Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Femme au turban (Sara Murphy)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Femme au turban (Sara Murphy)
signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
bistre ink on paper
42 3/8 x 28¼in. (107.7 x 71.6cm.)
Executed in 1923
Ueli Gasser Kunsthandel, Zurich.
Karl von Schumacher, Schloss Mauensee Kanton Luzern and thence by descent to the present owners.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, Paris, 1952, no. 369 (illustrated, p.158).
W. Ruben, 'The Pipes of Pan: Picasso's Aborted Love Song to Sara Murphy', p.138ff in Artnews, May, 1994 (illustrated fig.5).
A. Vaill, Everybody Was So Young: Gerald and Sara Murphy, A Lost Generation Love Story, London, 1998 (illustrated).
Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Toward Surrealism 1925-1929, San Francisco, 1996, no. 25-109 (illustrated p.37).
Lausanne, Palais de Beaulieu, Exposition nationale suisse, May - October 1964.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, April - September 1996, pp.52-53 (illustrated in colour).
Paris, Grand Palais, Picasso et le portrait, October 1996 - January 1997.
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Lot Essay

Throughout his career, Picasso was inspired by women. He admired them, fell in love with them, painted them and often cast them aside. Many have become icons of art history - Olga, Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse Walter - but a close study of his huge oeuvre reveals some beautiful women who inspired him and yet whose names are forgotten today.

One such woman was Sara Murphy, the subject of the present drawing. Sara's refined features appear in countless major oils and drawings of 1923. As so often in Picasso's work, this slightly obsessive reliance on the characteristic features of one woman was a sure sign that his allegiances had changed: in this case the message was a clear one, his five year marriage with Olga Koklova was over.

In retrospect the split with Olga would have been inevitable but, as for so many of Picasso's wives and lovers, it must have been particularly galling to learn from his paintings and drawings that their relationship was over.

In this instance there is less evidence than on other occasions that Picasso was involved in a sexual relationship with his new muse. In spite of much contemporary critical speculation, in all respects Sara Murphy, the subject of Picasso's attention, was a rare breed amongst his muses: she was sophisticated and untouchable.

Well-bred, married and from an extremely wealthy Cincinnati background Sara Murphy seems to have been more of a charming soul-mate than a marriage-breaker. She had met Picasso in Paris in 1922 when she had also met Olga and their young son Paulo. She, along with her husband Gerald, belonged to the most international twenties set: a friend of Hemingway, Cole Porter and F. Scott Fitzgerald. A woman who felt comfortable in the most sophisticated company, who holidayed in the South of France and who, with her husband, were the models for Fitzgerald's Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender is the Night.

Picasso found her incredibly attractive, and when she invited the Picasso's to holiday with them in the summer Picasso could not resist. The Picasso's - Olga, Pablo, Paulo and the artist's Spanish mother - joined the Murphy's in the South of France in June of 1923. At first the friendship between the families was quite formal but with the arrival of American friends on the Côte d'Azur this all changed very rapidly. The families and their friends met daily on the beach at La Garoupe and friendship turned frequently to clowning: "Sometimes there were well-organised (if disorderly) diversions: The de Beaumonts planned a 'concours et costume de bain' one Friday noon for which the invitees added fantastical elements to their usual swimming costumes. Count Étienne had a hat like a chef's toque trimmed at each temple with Aztec tassels, and the countess had a latticework of beads on her bathing suit and over her hair. Olga wore her ballerina's tutu and toe shoes, and coiled a twisted black and white scarf around her head. Sara put on a huge white top hat with a ribboned cockade at the brim; and Picasso wore his trademark black homburg over his white shirt and trousers. Señora Ruiz retained her Andalusian widow's black, and sat on the sand looking like a Buddha. They all clowned around and posed for photographs: Picasso supporting Olga en attitude, then stripping to his bathing suit and putting on Sara's white hat, and finally joining the others for a mock Victorian group portrait in the Murphy's canoe." (A. Vaill, Everybody was so Young Gerald and Sara Murphy: A Lost Generation Love Story, London, 1998, p.124-125)

It seems that Picasso was finding Sara's charm more and more difficult to resist. His paintings and drawings not only included her, but at times were exclusively of her: tender and charming portraits of a woman he not only admired but seems to have been falling in love with. The noted Picasso scholar William Rubin went so far as to suggest that "Picasso was in love with her" and might have had a "short-lived sexual adventure" with her when the Picasso and Murphy families were staying together at La Garoupe. John Richardson, author of the definitive Picasso biography, concurs: "I would have thought that nothing was more likely - Picasso was tremendously attractive and charismatic, and very physical, and it would have been hard for her to resist."

Among the most celebrated paintings inspired by her are his Woman in White (fig. 3), previously in the Lillie P. Bliss collection and now in the Metropolitan Musem of Art, and a closely related oil simply entitled Portrait of Sara Murphy (C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, vol. V, no. 2), which was formerly in the Hilde Thannhauser collection and is housed in the Kunstmuseum, Bern. Both are superb atmospheric portraits, but neither captures the life and immediacy of his wonderful line drawings. Several of these fine ink drawings are in the collection of Marina Picasso, other smaller and more heavily worked drawings have left the Picasso family and are in private collections. These are mainly closely worked pen and ink pieces with a strong neo-classical influence, characteristic of Picasso's pastels and drawings of 1920-1922 (see fig. 2). However, the best and rarest are the bold line drawings which elevate Sara to the level of untouchable classical siren. The best of them are extremely personal, as personal and sensitive as his first drawings of Marie-Thérèse, Olga, Françoise or Dora Maar: the present drawing is one of his first drawings of Sara. It has strength in its line, daring in its size and a poise and classical beauty which beggars belief.

As if to confirm the seriousness of Picasso's obsession with Sara, William Rubin discovered that Picasso had kept countless photographs of her. Discussing this very drawing he writes: "First, I came upon an outsize portrait drawing of the same person (the present drawing), shown wearing a turban; this was obviously based on the image of Sara in a photograph showing her arm in arm with Picasso on the beach. Picasso, not surprisingly, had kept a print of this image (fig 1). Later, I learned from Pierre Daix that Picasso himself had, in confidence, identified the very pictures in question as being portraits of Sara Murphy." (W. Rubin, Reflections on Picasso and Portraiture, Picasso and Portraiture Representation and Transformation, New York, 1996, p. 55)

Unlike many of Picasso's other muses, the self-confident and unconventional Sara resisted Picasso's charms. In spite of his unhappiness with Olga and his attraction to Sara their relationship went no further. All that survives of their relationship is this rare and beautiful series of oils and drawings of 1923, and the photograph of Sara and the artist which Picasso kept with him throughout his life.

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