Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE COLLECTION
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Nu aux bras levés

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Nu aux bras levés
dated '15.10.55.' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
28¾ x 21¾ in. (73.1 x 55.3 cm.)
Painted on 15 October 1955
Estate of the artist.
Marina Picasso, Paris (by descent from the above).
Jan Krugier Fine Art, New York (acquired from the above).
Private collection, New York.
Galerie Andrea Caratsch, Zurich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 29 July 2008.
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Lot Essay

Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this painting.

When Picasso painted this nude bust of his companion Jacqueline Roque, he was nearing the conclusion of a period that may be aptly called his "year of the odalisque," an engagement with this orientalist theme that moreover constituted his personal farewell and professional tribute to a dearly respected and admired colleague, Henri Matisse, who died in Nice on 3 November 1954. Picasso thereafter painted two series of odalisques, roughly a year apart, as if to mark a period of commemoration for his departed friend, the only living painter he openly acknowledged as his peer. Picasso commenced on 13 December the first of fifteen painted variations, lettered 'A' through 'O,' on Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Algers (Zervos, vol. 16, nos. 342-343, 345-349, 352-357, and 359-360). He completed the last canvas in this sequence on 14 February 1955. Soon afterwards, Roland Penrose arrived at the artist's Paris studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins to view the group (e.g., Zervos, vol. 16, no. 352; fig. 1). Penrose later recalled:

"Bringing them out one after another he showed me the rich variety of style and fantasy to which Les Femmes d'Algers had been subjected. My first sight of the Moorish interiors and the provocative poses of the nude girls reminded me of the odalisques of Matisse. 'You are right,' he said with a laugh, 'when Matisse died he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient though I have never been there'" (Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 396).

A year later, toward the end of 1955, Picasso added a major installment on this theme of the odalisque in a series of eleven portraits of Jacqueline clad in traditional Turkish costume (Zervos, vol. 16, nos. 527-530, 532-535; and Picasso Project, nos. 55-233, 55-236 and 55-258 [Zervos, vol. 16, no. 529; fig. 2]). These pictures would be the last on canvas in which Picasso evoked the Orientalist theme of the odalisque with such specificity in regard to the garb and other accoutrements pertaining to the traditions of this genre.

Picasso had actually pondered the idea of engaging with Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Algers for more than a decade. "He had often spoken to me of making his own version of The Women of Algiers," Françoise Gilot later recalled, "and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it... I asked him how he felt about Delacroix. His eyes narrowed and he said, 'That bastard. He's really good'" (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 203). In 1954, as Picasso's elderly friends were passing away with alarming frequency, "Now was the moment to act," Yve-Alain Bois has explained, "to kill two birds with one stone: to address one 'bastard' with the help of an earlier one, to populate the world with imaginary interlocutors in order to alleviate the sadness of this new, inescapable, and definitive solitude" (in Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1999, p. 231)

A further catalyst was the presence of Picasso's new companion Jacqueline, with whom he had been living since the early fall of 1954. The artist had noticed and took delight in her resemblance to the right-hand figure, seen kneeling and in profile, in Delacroix's painting.

"Françoise had not been the Delacroix type," Richardson has written. "Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it--and not just in physiognomy. All three of Delacroix's 'Women of Algiers' have the same squat, short-waisted torso that we find in numerous paintings of Jacqueline... All three 'Women of Algiers' likewise manifest Jacqueline's submissiveness towards the absent but ever present pasha, the painter. And then, there is the African connection: Jacqueline had lived for many years as the wife of a colonial official in Upper Volta, now called Burkina Faso. As Picasso remarked, 'Ouagadougou may not be Algiers, nonetheless Jacqueline has an African provenance'" (Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 18). With her classic Mediterranean appearance--jet-black hair, dark eyes and a long, narrow nose--Jacqueline fully looked the part. Susan Grace Galassi has suggested that Picasso's treatment of Jacqueline in his Delacroix variations was "a means of announcing Jacqueline's primacy in his 'harem'...a means of leaving Gilot behind" (in Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 137).

A new mistress required a new home, and during the summer of 1955 Picasso purchased a spacious 19th century villa known as "La Californie," which overlooked Cannes. This house possessed numerous Art Nouveau features that lent its interiors a vaguely Orientalist aspect. Picasso told Pierre Daix, "I thought so much about Femmes d'Algers that I found "La Californie"; that's how it is with painting. And Delacroix had already met Jacqueline" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 329).

Between the Femmes d'Algers variations and the costume turc series Picasso painted a handful of other paintings that relate to the theme of the odalisque. In August 1955, Picasso painted large reclining nudes (Picasso Project, nos. 55-141, 55-142 (fig. 3) and 55-143) in orientalist settings. There is a portrait of Jacqueline wearing a kerchief, dated 12 October 1955 (Picasso Projects, no. 55-192a), in which the structure of her visage anticipates her features in the present painting, which Picasso completed in a single session three days later, on 15 October. In both paintings Picasso has bent Jacqueline's nose to one side, suggesting one of his signature portrait devices, in which one half of the face appears as an inward-facing profile, while the head as a whole presents a frontal view. Jacqueline is clearly clothed in the 12 October painting, but nude in the present work. She raises her arms behind her head, a gesture which mimics the conventional languorous posture of an odalisque in repose. In a curious mix of pentimenti and simultaneity, Jacqueline's left arm is both raised and--having been partly painted over--held at her side.

Following a series of twelve interiors showing the artist's second floor studio at "La Californie" (Zervos, vol. 16, nos. 486-497), Picasso began the costume turc canvases on 19 November 1955, retaining in Jacqueline's face the bent nose and combined profile/frontal aspect from the two mid-October paintings. He completed the eleventh and final picture in this series on 22 December, one year and nine days after having begun the first of the Femmes d'Algers canvases.

Just three days in to the New Year 1956, Picasso reprised the raised arms and facial aspect in the present Nu aux bras levés while painting a clothed portrait of Jacqueline (Zervos, vol. 17, no. 3; fig. 4). The role of odalisque that Jacqueline played in the great series of late 1954-1955 would prove to be just one among many that she should perform for Picasso, only rarely actually posing for him but always present as l'éternel féminin in his life and his art. Behind the closed doors of his studio, as if in the secretive harem chamber, Picasso would draw Jacqueline into the theater of his imagination, and involve her in sophisticated--indeed, very adult--games of pictorial role-playing, in which her relationship to the artist, real or imagined, might be that of the odalisque, a mythical goddess, nymph, lover, courtesan or whore.

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d'Algers, version L, 1955. Sold, Christie's, New York, 4 May 2011, lot 32. BARCODE 25019810

(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Femme nue au bonnet turc, Cannes, 1 December 1955. Musée national d'art moderne, Paris. BARCODE 26000428FIG

(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Grand nu allongé aux bras croisés, Nice, 14 July 1955. Estate of Jacqueline Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: 28856382.

(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Femme se coiffant, Cannes, 3 January 1956. Sold, Christie's, New York, 2 May 2006, lot 45. BARCODE: RA026_1


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