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Nature morte aux tulipes
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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)\nNature morte aux tulipes\nsigned and dated 'Picasso XXXII' (upper right); dated again and indistinctly inscribed '2 Mars XXXII H9 à 11½ Hs' (on the crossbrace)\noil on canvas\n511/8 x 38¾ in. (130 x 97 cm.)\nPainted in Paris, 2 March 1932
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NY, US
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notes

1932 has long been recognized as one of the high points of Picasso's career. Inspired by his love for his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter (figs. 1 and 2) and excited by his return to making sculpture, Picasso reached an extraordinary pitch of creativity and produced one masterpiece after another, including such notable paintings as Le rêve and Nu au fauteuil noir (figs. 3 and 4). Robert Rosenblum recently called 1932 "that great vintage year . . . a year of rapturous masterpieces that reached an unfamiliar summit in both his painting and his sculpture" (R. Rosenblum, Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, pp. 360-361).

The story of Picasso's first encounter with Marie-Thérèse is well documented:

Outside the Galeries Lafayette, one freezing afternoon, he was captivated by the sight of a very young, very voluptuous blond with intensely piercing blue eyes--the quintessential femme enfant. Picasso grabbed her arm, but his opening gambit almost misfired: 'Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I am Picasso.' She had never heard of him; and he was obliged to take her to a nearby bookstore and show her publications in which his photograph appeared. In the course of this maneuver he managed to charm the girl into meeting him two days later at the Métro Saint-Lazare, well away from his usual haunts. 'We will do great things together', he said and took her to a movie. Despite thirty years difference in age, she found him attractive; she liked the way he dressed (J. Richardson, Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934, exh. cat., Beadleston, Inc., New York, 1985).

While it has traditionally been said that this meeting occurred in January 1927, recently discovered evidence strongly indicates that the two actually first met in 1926 or even 1925, when Marie-Thérèse was only fifteen years old. When they became sexual partners is not known, but certainly they were lovers by the summer of 1927, when Picasso vacationed with his wife Olga at a resort in Dinard and secretly installed Marie-Thérèse in a nearby pension.

In 1930 Picasso bought a seventeenth-century chateau at Boisgeloup in Normandy, and it was there that his relationship with Marie-Thérèse reached a climax. For the next five years, she became the major subject of his paintings and sculpture. Indeed, Pierre Daix has called Picasso's oeuvre from this period a "hymn to Marie-Thérèse", while William Rubin has written:

None of Picasso's earlier relationships had provoked such sustained lyric power, such a sense of psychological awareness and erotic completeness . . . Picasso proceeds from his intense feeling for the girl . . . he paints the body contemplated, loved and self-contemplating. The vision of another's body becomes an intensely arousing and mysterious process (W. Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, p. 138).

Rubin has also said:

It cannot be doubted that Picasso's long, intense, and sexually passionate liaison with Marie-Thérèse helped inspire, what is, after all, the most erotic style in the whole of modern painting (W. Rubin, op. cit., exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, p. 63).

At Boisgeloup Picasso also threw himself into the production of sculpture, a medium he had not investigated for nearly twenty years. In 1931 he began a series of sculptures of Marie-Thérèse, including reliefs and four monumental heads (figs. 5 and 9). As Alan Bowness has declared, "From the beginning, Picasso had seen Marie-Thérèse as sculpture" (A. Bowness, "Picasso's Sculpture", in Picasso in Retrospect, New York, 1973, p. 141). All these sculptures emphasize her classic profile, the beautiful straight line formed by her nose and forehead; clearly this feature especially fascinated Picasso. Sir Roland Penrose has further suggested that this emphasis in the sculptures on Marie-Thérèse's profile was inspired by a mask from the Baga tribe which Picasso kept in the foyer of the chateau:

This piece, with an exaggerated arched nose and a head almost detached from the neck, found its echo in the monumental plaster heads in the stables across the courtyard (R. Penrose, Picasso, His Life and Work, London, 1981, p. 267).

John Richardson has also stressed the primal power of these sculptures of Marie-Thérèse and has connected them with the following statement by Picasso:

Men had made masks . . . for a sacred purpose, a magic purpose, as a kind of mediation between themselves and the unknown hostile forces that surrounded them in order to overcome their fear and horror by giving it a form and an image. At that moment I realized what painting was all about. Painting isn't an aesthetic operation; it's a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange hostile world and us, a way of seizing power by giving form to our terrors as well as our desires. When I came to that realization, I knew I had found my way (quoted in J. Richardson, op. cit., exh. cat., Beadleston, Inc.).

The classic profile of these sculptures may also have found a referent and analogue in Greek sculpture. In the present painting Marie-Thérèse dons a fillet of green leaves in the ancient Hellenic style. In 1932, Picasso stated:

Raphael is a great master; Velázquez is a great master; El Greco is a great master; but the secret of sculptural beauty is located at a greater distance: in the Greeks at the time of Pericles (quoted in D. Ashton, Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 165).

And in 1964 he commented:

Braque once told me: 'Basically you have always loved classic beauty.' It's true. Even today that's true for me. They don't invent a type of beauty every year (quoted in ibid., p. 74).

Indeed, there can be no doubt that Picasso consciously and explicitly equated Marie-Thérèse's beauty with the timeless quality of Hellenic sculpture: in a series of drawings and prints begun in December 1931 and continuing into the spring of 1933, Picasso depicts himself as a mythical, Daedelian sculptor from classical antiquity and represents Marie-Thérèse as his model (fig. 6). These images often show the artist and model joined in rapturous contemplation after the work has been completed; and they suggest the degree of love and intimacy the two enjoyed at that time.

At Boisgeloup, Picasso also painted many still lifes inspired by Marie-Thérèse. In Nature morte of 1931 (fig. 7), the swelling curves of luscious fruits and rotund pitcher stand in for the voluptuous female anatomy. In 1970, Pierre Daix mentioned to Picasso that this painting had always reminded him of Marie-Thérèse; Picasso, he later recalled, went up to the picture and "drew with his finger the profiles and the curves that point to its being Marie-Thérèse in his painting of 1931, without changing any of the rhythms of the still life" (quoted in op. cit., exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, p. 234).

The present depiction of Marie-Thérèse amalgamates all three genres that Picasso explored at Boisgeloup: figure painting, sculpture, and still-life. Marie-Thérèse is shown seated in a black armchair against a tawny ground, her legs swathed in blue cloth and draped over the side of the chair. In place of her head is a plaster bust, in place of her upper body a sculpture pedestal. In her lap, Marie-Thérèse holds a basket of brightly colored tulips; three plump, heart-shaped fruits are scattered alongside, evoking the forms of her breasts and buttocks. A radiant white light seems to emit from the floral bouquet, illuminating the entire figure.

The painted bust is clearly based upon actual sculptures of Marie-Thérèse that Picasso made in 1931 and 1932, with their distinctive silhouette and full hair. Here, however, the profile is less aggressive, the brow more gently sloping, making the figure appear graceful and feminine, lost in reverie. The bust may also recall drawings from plaster casts that Picasso made as a student in Madrid. Around the painted bust, Picasso has placed a vine of delicate green leaves; a photo of his sculpture studio taken in 1933 by the American collector A.E. Gallatin shows such a vine hanging on the wall, perhaps awaiting use as a garland for one of the plasters. The wreath also recalls the Spanish tradition of dressing devotional sculptures in real clothing (fig. 8). During Picasso's youth his father had created his own sculpture of the Virgin Mary from a bust of Venus acquired at the local flea market, adorning the head with a cloth veil, metal halo and, poignantly, a garland of flowers.

Observing the deft certainty with which Picasso worked, it is possible to feel his total absorption in his task and his complete identification, through painting, with his muse, Marie-Thérèse. The absorption and identification are critical to the picture's balance of eros and art. The portrait of Marie-Thérèse is explicitly sexual--her breasts and buttocks also bear a resemblance to male genitalia--and yet the picture is free of any trace of prurience. Many of Picasso's images of sex have a hint (and sometimes more) of the pornographic. But that is not the case with Nature morte aux tulipes. John Donne once wrote, "She is all States/all Princes, I/Nothing else is". It was this kind of inspiration that Picasso felt in 1932 while at work on the present painting; and it is this absorption--both with Marie-Thérèse and with the act of painting--that gives Nature morte aux tulipes such transcendent and radiant beauty.

This work is not merely an expression of joyful sensuality, it is also important in tracking Picasso's fascination with Surrealism. Although he only acknowledged his debt to the movement after 1933, it is clear that this work is profoundly touched by the Surrealist influence. The shadow of the figure cast on the wall prefigures the direction his art was soon to take.

Nature morte aux tulipes was included in the first major retrospective of Picasso's work at the Galerie Georges Petit in June 1932 (fig. 10). This was the first exhibition that the artist himself curated (none of the works were for sale), and the first time his portraits of Marie-Thérèse were exhibited in public, thus becoming a public statement of their love affair. At the time of the exhibition, Picasso was married to Olga Kohklova, and it was she who accompanied him to the opening. Upon seeing numerous portraits of the same blond woman, Olga quickly realized that her husband had been having an affair and left soon after for the South of France with their son Paolo. Picasso and Olga divorced, and his love affair with Marie-Thérèse ensued.

(fig. 1) Marie-Thérèse Walter, Paris, 1930.

(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Visage, 1928.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Le rêve, 1932.

Private Collection.

(Sale, Christie's, New York, 10 November 1997).

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Nu au fauteuil noir, 1932.

Private Collection.

(Sale, Christie's, New York, 9 November 1999).

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 5) Picasso's sculpture studio at Boisgeloup, 1932.

(Photographed by Brassaï).

(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Sculpteur et modèle, 1933.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, Nature morte, 1931.

Musée Picasso, Paris.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 8) La Macarena.

Basilica de la Macarena, Sevilla.

(fig. 9) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme, 1931.

Private Collection.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 10) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme, 1931.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

(fig. 11) The present picture on view at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1932.

© 2000 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

title

Nature morte aux tulipes

medium

Oil on canvas

prelot

PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN PRIVATE COLLECTION

signed

Signed and dated 'Picasso XXXII' (upper right); dated again and indistinctly inscribed '2 Mars XXXII H9 à 11½ Hs' (on the crossbrace)

creator

Pablo Picasso

exhibited

Paris, Galerie Georges Petit and Zurich, Kunsthaus, Picasso, June-November 1932, no. 216.

Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Picasso, February-March 1934, no. 72.

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Picasso: 40 Years of his Art, November 1939-July 1940, no. 243.

Antibes, Musée Picasso, Château Grimaldi, Picasso tête à tête: La parabole du sculpteur, July-September 1984, no. 16 (illustrated).

Geneva, Musée Rath and Museé d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Regards sur un minotaur, October 1987-January 1988, no. 212 (illustrated, p. 48).

The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Philadelphia Museum of Art; and Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Picasso and Things, February-December 1992, p. 237, no. 94 (illustrated in color, p. 236).

Avignon, Palais des Papes, Picasso au Palais des Papes, May-October 1995, p. 68 (illustrated in color, p. 69).

Fundação Bienal de São Paulo, 23.Bienal Internacionale, Salas Especials: Pablo Picasso, October 1996, p. 508, no. 27.

dimensions

511/8 x 38¾ in. (130 x 97 cm.)

literature

A. Skira, ed., Minotaure, Paris, 1934, p. 32 (illustrated).

C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1955, vol. 7, no. 376 (illustrated, pl. 164).

W. Schmalenbach, Bilder des 20.Jahrhunderts: die Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Munich, 1986, pp. 214 and 217 (illustrated, fig. 283).

M. Fitzgerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art, New York, 1995, p. 217 (illustrated).

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885-1973: Surrealism 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, p. 96, no. 32-024 (illustrated).

provenance

Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris.

Albert Bellanger, Paris.

Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the above, 5 October 1956).

Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, 26 April 1957.


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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