This painting has been requested for loan for the exhibition Pablo Picasso, to be held at the Kunsthaus Zurich 15 October 2010-30 January 2011.
In 1932 Cecil Beaton made a photographic portrait of Pablo Picasso in his residence at 23, rue la Boétie, Paris (fig. 1). Then in his fifty-first year, appearing urbane and well-to-do, supremely assured and confident--indeed, with his famously riveting gaze, even imperious--Picasso stands formally attired with bowtie and pocket square, holding in requisite manly fashion a lighted cigarette. In a striking contrast to this image of masculine power and certitude, as set up by the photographer but surely following the dictates of his subject, Beaton portrayed the artist with his head enveloped within the voluptuous curves of a young woman who reclines in the lower part of the large canvas hung on the wall behind him. A second visage of her, rendered as a profile bust placed on a sculptor's plinth and turntable, hovers directly above Picasso's head. In the lower left hand corner, partly cut off by the edge of the photograph, leans the artist's Ingresque portrait of his wife Olga seated in an armchair, which he painted in 1917 while he was courting her. For the purpose of the photograph, Picasso appears to have taken his wife's portrait down from the wall, and replaced it with the larger painting of the young nude woman and bust.
This deeply sensual and mysterious imagery hinted at a story that would not be told until several decades later. Today we instantly recognize the female form as belonging to Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso's young mistress during the late 1920s and 1930s (fig. 2). The remarkable painting seen in this widely illustrated photograph is Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which Picasso completed during the course of a single day in March 1932, only a short time before Beaton came to shoot his portrait. Here the canvas is seen still unframed, with the paint perhaps having only recently dried. This brightly shining star in the firmament of Picasso's oeuvre, rarely seen after the 1930s and exhibited only once since it was acquired in 1951, now comes to Christie's saleroom, as have five of its closest companions during the past dozen years--a landmark event by any measure, in which this superb painting is sure to surpass all those which have gone before.
In the third volume of his epic Picasso biography, John Richardson titled the chapter devoted to the year 1931 "Annus Mirabilis I," in which he discusses the powerful and groundbreaking plaster heads and figures that Picasso created in his newly opened Boisgeloup studio. Richardson then went on in "Annus Mirabilis II" to chronicle the astonishing canvases that Picasso painted in 1931-1932. Picasso's achievements during this period are truly miraculous--such was the unexpected rush of their sudden emergence. And they are marvelous to behold, as one takes in the perfectly conceived beauty of their color and forms, and as importantly, the inspired and richly elaborated depth of their content. It was in 1932 that Picasso executed two of his finest and now best known pictures. On 24 January of that year Picasso painted Le Rêve, formerly belonging to Victor and Sally Ganz, sold at Christie's New York in 1997 and now in the collection of Steve Wynn (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 364; fig. 3). On 14 March he completed Jeune fille devant un miroir, which William Rubin once designated as the "emblem" of The Museum of the Modern Art, New York (Z., 7, 379; fig. 4). Only a few days before he painted the MoMA picture, Picasso worked on a series of three equally large canvases which depict a reclining, sleeping young woman, two of which have already been sold at Christie's New York (figs. 5 and 6). Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is the third picture in this illustrious triumvirate, and it constitutes a crucial, revelatory link in the overall sequence of the paintings done in early 1932. Indeed, more than any other work of this halcyon period, the imagery in this painting clearly and completely gives form to the complex interweaving of emotional and intellectual currents that were running fast and furious through the artist's mind.
There has long been agreement that the years 1931-1932 were a superlative moment in Picasso's life's work. While Picasso was at the height of his career and then the world's most famous living artist, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., wrote, "In the spring of 1932 Picasso produced with amazing energy a long series of large canvases of women, usually sleeping or seated, unlike anything he had done before in their great sweeping curves, which are echoed in several paintings with philodendron leaves" (Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 175). A half-century later Robert Rosenblum proclaimed, "there is no doubt that 1932 marks the peak of fever-pitch intensity and achievement, a year of rapturous masterpieces that reach a new and unfamiliar summit in both his painting and his sculpture" (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 361). Most recently Michael FitzGerald has singled out this period for its "exceptional works... paintings and sculpture that comprise some of the finest achievements of Picasso's oeuvre" (Picasso's Marie-Therese, exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, p. 13).
A remarkable confluence of events, both in the private and public spheres of Picasso's life, led to the creation of these extraordinary paintings. Richardson has written, "We need to remember that he had recently turned fifty (October 25, 1931). Far from being welcome, this anniversary was a reminder of what he feared most--mortality... Picasso could not stop the clock, but he could ensure that his fiftieth year became his annus mirabilis. In the course of this amazingly productive year, he brought about a radical reinvention of sculpture and he saved painting from the insidious embrace of Surrealism... The paintings of his annus mirabilis were the crowning touch" ("Pablo Picasso's Le Repos," in Christie's New York sale catalogue, 2 May 2006, lot 43, pp. 6 and 8).
Picasso felt the need to prove himself in the public eye, especially as his rivalry with Matisse had heated up once again, in the wake of several exhibitions devoted to the older artist, who in 1929 celebrated his sixtieth birthday. Picasso had seen Matisse's sculptures in an exhibition at the Galerie Pierre in 1930. A large Matisse exhibition, concentrating on the sumptuous Nice paintings of the 1920s, opened at the Galeries Georges Petit in June 1931 (fig. 7). A smaller show of Picasso's work ran concurrently at André Level's Galerie Percier, and there were some Picassos on view in a group exhibition at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg. The Matisse exhibition, such as it was constituted, did not substantially further the artist's reputation, but another retrospective later that year at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, comprising works mainly done before 1918, clearly affirmed Matisse's status as a leading modernist. The critics were once again dwelling on comparisons between the work of the two artists. Picasso cancelled plans for his own MoMA exhibition in order to focus on arrangements for a retrospective at Galerie Georges Petit, to be held in June 1932, exactly one year after the Matisse exhibition. He intended that his master showing be larger than that given Matisse; it would include a more balanced representation of this entire career, and culminate in a dazzling series of his most recent works, large-scale canvases that he had yet to paint. As FitzGerald has pointed out, "More than almost any other of Picasso's works, these [the paintings of early 1932] were made for exhibition. Moreover, he made them to demonstrate his premiere standing at a crucial time in his career and the course of twentieth century art" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, p. 13).
However urgently Picasso responded with his engrained ambitiousness to this external imperative, there was an even more driving inward need, arising from the throes of a private drama, that he felt compelled to express. He had thrown himself headlong into an adulterous relationship in which he had experienced anew the excitement of uninhibited and blissful physical love, which he had been desperately seeking all the while his marriage to Olga was cooling down and had finally turned sour. Picasso felt frustrated and bored with the haute-bourgeois expectations of his status-conscious wife, who, moreover, had begun to display unpleasant symptoms of a bipolar disorder. This is the conflict that lurks below the surface of the Beaton photograph. The give and take of this inner turmoil would provide the imagery for the key paintings of early 1932--around this time Picasso told Tériade "The work one does is a way of keeping one's diary" (quoted in Matisse Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2003, p. 376).
Since the beginning of 1927 Picasso had been conducting a clandestine liaison with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who had become his reigning muse and--thus far--the true love of his life. Their relationship had entered its sixth year when Picasso painted this nude and the other portraits he made of her during early 1932; she was then twenty-two years old. It was on 8 January 1927, outside the shops of the Galeries Lafayette, that Picasso walked up to and introduced himself to this blonde girl, who was then still in her teens. He said to her, "You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together... I am Picasso" (quoted in J. Richardson, op. cit., 2007, p. 323). Richardson has explained his motivation:
"In 1927 Picasso was forty-six years old--an age when the demon de midi is apt to strike. Picasso's demon had been unleashed by the Surrealists. In late years the artist played down the role of Surrealism in his art before 1933 (a line that few art historians accept), but he could hardly deny the role Surrealism played in his life. For a decade or more--mid-twenties onward--the influence of Breton and his followers was paramount, not least in helping liberate Picasso's psyche from the bourgeois straitjacket that Olga had tried, with some success, to impose on it. Breton's concepts of sex and love are especially relevant, concepts such as 'l'amour fou,' mad love, that could only be found in the street, and that would have as its object the eternal 'femme enfant,' guardian of mysteries... And sure enough, Picasso did find mad love on the grands boulevards" ("Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter," Through the Eye of Picasso, exh. cat., William Beadleston, Inc., New York, 1985, p. 1).
Little was known about Marie-Thérèse and the significant role she played in Picasso's life and art, until 1964, when Françoise Gilot--the artist's companion during the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the mother of two of his children--devoted several illuminating passages to Marie-Thérèse in her memoir of the years she spent with Picasso. (Marie-Thérèse finally granted interviews in 1972 and 1977 during which she discussed her relationship with Picasso.) Based on her own observations of Marie-Thérèse, and the artist's own recollections as he related them to her, Mme Gilot has written:
"[Marie-Thérèse] became the luminous dream of youth, always in the background but always within reach, that nourished his work. She was interested only in sports [fig. 8] didn't enter in any way into his public or intellectual life. When he went out socially it was with Olga; when he came back bored and exasperated, Marie-Thérèse was always available as a solace... She haunted his life, just out of reach poetically, but available in the practical sense whenever his dreams were troubled by her absence. She had no convenient reality; she was a reflection of the cosmos. If it was a beautiful day, the clear blue sky reminded him of her eyes. The flight of a bird symbolized for him the freedom of their relationship. And over a period of eight years her image found its way into a great body of his work in painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving. Hers was the privileged body on which the light fell to perfection...
"Marie-Thérèse, then, was very important to him as long as he was living with Olga because she was the dream when the reality was someone else. He continued to love her because he hadn't really taken possession of her: she lived somewhere else and was the escape hatch from a reality he found unpleasant... Marie-Thérèse was a sweet, gentle woman, very feminine, and very full-formed--all joy, light and peace... [she] had no problems. With her, Pablo could throw off his intellectual life and follow his instinct...
"Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition. She was a magnificent model" (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 235-236 and 241-242).
Picasso had carried off Marie-Thérèse as if he were living out the fables of Zeus and other gods of classical antiquity who, descending from Olympus, engaged in the amorous pursuit of a comely river nymph who caught their fancy. Like Zeus, Picasso had to shield his conquest from the prying eyes and shrewish machinations of a jealous Hera--his wife Olga, who probably sensed that something was afoot, but as yet had no specific knowledge of what he was up to. Some of Picasso's friends may have guessed the artist had a new mistress, but only one or two knew who she was, or had actually met her. Marcel Boudin, the driver of Picasso's new luxury Hispano Suiza motorcar, chauffeured the pair to their trysts, but reliably remained the model of discretion. Picasso's references to Marie-Thérèse in his paintings during the late 1920s were initially couched in a private pictorial code, and he otherwise concealed her features within the convolutions of his endlessly inventive and often convulsive deformations of the female form.
In time, however, concealment inexorably gave way to more overt statement, as Dominique Dupuis-Labbé has pointed out: "The thirties are the most sexual period in Picasso's oeuvre, not only because he himself was in the grip of the greatest conceivable passion, but also that for the first time he had a lover who was considerably younger, a woman who was still maturing and gave Picasso the chance to observe the transition from girl to woman and from woman to mother, and to share the experience... the more the omnipresence and transcendence of the body had to be kept secret, the more blatant they became" (Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter: Between Classicism and Surrealism, exh. cat., Graphik-Museum Pablo Picasso, Münster, 2004, pp. 39-40).
Picasso laid the formal groundwork for the Marie-Thérèse paintings of 1931-1932 in the series of illustrations he engraved for an edition of Ovid's Metamorphoses, which the fine art publisher Albert Skira commissioned from him in 1929 (fig. 9). Allied to the enchantment of these antique myths, and with a nod toward's Matisse's fine pen and ink drawings, Picasso's neo-classical line took on new vitality and expressivity--it was now more fluid, organic and elastic than before, fully attuned to the magical processes of transformation in Ovid's tales, where elusive nymphs and unfortunate mortals were turned for all eternity into trees, flowers and constellations in the night sky. Skira published Picasso's illustrated edition of Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide on the occasion of the artist's fiftieth birthday in 1931. Picasso was already engaged in his next print project, the etchings which would eventually comprise his famous Suite Vollard (1935). Among the earliest plates that he etched in this series are scenes of nudes asleep as others watch over them (Geiser, nos. 203 and 210), and a young woman regarding a sculpture of herself (G., no. 205).
Picasso was already adapting this flexible and flowing line, as well as the Ovidian fascination with the human body subject to physical and metaphorical transformation, to his work in three dimensions. He had turned away from the spiky linearity of the welded sculptures he had been making in the late 1920s, and was now pursuing a more sensually expressive approach, to which he applied his newly reinvigorated classical manner. Inspired by the Matisse sculptures he had recently seen, Picasso produced during the early months of 1931 heads and figures of Marie-Thérèse in the stable-studio of his chateau at Boisgeloup (figs. 10, 11 and 12). While Picasso was working on these sculptures, Boisgeloup--whose name was derived from bois-jaloux, a secluded wood, as if screened off by a jalousie--became the artist's secret bower, an isolated sanctuary to which he could escape from Olga and enjoy the pleasurable company of his mistress. The affectionately rendered features and distinctive contours of these sculptures would in turn inform the rhythmically curvilinear shapes of the figures and heads that would appear in the canvases of the following year. Richardson has written:
"Picasso, [as pointed out by Dakin Hart] 'rummaged through Matisse's catalogue of sculptural forms--seated nudes, reclining nudes and heads--in a bid to go one better,' but Matisse is only part of the story. In his Reclining Figure [Baigneuse allongé, Spies, no. 109; fig. 10], Picasso pits himself against all the reclining nudes in history from antiquity, not just the Ariadnes and Artemises of Hellenistic tradition, but their progeny in works by Titian and Rubens, Ingres, Courbet and Renoir, as well as Matisse. Picasso's astonishing visual memory and digestive powers enabled him to assimilate all the above and 'create and populate an alternative Picassian antiquity' [Hart]. Reclining Figure thus constitutes a supremely important Picassian synthesis, which would help to shunt the classical rendition of figural sculpture onto a new modernist track" (op. cit., 2007, p. 462).
Picasso's preoccupation with sculpture subsided in the fall of 1931, and toward the end of that year he picked up his palette and brushes once again to begin the canvases that he planned to install as the jewel in the crown of his forthcoming exhibition at Galerie Georges Petit, which was slated to open some six months hence. Just as Marie-Thérèse's presence had blossomed forth in Picasso's recent sculptures, she appears front and center and even more exposed in these paintings. Rosenblum has written, "It was really only in 1931 that Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 342).
Picasso completed the first three large paintings in December 1931: Le sculpteur (Z., 7, 346; Musée Picasso, Paris) and Le Fauteuil rouge (Z., 7, 334; The Art Institute of Chicago). The sleeping figure of Marie-Thérèse, rendered in swirling arabesques, made its first appearance in Femme aux chevaux jaune (Z., 7, 333; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Picasso painted La lecture on the second day of the new year, 1932 (Z., 7, 358; Musée Picasso, Paris). Then between the 22nd and 24th of January, he painted three canvases that embrace the extremes of light and dark, both the pleasure and the pain of his current domestic circumstances. A manic and flailing Olga appears in the ironically titled Le Repos (Z., 7, 362; fig. 13); then, by way of contrast, seeking relief and solace, he painted a sleeping Marie-Thérèse in the tender Le Sommeil (Z., 7, 362; Private collection), and finally, in a beatific vision of innocence and loveliness, he portrayed a dreaming Marie-Thérèse in the renowned Le Rêve (Z., 7, 364; fig. 3).
Picasso painted two table-top still-lifes in on 11 and 13 February (Z., 7, 354 and 375; the latter, fig. 14), in which three apples on a compotier represent Marie-Thérèse, while Picasso morphed himself into the form of a guitar. He continued with the still-life theme in two paintings done on 2 and 3 March (Z., 7, 376; fig. 15; and Picasso Project no. 32-025; Musée Picasso, Paris), both of which include a portrait-bust which unmistakably displays Marie-Thérèse's distinctive profile, with her large straight Grecian nose--as Richardson has noted, "Marie-Thérèse's most prominent feature--a feature she disliked and Picasso admired" (op. cit., 2007, p. 446).
A week later Picasso painted two canvases that again focus on the sleeping Marie-Thérèse, whose supine figure fills the lower half of both compositions. Each of these paintings is an aubade, a troubadour's courtly song of forbidden love, in which the lover greets the dawn while lamenting that he and his beloved must soon part undetected, only to anxiously await the return of night so that they may resume their illicit love. One of these paintings is Nu au fauteuil noir, painted on 9 March (Z., 7, 377; fig. 5); this picture has been widely exhibited and often discussed--Richardson has called it "the most consummately romantic image of the series" (ibid., p. 468). The other is the present painting, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which Picasso painted the day before, on 8 March. This picture is the most elaborate in the sequence of these works, combining and dovetailing the various pictorial ideas and emotional themes that Picasso had touched on previously, into which he now delved even more deeply and has drawn together into a synthesis on a symphonic scale. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust is unquestionably the most complex and thoughtful of the Marie-Thérèse pictures Picasso had painted thus far--it is rife with signifiers. It is also the most haunting and mysterious of this series--FitzGerald has called it a "hallucinatory journey" (op. cit., 2008, p. 21). One may return time and again to this enthralling painting to ponder its secretive meanings and the relationships between the many parts and the whole. In these respects it rivals the most famous of all of the great paintings of 1932, the MoMA Jeune fille devant un miroir, which Picasso painted less than a week later, on 14 March (Z., 7, 379; fig. 4).
As if to mirror the tense and delicate human triangle that he had created in his personal life, Picasso appears to have devised the symbolism in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust according to an intuitive tripartite paradigm, in what FitzGerald has noted in previous canvases as a "three-sided game" (ibid.). First and foremost among the three chief elements in this painting is the reclining figure of Marie-Thérèse, rendered in fluid, flowing lines that manifest her easy-going spirit and natural vitality. Having cast Olga in the role of the twisted femme fatale, a predatory surrealist Megaera--the spiteful goddess of jealousy--Picasso was pleased to celebrate Marie-Thérèse as a beneficent and nurturing muse, the wholesome river nymph who lies before him in deep, rapturous sleep, her body available and yielding to his touch, even if her innermost thoughts remain elusive and unknowable to him as she dreams. He will watch over his beloved and protect her, while at the same time subjecting her to the necessary sacrificial rites of the painter, who seeks to possess and transform her in his art.
The second element is Marie-Thérèse's apotheosis in the form of the bust set on the sculptor's modeling stand, painted with a thick impasto to mimic the texture of plaster. The third is the gangly philodendron plant which is located behind her, but gives the appearance of sprouting from her fertile, nubile body.
As Picasso had done in Le Rêve and other earlier depictions of Marie-Thérèse, he has painted her in the soothing lilac tone that he associated with her gentle and accommodating nature. The circling and undulating lines of her figure stem directly from the aforementioned Reclining Figure (Baigneuse allongée), the plaster sculpture of 1931 (fig. 10), now fleshed out on canvas in a ripely voluptuous manner. Whenever Picasso invokes the beauty of pure classical lines and sensual volumes, the spirit of Ingres is always close by, and indeed Picasso may have derived aspects of the composition in the present painting from the 19th century master's Odalisque à l'esclave (fig. 16), surely noting with some pleasure that the reclining harem girl is, like Marie-Thérèse, a blonde. If one flips the image of the Ingres picture, the positioning of the reclining odalisque and the head of the lute player is similar to that of Marie-Thérèse and her portrait bust. A plate with apples (another threesome) in Picasso's composition takes the place of the fan and water pipe in the Ingres picture. Elizabeth Cowling has written:
"When their ardent affair was at its height Picasso was enthralled by his young lover, and Ingres's supremely seductive paintings of women, clothed or naked, real or fantasized, were an ideal model because they express, and arouse in the viewer caught in the subtle toils of Ingres's art, a comparable state of absorption. When he first fell in love with the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, Picasso wanted to see her in Ingresque terms... But Olga was not a serene, compliant, indolently sensual, odalisque-type... With Marie-Thérèse, on the other hand, once the connection had been made, Ingres became the artistic mediator of choice for Picasso, and Ingres haunts many of the sumptuous, erotically charged paintings in the present exhibition [Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York]" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, p. 37).
Brigitte Léal has written that Marie-Thérèse "incarnated a wild beauty, a sporty and healthy beautiful plant" (in exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 387). While Picasso was not partial to house-plants, Marie-Thérèse was fond of a sprawling philodendron she kept in the Left Bank apartment that the artist had rented for their use. Picasso had included a representation of this plant in his welded metal sculpture La femme au jardin, 1929 (Spies, no. 72) his take on Bernini's Apollo and Daphne, 1625, in Rome, using the philodendron as a stand-in for the laurel tree into which the nymph Daphne was transformed, as Ovid tells the story, to evade the amorous god Apollo. Cowling has described the similar, foreshortened figure of Marie-Thérèse in Nu au fauteuil noir (fig. 5): "The sleeping woman, who seems to swell and unfurl like a growing plant within the elastic cocoon of her skin, sprouts philodendron leaves from beneath her breast as if she were goddess of the plant kingdom" (Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 492).
Richardson has noted that "the philodrendon plant and decorative hanging... identify the setting as the Left Bank apartment, though it [Nude, Green Leaves and Bust] was not necessarily painted there" (op. cit., 2007, p. 468). The folds of the suspended curtain shield the sleeping young woman from the dawning light of a new day, represented in the patch of orange color at the upper left corner, which also appears in Nu au fauteuil noir, painted the following day (fig. 5). The curtain moreover represents the precautions Picasso has taken to conceal Marie-Thérèse from Olga, and from the curiosity of all but a couple of his closest friends. It constitutes a more spartan Picassian version of the extravagant textile hangings that Matisse had employed in creating the sets for his odalisques; as Rosenblum has noted, in the Marie-Thérèse paintings "Picasso embarked on his own version of a cloistered female paradise... an Arabian nights enchantment" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 345).
The dark blue tones of the screen create a nocturnal ambience, in which the plaster bust from the earlier still-lifes now takes on a magical quality, hovering above all else like a shining lunar orb--Rosenblum has likened Marie-Thérèse to a "nascent moon goddess" (ibid., p. 341). The bust is not itself a rendering of an actual sculpture that Picasso had done the previous year at Boisgeloup, but rather a conflation of both Tête de femme (fig. 11), the most classical and Mediterranean of the recent heads--a work that Picasso had done to "outdo Maillol" (J. Richardson, op. cit., 2007, p. 450)--and of Buste de femme (fig. 12), with its giraffe-like neck truncated, but retaining Marie-Thérèse's signature rhinal profile (fig. 17). The presence of the bust sets up within this painting the dualities of the temporal and the permanent, of life and art, drawing attention to a mysterious and miraculous process by which living flesh is transformed as if by the hand of a god--as in Ovid's Metamorphoses--into a idealized and eternal form. The vertical grooves in the plinth may also be read as three fingers, reaching upward toward the bust, signifying the artist's aspiration to this ideal, and his desire to possess the woman for whom it is a symbol. When Brassaï photographed Picasso's plaster sculptures at Boisgeloup in December 1932, he arranged Reclining Figure (Baigneuse allongée) on a table-top, placing a replica of a Hellenistic sculpture that Picasso owned behind it, creating a composition (fig. 10) that resembles Nude, Green Leaves and Bust.
Marie-Thérèse loved to sleep. This pleased Picasso, who wrote in one of the freely associative prose poems he began to compose in 1935, dated 21 October of that year: "how much I love her now that she's asleep and I can see no more than just her honey from afar" (trans. J. Rothenberg, Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & other poems, Cambridge, Mass., 2004, p. 36). 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 rousing and mysterious process" (Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, p. 138).
Picasso has included the representation of a third figure in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, not readily apparent at first glance, but detectable in the shape of the shadowy profile that he inserted between the bust and the leaves of the philodendron plant. There is a parallel in the Ingres Odalisque à l'esclave (fig. 16), in which a black male attendant, presumably a eunuch, stands in the rear of the harem chamber. One may read this shadowy profile in the background of Picasso's painting--as FitzGerald has done (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, p. 21)--as having been projected from the bust onto the screen behind it. This may well be the case, but knowing that Picasso was wont to make double-entendres of his imagery, this profile suggests a larger, more potent presence--that of Picasso himself, as he stands outside the picture space but near his beloved Marie-Thérèse, casting his shadow onto the curtain. Rosenblum has written, "As always, Picasso is observing and guarding his female possession" (in exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 359). Picasso had previously inserted his leftward-looking profile into compositions: it appears on the palette in Arlequin, 1915 (Zervos, vol. 2**, no. 555; The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Les Modistes, 1926 (Z., 7, 2; Musée d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris) and L'Atelier, 1928-1929 (Picasso Project, 28-224; Musée Picasso, Paris). Picasso made a photographic image of his silhouette, as it was cast over a drawing of a young woman hung on a wall, circa 1927 (fig. 19).
The mystery of this shadow is tied to another aspect of the picture that does not immediately yield to being deciphered: the two vertical bands in black that run like confining straps across Marie-Thérèse's neck and abdomen. As a pictorial device they traverse and connect various elements in the composition; the right-hand band runs upward across her middle and then circles the bust above, unifying these allegorical signifiers of life and art. The meaning of the bands becomes clearer as one traces their full course. The right-hand band forms a large "P" as it loops around the bust, while the left-hand band, as it circles around Marie-Thérèse's raised arms and head, forms a second "P", this time inverted, thus providing both of the artist's initials. In the fingers of the hand Marie-Thérèse has placed under her head one can trace a cursive "M", and perhaps too in the cleft of her sex. In this way Picasso announces her identity, and by superimposing his initials on her he seeks to possesses his beloved and proclaim their common destiny in his art. Shortly after he met Marie-Thérèse, Picasso painted a Guitare accrochée au mur, in which he included his and her initials, with a left-looking profile (Z., 7, 54; fig. 18). Now in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust he was affirming the words he spoke to her at the very moment of their first encounter near the Galeries Lafayette at six o'clock in the evening of 8 January 1927: "we are going to do great things together."
Following the completion of Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, Picasso went on to paint Le Miroir on 12 March (Z., 7, 378; fig. 6), the third and final picture in this sequence in which a sleeping figure of Marie-Thérèse fills the lower half of the composition. Two days later he finished the MoMA Jeune fille devant un miroir (Z., 7, 379; fig. 4). In these two paintings Picasso strove to trump Matisse in the use of arabesque, pattern and decoration, married to richly saturated colors. On 17 March Picasso's long-time friend Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler visited 23, rue la Boétie at the artist's invitation. Kahnweiler later wrote to Michel Leiris: "We saw two paintings at his place which he had just finished. Two nudes, perhaps the most moving things he's done. 'A satyr who has killed a woman might have painted this picture,' I told him. It's neither cubist nor naturalist. And it's without painterly artifice: very alive, very erotic, but the eroticism of a giant. For years Picasso hasn't done anything like it. He had told me a few days before, 'I want to paint like a blind man, who does a buttock by feel.' It is really that. We came away, overwhelmed" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, pp. 221-222).
During April 1932 Picasso painted four more large pictures of Marie-Thérèse which, as Richardson has stated, "bring this phenomenal succession of some thirty major works to a close" (op. cit., 2007, p. 472). Picasso's retrospective exhibition at the Galeries Georges Petit opened on 16 June and ran through 30 July. He had helped assemble a balanced overview of his career from private and dealer holdings, having drawn heavily on his own collection as well; the exhibition included a total of 225 paintings, seven sculptures and six illustrated books. Picasso arranged the installation himself, but instead of relying on a chronological and period ordering, he applied his own idiosyncratic ideas of how his pictures would look interesting side-by-side. This confused the public, and many critics were hostile in their reviews, harping as they had done in the past on the artist's willfully destructive approach to the figure and his abruptly shifting styles. Picasso's partisans, of course, touted the occasion--Christian Zervos devoted a special number of Cahiers d'Art to Picasso, containing more pages than he given Matisse the previous year; he also brought out the first volume of his monumental Picasso catalogue raisonné to mark the event.
With the addition of two hundred watercolors, drawings and prints, the Georges Petit exhibition traveled largely intact to the Zurich Kunsthaus in September (fig. 20). There Wilhelm Hartmann, the museum director, installed the show in chronological fashion, making it a model for all future Picasso retrospectives. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, together with other recent Marie-Thérèse paintings, featured at both venues. A number of the paintings, especially the recent works, were available for purchase, but none was sold--it was, after all, the height of the great worldwide Depression. Picasso meanwhile continued to commune with his blonde muse, and he created many lovely portraits of her in Boisgeloup during the summer of 1934 and later that year (Z., 7, 69; fig. 21).
In terms of the overall response at that time, the outcome of the great duel between the history-making Matisse and Picasso retrospectives of 1931-1932 should probably be called a draw. Critical assessment since then tends to give Picasso the edge. Referring to Nude, Green Leaves and Bust and Nu au fauteuil noir (fig. 5), and then finally to Jeune fille devant un miroir (fig. 4) as cases in point, FitzGerald has suggested the reasons for Picasso's stronger showing during this phase of his career:
"Picasso's two reclining nudes reduce Matisse's to tame, domestic baubles. Not only do they present full frontal nudity--something Matisse almost never did in his contemporary paintings--but they energize Matisse's languid, passive odalisques with a throbbing life-force that ripples through their undulating flesh and leaps from body to plant to sculpture, linking all of nature and art... The 'convulsive beauty' and 'mad love' acclaimed by André Breton, Louis Aragon and other poets and artists grouped around the banner of Surrealism in the later twenties were primary inspirations for Picasso's series of 1931-32, as it transformed classic images of seated women into metamorphic dreaming figures, and culminated in this image of profound polyvalent introspection [Jeune fille devant un miroir]. ...His appropriation of the Surrealists' themes charged his art with a psychic passion that blew past Matisse's recent works" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2008, pp. 22 and 24).
Years later, while discussing with Françoise Gilot the shamanistic function of African art, Picasso turned to the subject to painting. He stated, "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 the way" (quoted in J. Richardson, exh. cat., op. cit., 1985, n.p.).
(fig. 1) Picasso in his residence at 23, rue da la Boétie, Paris, standing in front of Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 1932. Photograph by Cecil Beaton. Courtesy Sotheby's.
(fig. 2) Marie-Thérèse Walter, Paris, 1930. Photograph by Photomaton; collection Maya Picasso.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve, 24 January 1932. Formerly in the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz; sold Christie's New York, 10 November 1997, lot 43.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille devant un miroir, 14 March 1932. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Nu au fauteuil noir, 9 March 1932. Sold Christie's New York, 9 November 1999, lot 507.
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Le Miroir, 12 March 1932. Sold Christie's New York, 7 November 1995, lot 45.
(fig. 7) Henri Matisse, Harmonie jaune, 1927-1928. Sold Christie's New York, 11 November 1992, lot 63A.
(fig. 8) Marie-Thérèse Walter at the beach, Dinard, summer 1929. Photograph by Picasso.
(fig. 9) Pablo Picasso, Céphale tue par mégarde sa femme Procris, from Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, 1930 (published 1931).
(fig. 10) Pablo Picasso, Baigneuse allongée, 1931. Photograph taken by Brassaï at Boisgeloup, December 1932.
(fig. 11) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Marie-Thérèse), 1931. Photograph taken by Brassaï at Boisgeloup, December 1932.
(fig. 12) Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme (Marie-Thérèse), 1932. Photograph taken by Brassaï at Boisgeloup, December 1932.
(fig. 13) Pablo Picasso, Le Repos, 22 January 1932. Sold Christie's New York, 2 May 2006, lot 43.
(fig. 14) Pablo Picasso, Compotier et guitare, 13 February 1932. Formerly in the collections of Douglas Cooper and William A. McCarty Cooper; sold Christie's New York, 11 May 1992, lot 52.
(fig. 15) Pablo Picasso, Nature morte aux tulipes, 2 March 1932. Sold Christie's New York, 9 May 2000, lot 520.
(fig. 16) J.-A.-D. Ingres, Odalisque à l'esclave, 1839-1840. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(fig. 17) Marie-Thérèse Walter, at her mother's home in Maisons-Alfort, 1932. Photograph by Picasso; collection Maya Picasso.
(fig. 18) Pablo Picasso, Guitare accrochée au mur, 1927. Private collection.
(fig. 19) Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait silhouette, photograph, probably 1927. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 20) The installation of paintings at the Picasso retrospective, Kunsthaus Zurich, 1932, with Nude, Green Leaves and Bust at center. Photograph collection Kunsthaus Zürich.
(fig. 21) Pablo Picasso, Nu au collier, July-October 1932. Sold Christie's London, 25 June 2002, lot 12.
Nude, Green Leaves and Bust
Oil on canvas
Please see the Special Payment Instructions for Brody Evening Sale Lots 1-28 which are printed in the Saleroom Notice for Lot 1 above.
Please note that Christie's guarantee of this lot has been fully financed by a third party who is bidding on this lot. The third party, who may or may not have knowledge of the reserves, will receive a financing fee from Christie's, whether or not they are the successful bidder.
Property from the Collection of Mrs. Sidney F. Brody
Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust
by John Richardson
His fiftieth birthday on October 1, 1931 came as a tremendous challenge to Picasso: a challenge so productive that the six months before and the six months after constitute an annus mirabilis. In the spring of 1931, he revolutionised sculpture and in the winter that followed he revolutionised our perception of that most basic subject of western art: the seated woman.
The fact that Picasso's first full-scale retrospective was looming made the challenge all the more daunting. The show was due to open in June 1932 at Paris's grandiose yet anything but avant-garde exhibition space, the Galerie Georges Petit. The contrast accentuated the shock of Picasso's work. This show would have world-wide repercussions; and would establish Picasso as the greatest modern artist.
Like this great Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, the paintings in this dazzling series portray Picasso's beautiful blond mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, an innocent open-air girl with whom he had fallen obsessively in love, after picking her up outside the Galeries Lafayette, five years before. This simple, sweet-natured girl would remain passionately in love with him long after his affairs with other mistresses. His death would leave her so bereft that she would commit suicide.
Since Picasso was married to an exceedingly jealous and increasingly neurasthenic Russian ballerina he had been at pains to keep Marie-Thérèse hidden in art as well as in life, the earliest references to her are in code: transformed into a bowl of fruit, or a vase of flowers and, on occasion his own penis. However, in the present painting he turned for inspiration to classical mythology.
Picasso had already used the philodendron leaves in the greatest of his welded sculptures Woman in the Garden of 1929 (fig. A) which represents Marie-Thérèse as the nymph Daphne being metamorphosed into a bush. The philodendron leaves sprouting from Marie-Thérèse's side in Nude, Green Leaves and Bust can also be identified as Daphne. Apropos his penchant for the philodendron plant whose baroque tendrils animate other compositions in this series, notably the second version of this painting (fig. 5), painting two days later, where the arm of the sleeping nymph is turned into a lily.
As Picasso told Penrose, he admired this plant for its "overwhelming vitality": "He once left one that had been given him in Paris in the bathroom, where it would be sure to have plenty of water while he was away in the south. On his return he found that it had completely filled the little room with luxuriant growth and also completely backed the drain with its roots" (J. Richardson, Life of Picasso, vol. III, p. 443).
Besides this painting and the Nue au fauteuil noir, this series consists of other such masterpieces as The Dream (fig. 3), MOMA's Girl in Front of a Mirror (fig. 4), and Girl with a Flower (fig. B), which brings this series to an end on 10 April 1932.
For all this painting's enormous importance Zervos did not include it in his catalogue. The reason? When it came back after the 1932 retrospective, Picasso apparently asked his dealer Paul Rosenberg, who lived next door, to allow him to hang it in his own apartment, as we know from Cecil Beaton's 1933 photograph (fig. 1)--a photograph that used to be the only evidence scholars had of Nude, Green Leaves and Bust. This explains why it was never requested for subsequent retrospectives, it was however include in Paul Rosenberg's 1936 show of recent work.
The outbreak of World War II closed Rosenberg's Paris gallery. In May 1940, before escaping to New York, the dealer had hidden his stock and extensive private collection in three separate places: a rented house and bank near to Bordeaux, as well as a warehouse at Tours, under the name of a non-Jewish employee. The first two hideaways were looted by the Nazis. The warehouse, where Nude, Green Leaves and Bust was stored, was left untouched.
After re-opening his Paris gallery Rosenberg sold the painting to the Brodys in 1951; the California branch of an extended family who were amongst the most prominent American collectors of impressionist and post-impressionist art in the mid 20th century. Frances Brody was the daughter of Albert D. Lasker, the founder of modern advertising. Her step-mother was the grande-dame and philanthropist, Mary Lasker, whose New York drawing room was famed for its superb collection of Matisse paintings.
The first and only time this painting was exhibited in the United States was in a 1961 show, entitled Bonne Fête Monsieur Picasso in the UCLA Art Galleries, Los Angeles, to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of his birth. Ironically, this painting which celebrates the feminine submissiveness was executed on International Woman's Day; this would have delighted Picasso.
Signed and dated 'Picasso XXXII.' (upper right)
Pablo Picasso , 20th Century, Paintings, oil, Spain, Modern, nude
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Picasso, June-July 1932, p. 70, no. 223 (titled Nu à la draperie bleue).
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Picasso, September-November 1932, p. 16, no. 217 (titled Akt vor blauem Vorhang).
Paris, Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Exposition d'oeuvres récentes de Picasso, March 1936.
Los Angeles, UCLA Galleries, "Bonne Fête" Monsieur Picasso from Southern California Collectors, October-November 1961, p. 25 (illustrated).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
63¾ x 51¼ in. (162 x 130 cm.)
J. Cassou, Picasso, Paris, 1954 (illustrated in color on the frontispiece).
F. Elgar, Picasso, A Study of His Work, New York, 1956, p. 156 (illustrated; titled Nude with Modeller's Turntable).
J. Berger, The Success and Failure of Picasso, New York, 1965, p. 158, fig.90 (illustrated in reverse; dated 1933).
R. Penrose, Picasso, His Life and Work, Los Angeles, 1981, p. 264, no. 2 (illustrated).
M.C. FitzGerald, Making Modernism, Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth Century Art, New York, 1995, p. 236 (illustrated on the front cover, opposite the title page and p. 236).
M. Müller, Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter, Between Classicism and Surrealism, exh. cat., Graphikmuseum Pablo Picasso, Munster, 2004, p. 60 (illustrated).
E. Mallén, La sintaxis de la carne: Pablo Picasso y Marie-Thérèse, Santiago, 2005, p. 283.
J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 468 (illustrated, pp. 456 and 483).
M.C. FitzGerald and E. Cowling, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse, exh. cat., Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York, 2008, pp. 21 and 38 (illustrated, p. 21, fig. 7).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors and Sculpture: Surrealism 1930-1936, San Francisco, 2009, p. 97, no. 32-027 (illustrated).
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the artist, circa 1936).
Acquired from the above by Mr. and Mrs. Sidney F. Brody, 2 January 1951.