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

La Diva

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
La Diva
signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
pastel and charcoal on board
20 3/8 x 14 1/8 in. (51.4 x 35.8 cm.)
Drawn in Paris, 1901
M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York.
Valentine Gallery (Valentine Dudensing), New York.
Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, New York; Estate sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, Inc., New York, 12 May 1980, lot 7.
Acquired by the family of the present owner, 1980s.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1954, vol. 6, no. 350 (illustrated, pl. 43).
P. Daix and G. Boudaille, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, London, 1967, p. 172, no. V.35 (illustrated; titled Woman in an Evening Cloak [The Comedienne]).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years, 1881-1907, New York, 1981, p. 535, no. 644 (illustrated, p. 255).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Turn of the Century, 1900-1901, San Francisco, 2010, p. 168, no. 1901-228 (illustrated; titled Femme en manteau du soir [Diseuse]).
(possibly) Paris, Galerie Vollard, 1901.
Sale room notice
Please note the correct medium is pastel and charcoal on board.

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

When Picasso left Barcelona in May 1901 for his second stay in Paris, he had a lot on his mind. Three months earlier, Carlos Casagemas, Picasso's companion during his first trip to Paris the year before, had killed himself in Paris over his unrequited love for Germaine Pichot, a model Picasso knew as well. Upon his return to Paris, Picasso stayed in his dead friend's apartment, which he shared with another Barcelonian, Pere Mañach, who paid the rent and was acting as his dealer and agent. To the dismay of his friends, Picasso left Odette (Louise Lenoir), his girlfriend from his first Paris trip, and took up with Germaine.

Mañach had meanwhile arranged an extraordinary opportunity for the young painter: an exhibition of Picasso's work was scheduled to open at Ambroise Vollard's small gallery on rue Lafitte on June 25. Picasso had brought, however, only about twenty paintings and drawings with him from Barcelona. He quickly put all distractions aside and applied himself non-stop to his work. Mañach encouraged his young protégé to desist from painting prostitutes and the other déclassé subjects that had previously preoccupied him, and to try his hand at more stylish and salable belle époque genres. The critic and chronicler Gustave Coquiot, whom Mañach enlisted to write the preface to Picasso's exhibition catalogue, claimed that the artist painted as many as ten pictures a day. A more realistic number would have been two or three, still a prodigious feat for such a young painter, who, hovering on the verge of potential fame and success, was only nineteen years old.

The present pastel was executed in Paris around this time, perhaps in conjunction with Picasso's feverish preparations for the Vollard exhibition. The catalogue at the opening listed sixty-four numbered and titled entries, mostly oil paintings, with a sixty-fifth entry comprised of an unknown number of unspecified dessins, works on paper. Palau i Fabre (op. cit.) proposed La Diva as a possible candidate for the work on the exhibition checklist known as La Chanteuse (Vollard, no. 54). Or it may have been included in the 65th group entry of an unknown number of pictures. Various works on Vollard's walls were replaced as they were sold with unrecorded others from a supply in the dealer's back room.

Picasso had employed pastel techniques to ravishing effect in works he had completed in Madrid and Barcelona earlier in the year, prior to his return to Paris, especially in a series of glamorous young women in their elegantly sophisticated finery (Daix, nos. III.6-8, 10 and 12). Some of these were shown at the Sala Parès in Barcelona around the time of the Vollard exhibition. Picasso continued to depict this type in Paris, even more fancifully than before. They most notably appear en promenade at the racetrack; a work of this kind featured in the Vollard show as Les Courses (no. 32). But Picasso preferred to paint and draw such extravagantly dressed women as demi-mondaine actresses and singers in their stage costume. Palau i Fabre titled the woman seen here--on stage, with the footlights glinting, Lautrec-like, on the underside of her face--as Diva (op. cit., 1981), while Daix subtitled her La Comedienne (op. cit., 1966). Picasso later drew a series of cabaret stage personalities which were published in the magazine Frou-Frou in August and September 1901.

"The Vollard exhibit was a stunning bravura performance for a neophyte," John Richardson declared, "and it included some brilliant tours de force. Mañach's insistence on salability paid off: the show was not only a succès d'estime; it was, in a modest way, a financial success. Well over half the items sold" (A Life of Picasso, Volume I, 1881-1906, New York, 1991, p. 199). By that fall, however, the initial flush of success had entirely worn off. Picasso squandered his earnings and was in near dire straits. He turned again to darker themes--the death of Casagemas, and the inmates of the women's prison of Saint-Lazare--which heralded his entry into the Blue Period. Picasso later reminisced to Daix that the Vollard exhibition "went very well... It was only later when I set about to do blue paintings that things went very badly. This lasted for years" (quoted in P. Daix, op. cit., p. 154).

Pablo Picasso, Pere Manãch and Torres Fuster in the Picasso's studio, Paris, 1901. Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: 28326182

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