Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Le miroir

signed bottom left 'Picasso'--dated on the stretcher '12 Mars XXXII'--oil on canvas
51¼ x 38 1/8 in. (130.2 x 96.8 cm.)

Painted on March 12, 1932
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (acquired from the artist in 1958)
The Gustav Stern Foundation, Inc., New York
Cahiers d'Art, 1932, vol. VII, nos. 3-5, p. 148 (illustrated)
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 175 (illustrated)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1952, vol. VII (oeuvres de 1926 à 1932), no. 378 (illustrated, pl. 166)
F. Elgar, Picasso: A Study of His Work, Paris, 1955, p. 215 (illustrated)
J. Camón-Aznar, Picasso y el Cubismo, Madrid, 1956, p. 501, fig. 373 (illustrated)
P. Daix, Picasso, Paris, 1964, p. 146 (illustrated in color, p. 148)
J. Berger, The Success and Failure of Picasso, London, 1965, p. 108, no. 61 (illustrated)
A. Fermigier, Répertoire de l'oeuvre, Paris, 1967, p. 193 (illustrated in color)
W. Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, pp. 140 and 141 (illustrated, p. 226)
ed. G. Golding, "Picasso and Surrealism," Picasso in Retrospect, New York, 1973, pp. 110-112 (illustrated, pl. 182)
T. Hilton, Picasso, New York, 1975, p. 220, no. 164
L. Nochlin, "Picasso's Color: Schemes and Gambits," Art in America--Special Issue on Picasso, Dec., 1980, p. 179 (illustrated in color, p. 119, fig. 18)
"Picasso, The Fantastic Period, 1931-1945," Picasso Series, vol. V, 1981, no. 17 (illustrated)
The Sciences, vol. 23, no. 5, Sept.-Oct., 1983, (illustrated on the cover)
C.P. Warncke, Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, Cologne, 1992, vol. I, p. 352 (illustrated in color)
C. Geelhaar, Picasso, Wegbereiter und Förderer seines Aufstiegs 1899-1939, Zurich, 1993, p. 193, no. 211 (illustrated)
J. Freeman, Picasso and the Weeping Women, The Years of Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, Los Angeles, 1995, p. 147, fig. 109 (illustrated in color, p. 149)
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Picasso, June-July, 1932, no. 217 Zurich, Kunsthaus, Picasso, Sept.-Oct., 1932
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso: Forty Years of His Art, Nov., 1939-Jan., 1940, p. 155, no. 245 (illustrated). The exhibition traveled to Chicago, The Art Institute, Feb.-March, 1940; St. Louis, City Art Museum, March-April, 1940; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, April-May, 1940 and San Francisco, Museum of Art, June-July, 1940.
São Paulo, Museo de Arte Moderno, Exposicão Picasso, Bienalle, Dec., 1953-Feb., 1954, p. 31, no. 26 (illustrated, pl. 26)
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Picasso, Peintures 1900-1955, June-Oct., 1955, no. 72 (illustrated)
London, Tate Gallery, Picasso, 1960, no. 127 (illustrated)
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, May-Sept., 1980, p. 293 (illustrated)

Lot Essay

The images found in Picasso's art are, to a great degree, the iconography of his life experience. His relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter is no exception. The artist,

...could hardly deny the role that Surrealism played in his life.... [André] Breton's concepts of sex and love are especially relevant...concepts such as l'amour fou, mad love, that could only be found in the street, and that would have as its object the eternal femme enfant, guardian of mysteries. In line with this belief, random promenades became a spiritual exercise for the Surrealist; the way they exposed themselves to le hazard, and according to these pioneers of aleatory principles, le hazard was the only way to get what you really wanted. (exh. cat., Through the Eye of Picasso, 1928-34, William Beadleston, Inc., New York, 1985, n.p.)

It was in that manner that Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter.

Outside the Galeries Lafayette, one freezing afternoon (January 8, 1927), he was captivated by the sight of a very young, very voluptuous blond with intensely piercing blue eyes -- the quintessential femme enfant. Picasso grabbed her arm, but his opening gambit almost misfired: "Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I am Picasso." She had never heard of him; and he was obliged to take her to a nearby bookstore and show her publications in which his photograph appeared. In the course of this maneuvre he managed to charm the girl into meeting him two days later at the Métro Saint-Lazare, well away from his usual haunts. "We will do great things together," he said, and took her to a movie. Despite thirty years difference in age, she found him attractive; she liked the way he dressed... (Ibid.)

The relationship flourished for the next six years. In 1930, the artist purchased the Chateau de Boisgeloup. A haven away from his wife Olga, the chateau was also used as a studio in which Picasso created a number of large plaster sculptures depicting his new love. 1932 saw a series of large canvases of Marie-Thérèse in various poses.

...most typically she is seen in what appears to be a dreamless sleep. Her heavy, pliant limbs are rendered by
the same undulating forms that had characterized much of Picasso's work since 1925, but whereas before these had so often seemed predatory or tentacular, their rhythms now become slower, softer, more welcoming and more organic.... The Marie-Thérèse paintings on the other hand tend to be flatter, more elaborate and more lyrical in their coloring and often the backgrounds are highly patterned. Everywhere there are symbols of growth and fertility. [Robert] Rosenblum points out how in The Mirror, a work dated 12 March 1932 [the present work] and one of the most beautiful of the first Marie- Thérèse series, the forms used to render the sleeper's yellow hair resemble silky seed pods, while the same shapes repeated in the mirror, directly above, and which spill out from the supple buttocks, are rendered in green, the colour of nature's renewal... (G. Golding, op.cit., pp. 110-11).

Picasso's inclusion of a mirror in this work brings to mind the Girl Before a Mirror (fig. 1), which was painted two days after the present picture on March 14th. The two works are extremely similar, the energetically pattered wallpaper, the use of reflections, and the model's relationship to the mirror binding the paintings conceptually. As William Rubin notes, the catalyst for both The Mirror and Girl Before a Mirror seems to have been Picasso's love for Marie-Thérèse. Furthermore, he states that

...none of Picasso's earlier relationships had provoked such
sustained lyric power, such a sense of psychological awareness
and erotic completeness.... Picasso proceeds from his intense
feeling for the girl...he paints the body contemplated, loved
and self-contemplating. The vision of another's body becomes
an intensely rousing and mysterious process. (W. Rubin,
op. cit., p. 138)

But the reflection of Marie-Thérèse in Le Miroir is not an image of "self-contemplating." Instead, the mirror in the painting "...reflects shapes that might logically be the shoulder and arm of the sleeping girl, or perhaps her buttocks, but are sufficiently ambiguous to provoke less literal associations -- to the world of the organic and embryonic." (Ibid., pp. 140-41)

This inclusion of mirrored reflections may also harken back to the work of another masterpiece, specifically Ingres' Madame Moitessier (National Gallery, London). Like his 19th century predecessors, Picasso has distanced the mirrored image from the real world. He recreated Marie-Thérèse's form according to his own ideal, suggesting both the human body and objects of the vegetal world. Picasso depicts his love as an icon of sensuality. Her entire anatomy is rendered in strong curving lines. The image in the mirror equally beautiful, whether Marie-Thérèse's buttocks or another object. The glowing colors of the woman's hair, the reflected image, and patterning of the wall contrast with one another to create a brilliant harmony of tone. The picture speaks of a warm environment in which the artist's every need was fulfilled.

What makes these paintings different is the degree of their direct sexuality. They refer without any ambiguity at all to the experience of making love to this woman. They describe sensations and, above all, the sensation of sexual comfort. Even when she [Marie- Thérèse] is dressed or with her daughter...she is seen in the same way: soft as a cloud, easy, full of precise pleasures, and inexhaustible because alive and sentinent... (op. cit., exh. cat., Los Angeles, 1994, p. 147)

But this work is not merely an expression of joyful sensuality, it is also important in tracking Picasso's fascination with Surrealism. Although he only acknowledged his debt to the movement after 1933, it is clear that this work is profoundly touched by the Surrealist influence. Le Miroir is an emblem of a particularly beautiful period in both the artist's life and work as well as a sign of the direction his art was soon to take.

This painting has been requested for the exhibition Picasso and Portraiture -- Representation and Transformation, to be held at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, April-Sept., 1996.

Zurich, Kunsthaus, Picasso exhibition, 1932

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille au miroir, March 14, 1932, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Gift of Mrs. Solomon Guggenheim)