By the end of the 1940s Picasso had become deeply engrossed in domestic family life. He and Françoise Gilot, a young painter whom the artist met in 1943, began to live together in April 1946. Later that year they moved from Paris to the Midi, settling first in Golfe-Juan, and in 1948 they bought the villa 'La Galloise', situated in the hills overlooking Vallauris. Their son Claude was born in May 1947, and their daughter Paloma arrived less than two years later.
The emotions that shaped Picasso's attachment to his new family also found expression in a growing sense of a communal spirit, a surprising development from this fiercely independent and egotistical artist who had previously avoided affiliations of most kinds. He was now creating pottery in collaboration with the master ceramicists at the Madoura pottery works. "In this fertile and friendly atmosphere Picasso inevitably resembled the chief of a tribe - a tribe which had as its nucleus the family of 'La Galloise' and extended to the community of craftsmen at the potteries. The tribe also embraced many local tradespeople and artisans, the barber, the carpenter, the baker, and the fishermen from Golfe-Juan joined the throng, all sharing admiration and affection for the little man with black eyes and white hair who had come to live among them and to whom the new celebrity of their town was due (R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 371).
This new network of relationships is prefigured in the sculpture Homme au mouton (fig. 1), which Picasso modeled in wartime Paris in 1944. When it was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne the following October, shortly after the liberation of the city, it appeared to embody a return to compassion and a nurturing spirit of humanism, and it served as a powerful symbol of optimism and hope for the future. This was the first annual Salon in which Picasso ever elected to participate. On the day before it opened, Picasso announced that he had joined the French Communist Party, a move that pleased some of his admirers but infuriated many others. He viewed his entry into politics as "the logical conclusion of my whole life, my whole work. I have always been an exile, now I no longer am; I am once more among my brothers" (quoted in W. Rubin, ed., Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, exh. cat. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1980, p. 353). In October 1950 a local Communist party official presided over the ceremonies in which a bronze cast of Homme au mouton was unveiled in the town square of Vallauris. Picasso was made an honorary citizen of the town. In the same month Picasso attended the Second World Peace Conference in England, for which he provided a celebrated poster showing a flying dove, and later received the Lenin Peace Prize.
Picasso surely identified himself with the figure of the caring shepherd in Homme et mouton. The sheep, as the object of his care, is not unlike the veritable "flock" of the artist's expanding interests and relationships into which he propelled himself following the lean and cooped up years of working in occupied Paris. On the heels of the Liberation a new love, Françoise, entered his life, and this sea-change encouraged Picasso to tap into a deep and newly revealed reservoir of feelings, affinities and affections. The example set by Homme et mouton may be seen in many of Picasso's most memorable post-war sculptures, many of which take the world of his family as his subjects. In 1950 he modelled Femme enceinte (Spies, no. 350), showing Françoise as she had recently been pregnant with Paloma. Later in the year he created Chèvre (fig. 2), whose prominent teats proclaim the theme of nurturing. Femme à la pousette (Spies, no. 407) shows Françoise wheeling a toddler in a carriage, and in 1951, in the present work he further explored the theme of "parent and child".
All of these sculptures utilize the technique of assemblage, and are composed of diverse found elements combined with plaster. Picasso would gather objects from in the fields around 'La Galloise', things he came across during walks in Vallauris, and he had at the ready a supply of pots and shards from the Madoura pottery works. The idea of using assemblage was not a new one for Picasso. In 1914, contemporary with his papier collés and paper and metal constructions, he attached a silver-plated straining spoon and simulated lump of sugar to his wax model of Le verre d'absinthe. He repeated the process for each of six painted bronze casts (fig. 3) that he made for his dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. "I was interested in the relationship of the real spoon to the modeled glass - in their mutual impact" (quoted in E. Cowling and J. Golding, exh. cat., op.cit., 1994, p. 24).
The art of assemblage is ideally suited to creating multiple meanings, from simple visual puns to complex parallel realities, in which art and the real world are juxtaposed and transformed. The interpolation of real or found elements in a conventional pictorial or sculptural context will usually have the effect of upsetting the viewer's pre-conceptions, and will initiate an intellectual exercise in which the mind playfully explores the unforeseen and inventive possibilities of visual metaphor. In 1942 Picasso fashioned Tête de taureau (fig. 4) from the seat and handlebars of a bicycle. Chèvre was built up from parts of ceramic pottery, a wicker basket, a palm leaf and bits of metal, in addition to plaster. Indeed, Picasso's renewed interest in assemblage at this point in his career appears to develop hand in hand with the more extrovert, inclusive and communal nature of his art following the privations of the war years.
This series of works culminates in Guenon et son petit, the present work, executed in Vallauris during the summer of 1951. It is one of "the last of Picasso's sculptures in which free modeling and excerpts from reality combine to form such impressive syntheses. They bring Picasso's assemblage technique to its supreme consummation" (W. Spies, op. cit., p. 170). Its complex combination of elements is no less witty or inventive than Tête de taureau, but goes beyond simple visual punning and reveals deeper emotional resources. Françoise Gilot described the making of the sculpture:
For Claude, toys were not something to play with, but something to break. Whenever a new toy came into the house, he would take a hammer and go to work on it. In 1951 Kahnweiler brought two small automobile models to him and they were miraculously still unbroken when Pablo decided they would be useful to him. Claude wasn't very happy about it, because they hadn't served their purpose as far as he was concerned. Pablo took them anyway, and put them together, one right-side up, the other upside down, attached to the first. That made the head of the sculpture Monkey with Young (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 319).
A model of a Panhard auto became the top of the ape's head with the windshield framing its eyes. The hood of the car became the baboon's nose, and the grillwork formed the upper part of the animal's mouth. Picasso placed the second model car, a Renault, upside down, and in reverse, so that its trunk and rear fender became the baboon's lower jaw. The torso of the ape was composed from a large pottery jar, which he incised with a knife to outline the breast and nipple. The animal's ears were made from the handles of pitchers Picasso found in a scrap heap near his studio. The shoulders were fashioned from handles detached from a large bowl, known locally as a pignate and in common use in Vallauris. The legs were fabricated from pieces of wood, and the ape's tail was made from a discarded strip of automobile spring.
It seems entirely appropriate that a child's toys should become part of a sculpture about the relationship between a parent and child. However, another more adult association may also have been on Picasso's mind. Around this time Picasso's relationship with Françoise had begun to falter, and he had occasional trysts with the poet Geneviève Laporte. In 1950 Picasso's friend the poet Paul Eluard remarried, four years after the death of his beloved wife Nusch, who was also a close friend of Picasso. In late July 1951 Eluard, his new wife Dominique, Geneviève and Picasso travelled together to Saint-Tropez, where Eluard had an apartment. They rode in a new Panhard auto that Dominique had selected. It was not unusual for the artist to encode in his works references to the most secret aspects of his private life, especially when his love interests were shifting, and it was necessary to hide such moments from one party or the other.
The baboon in this sculpture is the most fiercely protective of all the nurturing figures done around this time, and the only one since Homme et mouton into which the artist emphatically projects himself. Picasso once referred to the baboon in this sculpture as "the ancestor" (quoted in E. Cowling and J. Golding, op. cit., p. 280). The baboon is very likely female, but regardless of its sex, Picasso appears to have closely identified with the animal. In its figure he pokes fun at his own appearance as seventy-year old man, showing off his bald pate, his prominent ears and stocky, but still powerful physique. Unmistakable, of course, is the pair of penetrating eyes with which the artist has always portrayed himself. The head of the baby, by contrast, is barely defined beyond its spherical shape and the figure generally appears far less ape-like than its parent. Indeed, it seems more like a human child. The artist has in effect thrown the evolutionary process into reverse. In Homme et mouton man in his wisdom and strength cradles a helpless animal; here a lesser species of primate protects a small, defenseless human. Picasso has located within his paternal feelings a powerful mammalian instinct, perhaps acknowledging a female element as well, and expresses an elemental force within his personality that is the ultimate source of his urge to protect, nurture and love.
Picasso's young family had induced in the aging artist a renewed sense of play that proved to be unique to their time together, and expressed itself in the appropriation and transformation of ordinary, everyday objects into the stuff of art. By the fall of 1952 Picasso's relationship with Françoise was clearly deteriorating, and a year later she ended their relationship, taking Claude and Paloma with her to Paris. With their departure Picasso's interest in children as subjects, or more simply the opportunity to use them as subjects, diminished. Similarly, while Picasso continued to model small sculptures, and later executed monumental works in steel, he no longer combined the playful art of assemblage with modeling in his sculptures with the remarkable results that he achieved in Guenon et son petit and its immediate predecessors.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Homme au mouton, 1944.
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Chèvre, 1950.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Le verre d'absinthe, 1914.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Tête de taureau, 1943.
Musée Picasso, Paris.