This work will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of sculptures being prepared under the direction of Diana Widmaier Picasso.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The sculpture offered here shares its title with one of Picasso's best-known works in bronze, the one that is probably most beloved and universally admired of all his sculptures, the Homme au mouton, a seven-foot figure of a man holding a sheep, which he modeled in 1943, during the darkest period of the wartime Occupation of Paris (Spies, no. 280; fig. 1). Beyond a common title and an ostensibly similar subject, however, the present Homme au mouton, created nearly two decades later in 1961, is a different sculpture in almost every other respect, from Picasso's new conception of the man's relationship to the creature he is carrying, to the remarkably novel method he devised and employed to execute this idea.
Picasso had created the earlier man with a sheep by conventional sculptural means, using his hands to give form to the wet plaster as he applied it to a metal armature, and he subsequently had the finished sculpture cast in an edition of three bronzes. By contrast, he produced the present work by cutting and folding a paper maquette, which he then gave to professional metal-workers, who translated his design into bent, folded and joined sheets of metal, resulting in a unique sculpture. In this way Picasso achieved yet another brilliant and ground-breaking transformation of technique and materials, manipulating paper and metal in their simple everyday usage and turning them into new kind of art in three dimensions.
When the wartime Homme au mouton was first exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in October 1944, shortly after the liberation of Paris, it appeared to call for a return to compassion and the nurturing spirit of humanism, and for many viewers this sculpture served as a powerful symbol of optimism and hope for the post-war future. In October 1950 a bronze cast of Homme au mouton was unveiled in the central square of Vallauris, during a ceremony in which Picasso was made an honorary citizen of the town. As Werner Spies has noted, "the theme would seem to allude not least of all to the motif of the Good Shepherd, yet we must be careful with this simple interpretation" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2000, p. 236). Picasso derived his subject from the kriophoros ("ram-bearer") cult figures of Greek antiquity; the best-known example of this type is the moschophoros ("calf-bearer") from around 560 BCE, found on the Athenian Acropolis in 1864 (fig. 2). Picasso altered the traditional configuration of this subject; as Spies has observed, "the shepherd carries the animal in front of his body; indeed, viewed in profile, it almost looks as if he were pregnant with the animal" (ibid.). By appearing to cradle the animal in his arms, the man gives the impression that his intentions are benign, and that he will protect and nurture the helpless creature in his care.
Picasso, however, was perhaps being deliberately ambiguous, and he does not outwardly reveal the true nature of the man's purpose, and the act that is about to unfold. As in the classical convention of this subject, the man in his sculpture is actually delivering up the animal for ritual sacrifice. In an especially powerful study that Picasso drew on 26 March 1943, the sheep lies struggling helplessly, its legs bound, on a table-top--the butcher's block, the altar on which it is about to be slaughtered (Zervos, vol. 12, no.299; Musée Picasso, Paris). In a poem dated 10 January 1936, Picasso wrote: "fear... passes its knife through the open neck of the lamb opening its eye wide and leaving its gaze nailed to the point of the blade..." (J. Rothenberg and P. Joris, trans., Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and other Poems, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2004, p. 78). The context of Picasso's 1943 Homme au mouton is the Second World War and the ordeal of the Occupation, when it seemed to Picasso that a blood sacrifice was being enacted on a horrendous scale, involving countless innocent victims, but it was only through this cruel and fateful process that humanity could finally rid itself of the pestilence that had descended upon it.
Picasso's Homme au mouton of 1961, on the other hand, gives every sign that it tells a very different story. Picasso's representation here conforms far more closely than its predecessor to the canonical appearance of the kriophoros, and, indeed, it actually possesses features that are direct counterparts to elements seen in the moschophoros in the Acropolis Museum--the eye openings, for instance, and the vertical relief lines that mark the opening of the man's close-fitting gown, which may have given Picasso the idea of drawing the more precise figure of the man within the planar facets of his sculpture. Despite his similarities to the moscophoros, this man is perhaps more akin to the ideal of the Good Shepherd, seen here as he attends to his flock with staff in hand, perhaps in this instance carrying an injured animal to a place of safety. The image of the Good Shepherd is an early Christian transformation of pagan symbolism related to ritual animal sacrifice, in which the kriophoros subsequently became equated with Christ as savior, and by extension with the Christian church. Picasso, who customarily found his avatars in antique Mediterranean lore, had little use for religious imagery, and instead he has gone straight back to the ancient Greeks to make his point, then at the height of the Cold War, that men of good intentions must step forward and act if they truly wished to uphold the life-affirming values of the civilization in which they lived.
Whereas the shepherd in the 1943 Homme au mouton must take a life to restore the world to some semblance of balance and order, the shepherd in the 1961 sculpture is preserving a life to demonstrate that this order exists and will be sustained. Picasso surely identified himself with the figure of the shepherd in both versions of Homme au mouton. Albert Elsen believed that the 1943 sculpture "permitted Picasso to covertly express two simultaneous and contradictory tendencies in his own being: the needs to love and to destroy" ("Picasso's Man with a Sheep," Art International, Lugano, vol. XXI, no. 2, March-April 1977, p. 14). Now, nearly twenty years further on, the sheep, as the object of his care, has come to represent the veritable "flock" of the artist's expanding interests, the many personal and communal relationships into which he propelled himself following the end of the war--including his involvement in left-wing and pacifist causes, and his collaboration with the artisans of the Madoura pottery works, a surprising development from this fiercely independent artist, who had previously avoided entangling affiliations of most kinds. Françoise Gilot had given him two more children, Claude and Paloma, and while her departure in 1953 had caused him deep pain, he was now involved in a rewarding and permanent relationship with Jacqueline Roque, whom he had met at the Madoura pottery works. In 1961, the year in which he created the present Homme au mouton, Picasso and Jacqueline were married. Now returning to the subject of the man with a sheep, Picasso appears to have mitigated the dire subtext he had imparted to the earlier sculpture, and taking a less extreme view of the world, he discovered in the later, wise and caring shepherd the more suitably harmonious and beneficent persona which now seemed right in projecting his current state of well-being.
If the 1961 Homme au mouton is in every way a more clearly joyous and affirmative sculpture than the darkly tragic wartime version, this significant shift in Picasso's conception and his ease in expressing it is in good part the product of the ingenious new process by which he chose to create this sculpture, and many others of this kind. The idea of using sheet metal was not new to him. In 1914 he turned the cardboard and string guitar he had made two years earlier into a version made of wire and sheet metal, by collecting the tin, cutting, bending and joining the metal forms with his own two hands. His practice of cutting and folding paper went even further back than that. Picasso remembered that as a child of seven he was fond of borrowing his Aunt Eloisa's scissors and cutting out little dolls, animals and flowers from paper to amuse his sister Lola and their cousins Concha and Maria. In later years he continued to delight in making paper dolls for his own children. In the late 1940s and 1950s Picasso was a frequent visitor to Henri Matisse's studio, where he became fascinated with his friend's painted paper cut-outs. In 1954, the year of Matisse's death, Picasso made cut-outs from photographic paper in collaboration with André Villiers. Picasso once remarked that on Matisse's death he inherited his friend's odalisques; he might have claimed to have received Matisse's cut-outs as a parting legacy as well. Picasso was now poised to take the cut-out to a place Matisse had not, into the third dimension, as he now had in mind to create a new kind of planar sculptures, which were neither modeled nor fabricated from the assemblage of found objects, hitherto his accustomed ways of working in three dimensions.
Picasso commenced his first group of sheet-metal sculptures later in 1954 with a sequence of heads titled Sylvette (Spies, nos. 488-491). At his villa 'La Galloise' in Vallauris he had been painting and drawing Sylvette David, a young woman he had met, whose fiancé, Tobias Jellinek, was a designer with skills in metal-working. Picasso made paper models which Jellinek then turned into sheet metal sculptures at the local workshop of Joseph Marius Triola, who provided guidance and assistance. Picasso then embellished the metal sculptures with drawing and color. In 1957 the artist created a second group of heads (Spies, nos. 494-496), which were set on raised cylindrical shafts that lend them a totemic presence.
A hiatus lasting several years ensued. Then In 1960 Picasso became friendly with Lionel Prejger, a young man with an interest in the arts, who ran a demolition business and had a scrap-metal yard in Cannes La Bocca, where Picasso liked to pick up objects for his assemblage work. Prejger also had just purchased another business in Vallauris, Société Tritub, which manufactured metal tubing. The previous owner was Triola, whom Pregjer now employed as his new foreman. They manufactured a toy horse for Picasso's grandson Bernard, and then Picasso and Prejger agreed to collaborate on a series of bent and folded metal sculptures. Between 1960 and September 1961, when Prejger moved to Paris, Picasso produced about 120 such works, including Homme au mouton, which were executed by Triola and his workmen under Prejger's supervision. "Picasso returned at this point to decoupages and foldings of sheet metal, working at almost demented speed," Pierre Daix has written. "Production of his femmes de fer (iron women) as he called them, not without pride, proceeded with monumental stylizations of unprecedented boldness" (Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 344).
Prejger has recounted that Picasso told him "I am fulfilling an ambition I have had for a long time, to give permanent shape to all these bits of paper that were lying around" (quoted in M. McCully, A Picasso Anthology, Princeton, 1981, p. 259). Prejger visited Picasso almost daily, sometimes twice a day, to pick up the paper cut-outs that were to serve as models for his workmen. "Picasso seldom makes a drawing, but simply takes the paper in one hand and the scissors in the other, and begins to cut... Then the most important task, the folding begins: the folding is what produces the play of light in the finished sculpture" (ibid., p. 261). Prejger then returned to his workshop with the paper model, from which his assistants produced an accurate copy in sheet metal in the desired thickness, depending on the size of the sculpture. "There was always something ready," Prejger recalled. "We worked really fast... Monsieur Triola and a couple of workmen would make the sculpture in metal and the next day I'd take it to Picasso and return his maquette to him" (quoted in E. Cowling, Picasso: Sculptor/Painter, exh, cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 242). Prejger has stated how "Picasso will not accept any imperfection in the work, and it makes him furious at times that he cannot himself work at the forge or with a cutting torch" (M. McCully, ed., op. cit., p. 261). Because the metal sculptures could not be corrected, Prejger was forced to throw away any piece that Picasso rejected and then start over. Following Picasso's instructions, Prejger's craftsmen painted the approved metal sculptures white, brown (as in the present Homme au mouton), or left them unfinished. Once they were back in his studio Picasso painted some the sculptures, a few quite extensively (see lot 27, fig. 1) or, as in the case of Homme au mouton, drew with a grease pencil on their planar surfaces.
Some of the Picasso's sheet metal sculptures were made from relatively simply folded maquettes (Spies, no. 593.2a; fig. 3), while others, especially the dual figure subjects, appear quite complicated (Spies, nos. 598 and 599; figs. 4 and 5). Picasso seems to have relished the challenge these more elaborate works posed to his cutting and folding skills, and he probably enjoyed testing the metalworking capabilities of Triola and his workmen. Amazingly, the paper maquette for the present Homme au mouton appears to have consisted of only two sheets of paper, which Picasso cut, folded in the most intricate manner, and then pinned together. And thus it was in the production of the metal version as well, to which Triola added a third sheet of metal as a base, and a thin bent rod as the shepherd's staff. Picasso drew on the finished metal sculpture both front and back, describing the shepherd's figure in more detail than the metal planes alone would have allowed, also adding drawing meant to suggest the ram's fleece, and even meadow grass on the base. The subject of the man with a sheep clearly engaged Picasso at this time, as there is a second unique version with a smaller animal which was also executed in metal (Spies, no. 203; fig. 6).
Roland Penrose has noted that in Picasso's folded metal sculptures "The result combines the two-dimensional significance of drawing, the three dimensional planes of the bent sheets, and the transparent space between the flat surfaces... With a delightful economy of means the simple sweeping curves of their outlines and the subtle play of light and shade on their surfaces combine to give them a sense of both movement and solidity... Whether they are birds, animals or human figures they all possess the tensions and movement existing in life" (in The Sculpture of Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, p. 32).
"These sheet metal sculptures are among the most magnificent in Picasso's late oeuvre," Werner Spies has written. "The sharp contouring, cutting space like a knife, creates rich silhouettes. The relief effect produced by the superimposition of planes and their cast shadows goes back to the explorations of Synthetic Cubism; the numerous designs for sculpture that had previously remained on paper now became usable" (in op. cit., 2000, p. 296). In 1962 Picasso created a series of heads based on Jacqueline's profile (Spies, nos. 629-636; no. 629.2; sold, Christie's, New York, 15 May 1990, lot 74). These are the last works in sheet metal that Picasso produced, and in fact, apart from some enlargements of earlier works, they are the last of any kind of sculpture that Picasso produced during his final years.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Homme au mouton, 1943.
(fig. 2) The moschophoros, ca 560 BCE. The Acropolis Museum, Athens.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Femme au bras levé, 1961. Sold, Christie's, New York, 7 May 2008, lot 433.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Femme au plateau et à la sebille, 1961. Private collection.
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Femme à l'enfant, 1961. Private collection.
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Homme au mouton, 1961. Private collection.