Paysage is an exciting early landscape dating from the period leading up to the foundation of Cubism, arguably the most influential artistic movement of the 20th Century. The hints at geometry in this scene show Picasso breaking down the landscape's forms, reducing them to a bare and expressive minimum. This is precisely the type of background that would appear in many of Picasso's figure compositions of the period, such as Trois femmes (Coll. Hermitage, St. Petersburg).
The almost faceted appearance with which Picasso has rendered Paysage conveys a sense of three-dimensionality, and in this he appears to pay homage to Paul Cézanne, taking the earlier experiments of the "Master" of Aix to a new, extreme limit. The works of Cézanne, so little known during his lifetime, were displayed in a posthumous exhibition in 1907 that provided an epiphany for many of the artists of the day. His notions of space and form were a revelation to the young firebrands of the Parisian avant garde. Picasso's interest in this was largely instinctive, as it served to corroborate some of his own notions about the simplification of form derived from his investigations of "primitive" art, whereas Georges Braque was more cerebrally stimulated by the ideas behind Cézanne. Indeed, it was possibly during the period that Paysage was executed that Braque, inspired by seeing Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 18; Coll. Museum of Modern Art, New York) in the studio in 1907, was paring down Cézanne's landscape concepts to create the first proto-Cubist landscapes in L'Estaque.
Paysage, if executed in 1908, may have been executed at La Rue-des-Bois, north of Paris, where Picasso had escaped the heat of the city in August with his then lover, Fernande Olivier. Alternatively, it may have been an imaginary landscape created in Paris, possibly the previous year and reflecting Picasso's thirst for experimentation on the invention of scenery to suit his pictorial needs. Regardless of whether it dates from 1907 or 1908, Paysage shows Picasso firmly set on the path towards true Cubism that would come to dominate his work when he met Braque again after the latter's time in L'Estaque. Here, the landscape has a deliberately geometric appearance that clearly prefigures the near-Cubist landscapes that Picasso created in Horta de Ebro in 1909. However, the jutting forms appear more expressionistic in Paysage, conveying a sense of shifting movement and mood. These shard-like landscape forms appear to reflect anxiety, possibly reflecting some uncertainty at the exciting new direction that his art was taking during this period at the very dawn of modern art.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Paysage, 1908. See Christie's, New York, Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, 6 November 2007, lot 48.