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

Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre
signed and dated '7.6.70. Picasso' (lower left)
pen and India ink on card
15 5/8 x 19¾ in. (39.6 x 50.2 cm.)
Executed in 1970
Paul Haim, Paris.
Galerie Nichido, Tokyo.
Acquired from the above by the present owner circa 1970.
Exh. cat., Dessins en Noir et en Couleurs, no. 24, Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, 1971, no. 34.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1970, vol. 32, Paris, 1977, no. 111 (illustrated pl. 46).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Final Years, 1970-1973, San Francisco, 2004, no. 70-141, p. 45 (illustrated).
E. Mallen, ed., Online Picasso Project, Sam Houston State University, OPP.70:255 (accessed 2013).
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas
Adrienne Everwijn-Dumas

Lot Essay

Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre dates from 1970, a period in which Pablo Picasso was focussing a great deal on the etchings that would come to form his so-called 156 Suite. Like those works, Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre immerses the viewer into a fantastical world of sex, historical characters and high drama, even farce. The main figure, the man shown next to the naked woman, appears the main focus of the composition, with his dark mouth dragging the focus of the viewers. The mouth, like the face of the naked woman, has been rendered with painstaking attention, as have details of the figures to the right, which appear as dark points of emphasis and focus, such as the kneeling woman's hand.

With the curtain, which is being pulled back by a mysterious hand, Picasso appears to be continuing the theme of the discovery of lovers, a subject which he borrowed in part from Ingres' Paolo et Francesca in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers. That composition was based on the story immortalised by Dante's Divine Comedy: the titular characters were surprised by her husband - his brother - while acting out the kiss of Lancelot and Guinevere and were thus confined to the Inferno for their lustfulness. In Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre, there is less ambiguity than in Ingres' version of the tale of the discovery of their affair, as the figures are shown unclothed. Is it the large, almost spectral face that represents the angry cuckold? Picasso, himself an enthusiastic womaniser in his earlier days, has filled this scene with both humour and drama.

In Nu couché et personnages sur une scène de théâtre, the curtain being pulled back plays an ambiguous double role. For this scene is taking place on a stage, as illustrated by the footlights at the bottom. The majority of the figures to the right, sitting and standing passively, are the spectators enjoying this show. Picasso has deftly managed to convey the theatrical denials and protestations of the man on the stage, highlighting this notion. These figures, who appear as though they may have wandered from a painting by Rembrandt or indeed one of Ingres' historicised works, add to the fantastical, whimsical nature of the picture. For this is a fantasy, a part of a deeply personal yet entertaining narrative playing itself out at the end of Picasso's pen, brush or stylus, depending on his medium. As he explained two years earlier, discussing the adventures and exploits that unfold in these images,

'Of course, one never knows what's going to come out, but as soon as the drawing gets underway, a story or an idea is born. And that's it. Then the story grows, like theatre or life and the drawing is turned into other drawings, a real novel. It's great fun, believe me. At least, I enjoy myself no end inventing these stories, and I spend hour after hour while I draw, observing my creatures and thinking about the mad things they're up to. Basically, it's my way of writing fiction' (Picasso, quoted in R. Otero, Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look at His Last Years, trans. E. Kerrigan, New York, 1974, p. 170).

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