Le Baiser is one of Picasso's boldest and final interpretations of lovers in a passionate embrace. Precedent for the late incarnations of this subject can be found within the artist's early oeuvre, but the sense of immediacy and urgency evoked by these works from the late 1960s and early 1970s is startling. In this picture, the female figure is understood to be Picasso's wife Jacqueline, and the male figure is the artist himself. The frenetic motion of the lovers in the throws of their embrace and the sober, grisaille palette that the artist uses to render them belies the emotional profundity that these compositions held for Picasso. Confronted by waning virility and his own mortality, he sublimated his frustrations into these pictures, and the present work reflects the passion and desparation that he must have felt in these last years of his life.
The theme of embracing lovers can be found as early as the artist's Blue and Rose Periods (see fig. 1) and recurs from that point in drastically differing manifestations, such as the masterpiece from his Classical period, La Sieste (see fig. 2). There is, however, something notably more emotionally-charged and conflicting about the works from his late years with Jacqueline. Le Baiser moves beyond the latent eroticism and sense of tenderness embodied by La Sieste to a more uninhibited interpretation of the passionate encounter. As the artist's granddaughter Diana Widmaier Picasso writes of these late works, "These are not embraces but wrestling matches the sexes have abandoned themselves to. The unleashing of sexual passions is total, a lack of inhibition stamped with bestiality, animality.... Undoubtedly the influence of the Surrealists the painter rubbed shoulders with is not alien to this impassioned debauchery. The colors of blood and death are omnipresent and oppressive. You can hardly avoid associating the dominant red of Picasso's signature with the red nail polish of Jacqueline, the companion of his final years" (Diana Widmaier Picasso, op. cit., pp. 29-30).
Themes of sex and passion would appear in many guises throughout these late years, such as the virile musketeers and pipe-smoking brigadiers entangled in romantic encounters with women, or the relationship between the painter and his model as depicted in the studio. The present work, along with several others painted around the same time, sheds these narrative contexts and monumentalizes the lovers' faces as they embrace. Picasso eliminates the background with an almost cinematic close-up and reduces his palette to shades of black, gray, yellow and white, allowing the focus of the work to be the emotional resonance of the embrace. Given the collision of two profiles, these works reference the extensive series of sculptures by Brancusi upon the theme of the kiss (see fig. 3). Yet, the sense of playful innocence in Brancusi's sculpture is replaced by a heightened, almost violent, rawness in Picasso's late interpretations.
In addition to the influence of Brancusi, there is a distinct reference in Le Baiser to Henri Rousseau, whom Picasso befriended shortly after he arrived in Paris. Rousseau's Portrait de l'artiste à la lampe (see fig. 4) and Portrait de la seconde femme de l'artiste (see fig. 5), painted just after the turn of the last century, were an important part of Picasso's private collection. As Gert Schiff explains, these works provided the basis for a small series of works that included the present painting: "During the winter of 1969-70 ... he painted kissing and copulating couples, all larger than life. Once more he empathized with one of his artistic forebears and depicted Douanier Rousseau, a friend of his youth, embracing his second wife. Picasso portrays the aged couple at a high pitch of emotion. The inspiration came from their portraits, painted by Rousseau himself, and which Picasso owned" (Gert Schiff, Picasso, The Last Years, 1963-1973, New York, 1983, pp. 50-52). The resemblance between the figures in Rousseau's portraits and those in Le Baiser is identifiable. Two other works reveal the same inspiration, one completed on the same day and the other two days later on October 26, 1969 (see figs. 7 and 8). Although the inspiration for the figures is found in Rousseau's portraits, Picasso infuses the visages of himself and Jacqueline into his interpretations here (see fig. 6).
A stirring testament to the artist's temperament during the last years of his life, Le Baiser is a powerful exploration of a theme that occupies an important position in Picasso's oeuvre. Marie-Laure Bernadac wrote on Picasso's particular and unsurpassed talent as it applied to his compositions of lovers in the 1960s: "The violence of the eroticism, both male and female, to which Picasso gives material expression in his painting, expresses itself in concrete form in the theme of the kiss. Man and woman, the infernal couple, are seen in every conceivable position - 'ultimately, love is all there is,' he said - and all their frantic embraces: the raw realism of his 'Kisses' sums up the place that physical passion occupies in his life.... Picasso makes two beings into one, expressing the physical blending that takes place at the moment of the kiss. Never has erotic force been suggested with such realism" (Marie-Laure Bernadac, "Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model," Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), London, 1988, p. 80-81).
Please note that the correct provenance for fig 7 on page 158 is Private Collection and not as stated in the catalogue.
Oil on canvas
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso 1969-1970, 1970, no. 103, illustrated in the catalogue (not signed in the illustration)
38 1/4 by 51 1/4 in. 97 by 130 cm
Rafael Alberti, A Year of Picasso Paintings: 1969, New York, 1971, no. 58, illustrated in color (not signed in the illustration)
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1969, vol. 31, Paris, 1976, no. 483, illustrated pl. 145 (not signed in the illustration)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Sixties III, 1968-1969, San Francisco, 2003, no. 69-484, illustrated p. 261 (not signed in the illustration)
Diana Widmaier Picasso, Picasso, "Art Can Only Be Erotic," New York, 2005, illustrated in color p. 105
Private Collection, France
Galerie Schmit, Paris
Galerie Marwan Hoss, Paris
Private Collection, Paris
Galerie Beyeler, Basel
Acquired from the above in 1985