Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Nu couché endormi is one of a group of works on paper that Pablo Picasso created on 28 February 1954, each exploring variations on the same theme and thereby showing the artist's incredible propensity for innovation and imagination. This is a tender image of sleep, an invitation into a world of the senses, as well as a study of the nude, perhaps an appropriate subject as it was during this period that Picasso was more and more involved with Jacqueline Roque, whom he would later marry. Perhaps Nu couché endormi, then, provides an intimate insight into Picasso's own emotional state at the end of his relationship with Françoise Gilot and the beginning of his great, final, lasting romance.
Of the works from this series, Nu couché endormi appears, despite being 'V' of the seven numbered pictures, to be the most finished, not least in the inclusion of the seemingly tiled background and the floor. There is a textural depth to this work that is absent in the others, heightened by the shading and rough hatching and also by the deliberate smudging of the lines especially around the face and body of the woman. Those areas of smudging, as well as the largely linear manner that Picasso has adopted for these works depicting the form of the lying woman, recall the works of his contemporary, friend and occasional rival, Henri Matisse. Indeed, the composition, especially in this work with the background, clearly recalls Matisse's own celebrated 1935 painting Nu rose, now in the Baltimore Museum of Art; however, Picasso has managed to infuse Nu couché endormi with a rawer, edgier sensuality than that present in Matisse's pictures, an atmosphere that is much more in tune with his own works.
The rivalry between the two artists had sprung up as early as 1910; it was in 1918 that their works were first exhibited alongside each other, by Paul Guillaume. The pair seemed to have little contact with each other for some time after that, but Picasso's esteem for Matisse was clear when he helped to hide the French artist's 'degenerate' pictures from the occupying forces during the Second World War, concealing them in his own bank vault. Gradually, over the coming years, a companionable friendship sprung up between the pair, and Picasso would often visit Matisse.
Taking into consideration this friendship, is Picasso doffing his cap or trying to better his fellow artist? As was often the case in the decades-old rivalry that had existed between the two, it is unclear. However, Picasso's estimation for Matisse, who died only a matter of months after Nu couché endormi was created, is clear. 'All things considered, there is only Matisse,' said Picasso (Picasso, quoted in J. Golding, 'Introduction', pp. 13-24, Cowling et al. (ed.), Matisse Picasso, exh. cat., London, 2002, p. 24). He was especially full of praise for Matisse's draughtsmanship, as is evident from Françoise Gilot's recollections of a conversation with Picasso: 'When Matisse draws a line on a piece of white paper, he draws so perceptively, it doesn't remain just that; it becomes something more. There's always a kind of metamorphosis of each part that creates the whole' (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, p. 283).