Maya Widmaier Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
'I paint the same way some people write their autobiography' (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline,' pp. 17-48, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh.cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 28). Nowhere was this more evident than in the tormented visions of Dora Maar that Picasso painted during the first years of the Spanish Civil War and then of the Second World War. Nu assis was painted in October 1939 in Royan, the town to which Picasso had fled with Dora herself, as well as a small group of friends and his Afghan hound, Kazbec. The twisted image of Dora, despite the bold and fiery palette with which she has been rendered, conveys a sense of the artist's anxieties at the conflagration that was already tearing across Europe, having begun only the previous month with Germany's invasion of Poland. And these were anxieties that had already ravaged Picasso during the Civil War that had done so much damage to his native Spain, and in response to which he had painted not only the famous Guernica but also numerous images of Dora, already epitomising the theme of La femme qui pleure.
Discussing the fact that he repeatedly showed Dora crying, Picasso explained with simplicity and directness that, 'For me she's the weeping woman. For years I've painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one' (Picasso, quoted in B. Léal, ''For Charming Dora': Portraits of Dora Maar', pp. 384-407, W. Rubin (ed.), Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh.cat., New York, 1996, p. 395). Picasso's depictions of her, such as Nu assis, were a direct response to Dora's own character, which in a sense suited the age of epic chaos and violence that was tearing Europe to pieces at the time. Picasso, whose wholesome lover of the 1930s Marie-Thérèse Walter was pregnant at the time that he met Dora, was fascinated by the latter's intellectual rigour, her presence, her mysterious beauty, and her very clear dark side. Recounting the story of their first meeting, Dora's 'successor' as Picasso's Muse and mistress Françoise Gilot wrote:
'Pablo told me that one of the first times he saw Dora she was sitting at the Deux Magots. She was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéed on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long, pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with her knife, her hand was covered with blood. Pablo told me that was what made up his mind to interest himself in her. He was fascinated. He asked her to give him the gloves and he used to keep them in a vitrine at the Rue des Grands-Augustins, along with other mementos' (F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, pp. 85-86).
This fascination was a perfect example of that most-revered of Surrealist concepts, l'amour fou, and resulted in one of the most intriguing relationships of Picasso's life. For Picasso, this was a relationship that would result in his painting masterpiece after masterpiece; for Dora, it would ultimately become a relationship that consigned her to the position of Muse, a character in the tale of Picasso, no longer an artist, photographer, thinker and character in her own right.
The dark side that was so evident in the first episode at the Deux Magots would, soon after their meeting, become exploited in Picasso's paintings. In Nu assis, it is the darkness that is in many ways the focus-- compared to the swirling, arabesque-like images of sensuality from the early 1930s with which Picasso captured his then loved Marie-Thérèse, it is clear that desire is not the motivation behind this picture. Even the whimsical presence of a wreath, which appears lyrical, classical, even bridal, is deliberately undermined by the jutting angularity and the bold colours. Whimsy has fled this scene, replaced by something more sinister and brooding, but something that, regardless, is packed with a triumphant and defiant vitality, a pulsing sense of raw life flooding the image in the form of these colliding colours.
In one sense, Picasso's portraits, if they can be termed as such, captured something in Dora that lurked beneath the surface, as she was a deeply complex and troubled character. And at the same time, in tapping into this, Picasso managed to project his own angst at the state of the world into his oils. In Nu assis, the fiery palette and the contrasting dark background, which thrusts the body into shocking relief, create a visual effect that is incendiary, even explosive, while also recalling the strange multi-toned palette with which Miró had filled a still life, itself a reaction to the Spanish Civil War, only a couple of years earlier.
Picasso himself claimed that he never directly painted the Second World War, although when he discussed his paintings from the period following his flight to Royan, he was aware of strange coincidences: 'When the Germans arrived in France, I was in Royan, and one day I did a portrait of a woman... and when the Germans arrived a few days later, I saw that the head resembled a German helmet' (Picasso, in Picasso and the War Years 1937-1945, S. Nash, exh. cat., San Francisco, 1998, p. 22). In Nu assis, the helmet is not apparent, but another of the strange transformations that flavoured Picasso's art during this period is: the strange, protruding nose that recalls that of his dog, Kazbec. This strange, brutal fusion adds to the disturbing and anxiety-inducing vision of Dora. A skull-like and animalistic character has been introduced into the painting that is wholly at odds with the implied lyricism of the wreath and nude, themes that would have received a very different treatment in the pictures that Picasso had created on similar themes only a few years earlier. It is telling that Picasso, denying having painted the War per se, recognised that it might have seeped into works such as Nu assis:
'I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war's influence. Myself, I do not know' (Picasso, in ibid., p. 13).
Nu assis (Dora Maar)
Oil on canvas
Please note that Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.
Signed and dated 'Picasso 39' (upper right); inscribed and dated 'Royan 18.10.39.' (on the reverse)
1930s, Paintings, canvas, Spain, Impressionist, portrait
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, L'Ecole de Paris dans les collections Belges, July 1959, no. 126.
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
16 1/8 x 10 5/8 in. (41 x 27 cm.)
Jean Wittmann, Brussels.
Anonymous sale, Christie's, London, 4 December 1979, lot 44.
Perls Galleries, New York (no. 12819).
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's, New York, 13 May 1997, lot 58.
Acquired at the above sale by the previous owner.