London, April 2, 1979, lot 18)
Acquired at the above sale