It was only natural that Picasso should periodically set aside the many diverse subjects that preoccupied him, to focus on the very idea and activity of his vocation. This effort should result in something more than a self-portrait, as insightful and telling as that picture might be--in any case, while Picasso periodically drew portraits of himself on paper, he painted no conventional self-portraits on canvas after 1907. To be truthful to his life as a painter, the context of self-referential expression must be complete, and reveal the artist in his relationship to his subject--be it a living model or anything else--in the actual setting of his workplace: the studio. A certain leeway with the facts would not be out of order, and might actually serve to educe a more profound and revealing set of truths. Picasso liked to play with his vigorous imagination; he was a master at invention. And it was in this way that Picasso examined himself as an artist--in his life as an artist who is all artists, the universal artist, the human being as creator. The knowledge that Picasso gleaned, of both human strengths and foibles, is the value and significance of the studio theme in his work.
"The theme of the artist and his model, or of art in practice, is a corollary of the studio theme," Marie-Laure Bernadac has written. "It runs like a thread through his whole career, mostly concealed but sometimes quite explicit" (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p.74). Picasso's studio scenes sometimes reveal more than even the artist may have known at the time: the initial presentiment of Picasso's neo-classical style is discernible in an artist and model painting he did in Avignon during the summer of 1914, at the height of his synthetic cubist period (fig. 1). More than a decade later, after his classical phase had drawn to a close, and while the Surrealists were trying to recruit him to their cause, Picasso became engrossed in the story of the self-destructive perfectionist painter Frenhofer in Balzac's Le chef-d'oeuvre inconnu ("The Unknown Masterpiece"). This interest provided inspiration for another important artist and model picture (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 30; fig. 2) which again reveals Picasso leaning toward the beck and call of a new kind of pictorialism.
From these two examples alone one might surmise that Picasso's treatment of the studio theme might be regarded as a signal that he was reflecting on especially significant matters, taking stock of his current situation, and perhaps considering a new tack in his work. A studio picture might then suggest that a transition of some kind was in the offing, or actually herald the fact that one was already underway. The artist and model scenes among the 180 Verve drawings executed during the winter of 1953-1954 forecast the studio paintings of a decade later. And when Picasso finally devoted himself in 1963-1965 to the artist-model-studio theme in an extended sequence of oil paintings, this proved to be an enterprise on a truly large, emphatic and unprecedented scale. This subject had indeed finally come to constitute "a genre in itself," as Michel Leiris has characterized it (Au Verso des images, Montpellier, 1980, p. 50). During this period Picasso painted nearly 150 canvases which depict an artist at work with or without his model, and many more which show the artist's model--almost always nude--alone in the picture, as the object of the unseen painter's gaze. These studio pictures marked Picasso's passage into his late period.
The outpouring of artist and model pictures followed on the completion of a series of paintings and drawings that Picasso based on Poussin's L'Enlèvement des sabines, which he created during the months of late October and November 1962. These works came at the conclusion of a decade-long period during which Picasso sought inspiration in the iconography of earlier masters, chief among them Eugène Delacroix, Diego Velázquez, Edouard Manet and lastly Nicolas Poussin. After spending just over a month on these calamitous scenes out of classical antiquity, filled with women in distress, rapacious warriors and rampaging horses, Picasso declared that he was nearly spent, that they had almost done him in. Such overtly violent subjects never again appeared in his art. He then turned away from such sustained and emulative allusions to masters past, and sought instead to renew himself and revitalize his art by taking on a new, but not unfamiliar, theme in his painting. This subject was as fundamental and immediately relevant to the daily travail of painter as he could conceive: the direct and living relationship between the artist and his model. Hélène Parmelin, the wife of the painter Edouard Pignon, was a close friend of Picasso and a frequent visitor to his studio. She recorded this momentous change:
"And now he says he is turning his back on everything. He says he is embarking upon an incredible adventure. He says that everything is changed; it is over and done with; painting is completely different from what one had thought--perhaps it is even the opposite. It is a time that he declares himself ready to kill modern 'art--and hence art itself--in order to rediscover painting... One must, says Picasso, look for something that develops all by itself, something natural and not manufactured. 'Let it unfold in the form of the natural and not in the form of art... The grass as grass, the tree as tree, the nude as nude...' In the month of February, 1963, Picasso lets loose. He paints the Artist and His Model. And from this moment on he paints like a madman, perhaps never before with such frenzy" (Picasso: The Artist and His Model, New York, 1965, pp. 9-10).
The bridge between the final Manet déjeuneurs, the Poussin Sabines and warriors, and the new artist and model pictures was a series of portraits that Picasso painted of Jacqueline, the artist's companion since 1954, whom he married in 1961. Painted in late 1962 and early 1963 (Z., vol. 23, nos. 72-94 and 110-117), these pictures suggest the excitement of rediscovery, and, indeed, the sheer delectation, that Picasso took in looking at and depicting in paint a live, flesh and blood model, who was the very woman whom he loved. The next step in this process was the insertion of the artist into the picture, in the form of various characters who would serve as a surrogate for Picasso himself. Picasso accomplished this in a series of drawings done between 10 and 21 February 1963 (Z., vol. 23, nos. 125-150). His first oil painting on this new theme was Le peintre, done on 22 February (Z., vol. 23, no. 151; fig. 3). Here the painter is actually taking Art itself as his model and subject. He is seen rendering a bust set on a stool, an image which embodies the notion of tradition and recalls an artist's typical classical education--Picasso had drawn from plaster casts as a youthful student in Corunna nearly seven decades earlier. Picasso has declared in this painting, by way of prologue, that he is preparing for the grand endeavor to come.
A reclining nude then replaced the bust as the artist's subject in an important sequence of four paintings done on 2 March 1963 (Z., vol. 23, nos. 154-157; the latter, fig. 4). In this very first session, Picasso established the paradigm for the entire series to come. An elaborate rendering of the artist and model as the young Rembrandt and his Saskia painted during 13-14 March 1963 is perhaps the most remarkable of the early artist and model pictures (Z., vol. 23, no. 171; fig. 5). It presages the appearance of the peintre-cavalier in the studio pictures. This series would eventually comprise numerous variants on the artist and model theme. In many versions the artist is seen with his easel in front of him as he gazes at his model, in others the artist stands alone and lost in thought at the edge of his unpainted canvas, or in many more, with the painter absent, the nude body of the model alone fills the expanse of canvas. In a few examples Picasso humorously turned the tables on himself and placed the model at the easel, brush in hand. Throughout the series of artist and model paintings, Picasso, in the shape of his surrogate, is both observer and creator, the passive voyeur and the active agent in the scene, or if he is not actually in the picture, we sense his presence standing just outside of it and looking in. The model represents no less than the larger totality of the world itself.
Coming at this juncture, the artist and model paintings, or more generally the studio theme, stated Picasso's reaffirmation of his attachment to the external world and the presence of the "subject" in his painting, at a time when many artists talked of doing away with both. The artist's intent, however, went beyond any art historical or theoretical ploy; nor were the artist and model paintings were not meant to serve solely as a commentary on his craft. As one might expect from Picasso, there is a pronounced sexual component in the artist and model pictures, just as there had been in the earlier images of the Sabine women and their pursuers, or countless Picassos before them. Violent lust and rapine in the Poussin pictures gave way in the studio pictures to a more polite game of desire and seduction, coyness and consent, which lends this subject its appealing air of sporty and often humorous eroticism--this is a very civil and good-natured contest of the sexes. The outcome is inevitable, as Bernadac has observed: "The more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model, canceling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship. Painting is an act of love, according to Gert Schiff, and John Richardson speaks of 'sex as metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex'"(op. cit., p. 77).
The artist and model paintings of this period burst forth in large waves, from February to May, 1963, and in January, October, November and December 1964, and in March 1965. Coincidence or not, their production subsided during the warmer months of spring and summer. It appears that Picasso most strongly felt the need to indulge in this indoor comedy of artistic manners, with its delectable erotic give-and-take, when the days were short and the Midi weather was at its chilliest.
The present Le peintre et son modèle is one of a series of mostly large canvases done in November 1964. Executed in both vertical and horizontal formats (Z., vol. 24, no. 269; fig. 6) , these pictures are distinctive in their light, pastel tonalities, most often based upon a relatively gentle contrast between pale greens in the background, and pink or lavender hues for the nude model. Picasso usually rendered the artist in accents of light blue or gray, letting the unpainted white priming of the canvas speak for the rest of his figure, while resorting to black to define the most salient contours and add the drama of a more forceful presence when required. Picasso often painted by electrical light late into the night; the artists' studios in his pictures, however, are rarely tenebrous chambers which foment dark moods and unsettling thoughts. Picasso instead liked to wash his painted studios with the bright daylight of the Mediterranean; the figures and objects that we observe in the pink and green series are like retinal afterimages in pale, luminescent tints, traces of a human presence that has already become a fleeting mirage, a visual memory.
"The late style, which first emerged in the course of 1964, is characterized by the juxtaposition of two ways of painting: one elliptical and stenographic [as seen in the present painting], made up of ideograms, codified signs which can be inventoried; and the other thick and flowing, a hastily applied matière of runny, impastoed, roughly brushed paint [see lot 43]. [In] the ideographic style... the artist's face is suggested by a sort of X which links the eyes, the nose and the mouth, and the model is reduced to her basic contours: [as Picasso declared,] 'A dot for the breast, a line for the artist, five spots of paint for the foot, a few pink and green lines--that's enough, isn't it? What more need I do? What can I add to that? It's all been said.' This schematic approach, these foreshortenings, correspond to the desire to paint and draw at the same time: 'What has to happen, when you finally look at it, is that drawing and color are the same thing.' There is also the impulse to simplify: 'At the moment, in my paintings, I am doing less and less.' Less and less paint, too: hence the thin, light application of colour and the importance attached to the white of the canvas. For Picasso, to paint is to say. 'Things have got to be named... I want to say the nude; I don't just want to make a nude like a nude; I just want to say breast, to say foot, to say hand, belly--find a away to say it and that's enough'" (ibid., p. 85).
The artist and model paintings set the stage for the final act in Picasso's art. Having read Dumas's The Three Musketeers in 1965 while convalescing from surgery, Picasso transformed the baroque peintre-cavalier--his favorite surrogate among the artist characters in the studio paintings--into a mousquetaire, Picasso's signature late subject. The studio paintings were in fact the seminal works of Picasso's late period; from them Picasso spun off countless narratives, while further invoking the spirits of old masters whom he admired, including Rembrandt, Ingres, Degas and Van Gogh. The pictorial DNA in these pictures--from the union, as it were, of the artist and his model--can be detected in almost everything else he painted during his final decade, and may be traced throughout his numerous prints and copious drawings as well. Picasso could not have chosen for his grand sign-off a more illuminating theme, a more compelling allegory for all art and life, a greater all-encompassing reality, than he did in the artists and model paintings, in which, after all, there are just two people, a man and woman, gazing at one another.
(fig. A) Picasso standing in his viewing room, Notre-Dame-de-Vie, 1963, with various artist and model paintings. Photograph by John Quinn.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Avignon, summer 1914. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Paris, 1926. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Le Peintre, Mougins, 22 February 1963. Photographed in the artist's studio. Private collection.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Mougins, 2 March 1963 (IV). Sold, Christie's New York, 9 May 2007, lot 72.
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt et Saskia, Mougins, 13-14 March 1963. Private collection.
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Mougins, 11/15 November 1962 (II). Private collection.