‘The next seven years that constitute Picasso’s so-called “Classical Period” saw the steady appearance of the typical monumental figure compositions whose sculptural features also magnified the intricacies of details; the results was that series of paintings composed of “large women,” “bathers,” and “maternity” figures inspired by classical antiquity that formed unitary elements of closed forms, isolated, rising in infinite space. Plastic conceptions, hyperbolic volumes, almost tectonic, that would undoubtedly remain the most typical of the works from Picasso’s “Antique” period... The artist’s encounter with Antiquity, with classical sculpture, and
Renaissance painting evidently had a significant effect.’
E. Prampolini, quoted in J. Clair, ed., exh. cat., Picasso: The Italian Journey 1917-1924, London, 1998, pp. 316-317.
The birth, in 1921, of Picasso's first child, Paulo, and the more settled lifestyle his wife Olga imposed on the family, were amongst the reasons why the artist abandoned Cubism in favour of a new, highly inspired creative phase, which reached its peak with the major compositions of 1922-23, such as Deux femmes courant sur la plage (1922, Musée Picasso, Paris, Zervos, vol. IV, no. 380) and Jeune homme et joueur de flûte de Pan (1923, Musée Picasso, Paris, Zervos, vol. V, no. 141). The return to the figurative dominated this era. Linear austerity and purity of volumes became paramount in the artist's new stylistic development, aligned with the Antique. Stylistically, the drawings executed between 1921 and 1924 are a tour de force of harmony and control.
In Trois baigneuses sur la plage, Picasso masterly combines the strength of the dark ink with the levity of bright lines of watercolour, among which three bathers appear to have stepped out of Greek vases and are enjoying the modern pastime of sunbathing. The use of colour is very rare in the bathers drawings from this period, which makes the present work a very striking, unusual examples of the series. On the subject of bathers, Susan Grace Galassi asserts, when writing on a pencil drawing of the same series: 'To draw bathers is to enter into a long tradition that ranges from the ancient Greek and Roman frescoes, sculptures, vases, and gems Picasso first encountered in the Louvre in his early years in Paris, to the modern responses to antiquity of such artists as Ingres, Cézanne, and Puvis de Chavannes.' [...] 'Á less evident connection with Matisse’s early work has been recently discussed by Magdalena Dabrowski, who finds similarities "in not only the figures but in the tripartite horizontal spatial organization" [...] with such works as Le bonheur de vivre of 1905-06 [Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia], Le Luxe I and II of 1907 [Centre Pompidou, Paris and Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen respectively], and Bathers with a Turtle, 1909 [St Louis Art Museum]. The presence of Matisse in Nice may have brought back to the fore Picasso’s rivalry with his contemporary over Arcadian subjects, which were at the heart of the work of each and to which each brought a fresh eye'. (S.G.G. & M. McCully, Picasso’s Drawings 1890-1921, New York, 2011, p. 261).
Trois baigneuses sur la plage was acquired in 1962 by the Spanish aunt of the present owner from Galerie Art de France in Cannes. Daughter of a German diplomat and renowned art collector, she was an international star in revue shows under the stage name 'Henrietta Dufaye', and she became, in later years, a writer and literature agent. She was a very suspicious and scrupulous lady, so after purchasing the present work she wrote to Daniel Henri Kahnweiler, asking for his confirmation of its authenticity. In response to her letter, Kahnweiler suggested her to meet the artist in person at neighbouring La Californie, which she did, as determined as she was. When the two met, Picasso approved the work as his original drawing by adding an inscription on its reverse, still visible today: 'Ce dessin est bien de moi / Picasso / Mougins le 11.1.65.'