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

Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine
signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
oil on cardboard
19 1/8 x 25 3/8 in. (50 x 65 cm.)
Painted in 1901
Howard Young, New York.
Mr & Mrs Lewis Larned Coburn, Chicago.
Bequeathed by the above to The Art Institute of Chicago in 1933.
'French Masterpieces that One Day Will Belong to Art Institute', in The Chicago Daily News, June 1931, p. 14 (illustrated).
The Art Institute of Chicago, ed., A Brief Illustrated Guide to the Collections, Chicago, 1935, p. 30.
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso, Fifty Years of his Art, New York, 1946, pp. 19-20 (illustrated).
W.S. Lieberman, Picasso, Blue and Rose Periods, New York, 1955, pl. 7.
P. Pool, 'The Picasso Exhibition: The Most Important Four Rooms', in The Burlington Magazine, September 1960, p. 387.
The Art Institute of Chicago, ed., Paintings in the Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1961, no. 33.448, p. 356.
P. Daix, G. Boudaille & J. Rosselet, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods, a Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, Neuchâtel, 1966, no. V.61, p. 182 (illustrated, titled 'On the Upper Deck (Omnibus)').
A. Blunt, 'Putting Picasso in His Place', in The New York Review of Books, March 1968, p. 12.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Supplément aux années 1892-1902, vol. 21, Paris, 1969, no. 168 (illustrated pl. 67).
S. Grung, Supplement to Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago: A Catalogue of the Picture Collection, Chicago, 1971, p. 86.
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel, Part 1', in Artnews, 71:5, September 1972, pp. 22-23, 26 & 28 (illustrated fig. 15).
A.J. Speyer & C.G. Donnell, Twentieth Century European Painting, Chicago, 1980, no. 3C8, p. 62.
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso, Life and Work of The Early Years 1881-1907, Oxford, 1981, no. 616, p. 241 (illustrated p. 240, titled 'On the Upper Deck').
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel', in exh. cat, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, vol. 2, Musée Picasso, Paris, 1988, pp. 326-327 (illlustrated fig. III.4).
L. Steinberg, 'The Philosophical Brothel', in October, Spring 1988, pp. 22-23 (illustrated fig. 16).
C. Geelhaar, Picasso: Wegbereiter und Förderer seines Aufstiegs 1899-1939, Zurich, 1993, pp. 20 & 237 (illustrated figs. 9 & 266).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Turn of the Century, 1900-1901, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris, San Francisco, 2010, no. 1901-260, p. 181 (illustrated).
W. Anderson, Picasso's Brothel: Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, New York, 2002, pp. 91-93 (illustrated fig. 49).
Paris, Berthe Weill Gallery, November - December 1902.
Chicago, The Art Institute, The Mrs. L.L. Coburn Collection: Modern Paintings and Watercolors (Auspices of the Antiquarian Society of the Art Institute of Chicago), April - October 1932, no. 27, pp. 20 & 46 (illustrated).
Chicago, The Art Institute, A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June - November 1933, no. 403, p. 56.
Chicago, The Art Institute, A Century of Progress, Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, June - November 1934, no. 359, p. 53.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Views of Paris, January 1939, no. 46 (illustrated p. 25, titled 'Sur le pont').
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso, Forty Years of his Art, November 1939 - January 1940, no. 9, p. 25 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Chicago, The Art Institute, February - March 1940; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, April - May 1940.
Denver, Art Museum, A Retrospective Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture and Prints by Picasso, April - May 1945.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Picasso before 1907, October - November 1947, no. 4 (illustrated).
Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts, The Winterbotham Collection of European Paintings, October - November 1949.
Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Memorial Art Museum, Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition, The Beginnings of Modern Painting: France 1800-1910, October - November, 1951.
Chicago, The Art Institute, Gallery of Art Interpretation: Presenting the Art Institute's Picassos, September - December 1955.
London, The Tate Gallery, Picasso, July - September 1960, no. 10, p. 15 (illustrated pl. 4f).
Chicago, The Art Institute, Picasso in Chicago, February - March 1968, no. 4 (illustrated).
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Picasso Retrospective, May - September 1980, p. 39 (illustrated).
Washington, D.C., The National Gallery of Art, Picasso: The Early Years 1892-1906, March - July 1997, no. 53, pp. 152 & 355 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, September 1997 - January 1998.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.
Sale room notice
Please note that the dimensions of this work are 18½ x 24 5/8 in. (47 x 62.6 cm.) and not as stated in the catalogue.

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Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine was painted in Paris in 1901 during a frenzied period of artistic exploration and innovation by Pablo Picasso, who was on the brink of making a name for himself in the French capital. This picture, which has been widely published and exhibited, often under the title On the Upper Deck, shows a group of passengers sitting upstairs on one of the impériales, or two-tiered, omnibuses which were still such a common sight on the streets of Paris for over a decade after it was painted. Although in 1960 Roland Penrose had described the scene as showing a boat, misled by the presence of the water, Pierre Daix appears to have discussed the picture with the artist himself: 'Picasso himself specified that it is the top deck of a horse-drawn bus, going over a bridge of the Seine' (P. Daix, G. Boudaille & J. Rosselet, op. cit, p. 182). The head of the driver is visible at the front, or top, his back facing the viewer or the artist; the bridge abut to be crossed appears blocked by the vehicle itself as it approaches its crossing. Daix also pointed out that this work may be the same which, under the title The Omnibus, was recorded as being sold by Berthe Weill for 180 francs.

Of the various people in Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine, several of them are shown wearing straw hats and light tops suited to the time of year: Picasso arrived in Paris in early June 1901 for his second trip to the city which he would soon make his home and where he would retain a studio for decades. He had hurried back from Spain because, through the efforts of his friend and dealer Pere Mañach, he had been offered the chance of an exhibition at the gallery of Ambroise Vollard that was to take place from late June to mid-July. He was to share this exhibition with another Spanish artist, the older Francisco Gonzales de Iturrino, whose portrait Picasso painted, as is shown in a photograph from the period that captures the young artist in his studio with Mañach and Torres Fuster. Picasso had been travelling through Spain for much of the first half of 1901, but returned to Paris with gusto and enthusiasm; despite already having a clutch of pictures, he was invigorated by his plunge back into cosmopolitan life in this hub of the arts and proceeded to show his incredible versatility, capturing every aspect of the city's ebb and flow, focussing especially on the demi monde. In this way, he became the archetypal reincarnation of Charles Baudelaire's 'painter of modern life,' revealing life on the streets of the French capital in its many facets, wandering, a fl<->aneur, through the city and capturing the ephemeral scenes such as this view of the top floor of an omnibus as it approaches the Seine to cross it. Looking at Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine, one realises the aptness of Baudelaire's words:

'The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite' (Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life, trans. J. Mayne, New York, 1964, p. 9).

This fleeting scene of a group of passers-by and passengers perfectly demonstrates that aspect of life; it is a mark of Picasso's incredible energy and hunger for subject matter during this time that the works that he ultimately displayed at Vollard's included scenes from the street, from the cabarets, from the race courses, landscapes and still life images. In some of the earlier works that he painted on his return to Paris such as Le quatorze juillet, now in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York and Marchande de fleurs dans la rue in the Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Picasso depicted the scenes with similar bold brushstrokes to those so in evidence in this painting. Here, the activity on the river itself has been captured with areas of bold colour that appear to prefigure the Fauve landscapes that Maurice de Vlaminck and André Derain would paint further along the river at Chatou a few years later. While some of the palette recalls the city paintings of the veteran Impressionist Camille Pissarro, who was working along the Seine during the early part of the Twentieth Century, the intimacy and informality of the view recalls instead the pictures of the Nabi, Pierre Bonnard, as do the flashes of colour both on the Seine and articulating the structure of the omnibus and the clothing of its passengers. It is this quality that prompted the legendary curator Alfred H. Barr, Jr to select this work to comment on Picasso's style on his arrival in Paris: 'Throughout much of 1901 he painted lustily with the rich palette and impressionist brushwork of On the Upper Deck' (A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, exh. cat., New York, 1966, p. 19).

Picasso's passion for Paris was remarked at the time in several reviews, most of them favourable and telling of the promise that this young Spanish artist clearly had. The sheer, wondrous variety of subjects that Picasso had rendered in his exhibition, and which also ran throughout his oeuvre at the time, would lead Gustave Coquiot to eulogise in terms that are equally applicable to Sur l'impériale traversant la Seine:

'This very young Spanish painter, who has been here for only a short time, is wildly enamoured of modern life. It is easy to imagine him - wide awake, with a searching eye, keen to record everything happening in the street, all the adventures of life. He does not need to contemplate his subject-matter for long; so it is that we see him covering his canvas quickly, as if in a fury, impatient at the slowness of his hand, which holds long brushes laden with colour.
'Here, then, we have an artist who has created a new harmony of light colours, making use of striking yellows, reds, greens and blues. We can see at once that P.R. Picasso wants to see everything and say everything. All too often an artist attracted by just two or three aspects of our times is described as portraying Modern Life, but P.R. Picasso deserves this description more than anybody else. From our own time he has taken prostitutes, country scenes, interiors, workers and so on, and we can be sure that tomorrow he will offer us everything else that he has not been able to attain up to now' (G. Coquiot, quoted in J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Life and Work of the Early Years 1881-1907, trans. K. Lyons, Oxford, 1981, p. 514).

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