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

Portrait d'Olga

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Portrait d'Olga
pencil on paper
24½ x 18 in. (62.2 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed in 1920
Estate of the artist.
Claude Ruiz-Picasso, Paris.
Matthew Marks Gallery, New York (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1996.
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Ballets to Drama, 1917-1926, Barcelona, 1999, p. 237, no. 872 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar, June-September 1994.

Lot Essay

Just as Fernande Olivier provided a face for Picasso's early Cubism, so the fine, Slavic features of Olga Khokhlova, Picasso's Russian-born first wife, left their imprint on the artist's work during his Neoclassical period following the First World War. Picasso had subjected Fernande's visage to the most unflattering deformations; Olga, however, was generally far more fortunate, at least in the early years of their marriage, as seen here. "It is Olga," as Jean-Louis Andral has noted, "to whom we owe some of the most beautiful portraits in all twentieth century art" (in Picasso et les femmes, exh. cat., Chemnitz, 2002, p. 132).

Olga was the daughter of a Russian officer from a reputable family, and since 1911 had danced with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Picasso met her in Rome during February-March 1917 while working on the sets and costumes for Erik Satie's ballet Parade. Olga was ten years younger than Picasso. In a letter to Gertrude Stein, Picasso called her a "real girl"; Andral has written that the artist was drawn to "her balletic grace and quiet feminity" (ibid., p. 136). Picasso became her ardent suitor--his courtship of a young artist named Irène Lagut had recently ended in failure. On 12 July 1918 Picasso and Olga were married. The artist's friends, many of whom were former bohemians from their old days together in Montmartre, were glad to see Picasso, then aged 37, finally settle down and think of starting a family.

Picasso drew the present portrait of Olga in the fall of 1920, following the couple's return to Paris from a summer holiday in Juan-les-Pins on the Riviera. Olga was already five months pregnant with their son Paulo, who would be born on 4 February 1921. Picasso's love and respect for the mother-to-be of his first child is clearly evident in this drawing. Picasso kept the sheet in his possession (after his death it went to his son Claude), as he did two other related works of similar size done around this time, Olga au chapeau à plume and Olga à châle (Zervos, vol. 4, nos. 91 and 113; both in the Musée Picasso, Paris). The latter drawings show her posed frontally; seen here in three-quarter view, she seems especially dignified, a woman idealized in Picasso's full-blown Neoclassical manner, rendered in choice, sparing, carefully balanced and unerring lines.

It was in this pure manner, derived from the high classical moments in European art, ranging from Roman antiquity to Raphael and Poussin, and onward to Ingres, Renoir and Cézanne in the previous century--but Ingres above all--that "Picasso," as Pierre Daix put it, "would get Olga in the Louvre." He had discovered "the perfect rigor and order of compositions which carry the powers of painting to their peak of purity and strength. As for Olga, he turned her into a model for Ingres, he enclosed her in an immobility stripped of everything Ingres had dared not eliminate." (in Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, pp. 159 and 166-167).

(fig.1) Olga Khokhlova Picasso, Fontainebleau, 1921, in a photograph taken by Picasso (detail); Picasso Archives, Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE 20627911

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