Julio Gonzalez (1876-1942)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Le peintre et son modèle

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le peintre et son modèle
signed 'Picasso' (lower right); dated and numbered '" (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
19 ¼ x 42 ¼ in. (49.3 x 107.3 cm.)
Painted in Mougins, 3-4 March 1963
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Mary Katzin-Simon, New York (by 1989).
Private collection, London.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
H. Parmelin, Picasso: The Artist and His Model, New York, 1965, p. 23 (illustrated in color).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1971, vol. 23, no. 160 (illustrated, pl. 79).
C.P. Warncke, Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, Cologne, 1994, vol. II, p. 582 (illustrated in color).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture: The Sixties I 1960-1963, San Francisco, 2002, p. 334, no. 63-049 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris, Picasso, peintures 1962-1963, January-February 1964, p. 26, no. 22 (illustrated).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

Between December 1954, when he painted the first of his variations on Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger, and February 1963, when he completed a series of canvases based on Poussin’s L’Enlèvement des Sabines, Picasso’s work was dominated by the art of the past. For nearly a decade, he tested the power of his painting by ceaselessly analyzing, decomposing, and recomposing earlier masterpieces, digesting them to make them his own. And then, declaring himself spent from the Sabines, he turned away from the Old Masters–from the “painting of painting”–and took up a theme even more basic and immediate to the work of a painter: the relationship between the artist and his model. “He returned to his point of departure: the scene of enactment, as it were, the fundamental battleground, the face-to-face confrontation between the painter and the model,” Marie-Laure Bernadac has written. “This was the decisive turning point of the period” (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 73).
Picasso himself recognized the magnitude of this shift. Hélène Parmelin, a close friend and a frequent visitor to the artist’s studio during this period, recalled, “And now he says he is turning his back on everything. He says he is embarking upon an incredible adventure. He says that everything is changed; it is over and done with; painting is completely different from what one had thought–perhaps it is even the opposite. It is at this time that he declares himself ready to kill modern ‘art’–and hence art itself–in order to rediscover painting. One must, says Picasso, look for something that develops all by itself, something natural and not manufactured. ‘Let it unfold in the form of the natural and not in the form of art. The grass as grass, the tree as tree, the nude as nude.’ In the month of February 1963, Picasso lets loose. He paints the Artist and his Model. And from this moment on he paints like a madman, perhaps never before with such frenzy” (op. cit., 1965, pp. 9-10).
Picasso painted Le peintre et son modèle at his home, Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins, near Cannes in the South of France. The artist had married his young muse and lover, Jacqueline Roque, two years earlier in 1961 and the couple were living together in blissful contentment and happiness. Throughout this period, termed by John Richardson as “L’Époque Jacqueline”, Jacqueline served as a constant and fertile inspiration for the artist and her image permeated every aspect of his art; she appears as every nude, every portrait, head or artist’s model of this time. The artist did not need to draw her from life, but with her constant presence beside him, her image was indelibly imprinted on his mind. In this context, the protagonists of Le peintre et son modèle become Picasso, pictured in the act of painting, and his wife and last, great muse, Jacqueline.
The subject of the artist in his studio, or of art in practice, was not, in fact, a new one for Picasso. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, he painted a number of important statements on the theme, rendering the artist and his model with radically reduced pictorial means or fantastic surrealist deformations, with great sensual abundance or simply as a morass of twisting lines. It is a central motif of the Vollard Suite of 1933 and the Verve drawings from two decades later, and it provided the starting point for the massive UNESCO panel in 1957-1958 as well. During the last decade of Picasso’s career, however, the theme of the artist and model swamped all others. In 1963 and 1964, he painted almost nothing else, producing such a rich and inexhaustible stream of variants that, as Michel Leiris has remarked, it almost became a genre in itself, like landscape or still-life. “This late effluence was the most intense and sustained of Picasso’s life-long engagement with the subject and his attempts to plumb the many issues it evoked, as it flowed through the full diversity of his work,” Michael FitzGerald has explained (Picasso: The Artist’s Studio, exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, 2001, p. 15).
Before picking up his paints, Picasso explored the theme of the artist and model in a series of twenty-nine pencil drawings dated between 10 and 21 February 1963, which fill the pages of a small carnet (Zervos, vol. 23, nos. 122-150). These drawings establish the basic compositional paradigm for the entire series to come. The painter, armed with his palette and brushes, is seated on the left; the canvas is positioned on an easel in the center, most often viewed from the side; the nude model sits or reclines on a chaise at the right, surrounded by the props of an artist’s studio (a sculptural bust, a high window, sometimes an overhead lamp). The two figures are never rendered in the same artistic idiom (if the model is given a fully rounded corporeality, for instance, then the painter is reduced to a mere stick figure), and we are rarely allowed a glimpse of the nascent painting. Gert Schiff has written, “This is as it ought to be, for the process of transformation has been transposed into the figures of the painter, who enacts it, and the model, who undergoes it. Evidently, Picasso was probing the nature of his artistic practice” (exh. cat., op. cit., New York, 1984, p. 18).
This is announced even more clearly in the first two oil paintings in the series (Zervos, vol. 23, no. 151), both produced the day after the carnet was complete. Picasso removes the nude model from the scene and focuses on the figure of the painter, as if to declare, by way of prologue, that he was preparing for the grand enterprise at hand. The artist is shown painting a sculptural bust that rests on a chest of drawers, an image that recalls the classical curriculum of traditional art academies (Picasso himself had drawn from plaster casts as a student in Corunna nearly seven decades earlier). In the first of the two canvases from 22 February 1963, Le Peintre, there is a perfect equation between the painter’s face, the bust, and its image on the canvas, all of which are depicted in a simplified, linear style reminiscent of children’s drawings. Picasso originally positioned the bust so that it locked eyes with the artist, as in Le Peintre; when he re-worked the canvas in September, however, he turned the sculpture outward to face the viewer, introducing one more layer of reality into the scene.
After painting these two inaugural canvases, Picasso waited a week, letting the theme of the artist at work percolate in his mind. On March 2nd, he took up his brushes again and began to paint at breakneck speed, producing some two dozen canvases by the end of the month. On March 27th, he acknowledged that he was in the grip of a new and compelling obsession, scrawling on the back flyleaf of a sketchbook, “Painting is stronger than I am. It makes me do what it wants” (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 349). The series would continue to preoccupy Picasso until the fall of 1963 and intermittently over the course of next two years, at which point it led (via the personage of the baroque peintre-cavalier) to the emergence of the musketeer, the last in the lengthy line of artist-surrogates to populate Picasso’s work.
Throughout the artist-and-model series, Picasso continued to probe the nature of his craft. In some versions, the painter is depicted alone with the tools of his trade; in others, the nude body of the model fills the entire canvas. In a few examples, Picasso has humorously turned the tables on himself and placed the model at the easel, brush in hand. The images are not a record of Picasso’s own work (he always painted without a palette or an easel, directly onto a canvas laid flat), but rather an epitome of the processes of looking and creating. They also represent an affirmation of Picasso’s attachment to the external world and the presence of the “subject” in his painting, at a time when many artists were talking of doing away with both. Bernadac has concluded, “Through all these manifold scenes Picasso is asking himself the question, ‘What is a painter? A man who works with brushes, a dauber, and unrecognized genius, or a demiurge, a creator who mistakes himself for God?’ Through the constant recapitulation of this scenario he is also trying to capture the impossible, the secret alchemy that takes place between the real model, the artist’s vision and feeling, and the reality of paint. Which of these three elements will prevail, and how is each to maintain its true character?” (exh. cat., op. cit., London, 1988, p. 76).

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