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

Le Phallus

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le Phallus
signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
gouache and pen and India ink on card
5 ¼ x 3 ½ in. (13.3 x 9 cm.)
Executed circa 1903
Albert de Domenico, Cannes.
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zürich (acquired from the above).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, exh. cat., Musèe Picasso, Paris, 1988, vol. 2, p. 485, no. 209 (illustrated; titled Domination phallique).
J. Richardon, A Life of Picasso, 1881-1906, New York, 1991, vol. I, p. 281 (illustrated, p. 280).
N. Staller, A Sum of Destructions: Picasso's Cultures & The Creation of Cubism, New York, 2001, p. 310, nos. 292 and 294 (illustrated in color, p. 311).
Paris, Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume; Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts and Barcelona, Museu Picasso, Picasso érotique, February 2001-January 2002, pp. 87-88, no. 36 (illustrated in color, pp. 89 and 177).
Düsseldorf, Museum Kunst Palast, Das endlose Rätsel: Dalí und die Magier der Mehrdeutigkeit, February-June 2003, p. 185 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Grand Palais, Une image peut en cacher une autre, April-July 2009, p. 286, no. 237 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

This brazen image of a nude woman prostrate before an anthropomorphic phallus is part of a group of shamelessly licentious scenes–a veritable theater of the erotic–that Picasso drew in 1902-1903, in which he gave free rein to his most intimate and taboo desires. “These drawings provide us with a reading of the ‘small print’ inscribed in the intense symbolic charge of the Blue Period,” Maria Teresa Ocaña has written. “They are the deconstruction of themes that barely graze the surface of the artist’s major paintings–the inside story on the illicit deeds that breathed life into Picasso’s works of mal amor [profane love]” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2001, p. 93).
With his signature visual inventiveness, Picasso has here transformed the erect male member into a bearded idol–a modern-day Priapus, at once bawdy and apotropaic–with a centrally parted cap of hair (the glans) and a beatific smile. A fount of virility, this phallic being towers above a crouching woman, her arms spread wide in supplication or submission, who takes refuge in his scrotum like a fetus in the womb. Embodying nature’s supreme reproductive force, the deified phallus serves as a proxy for the painter’s own vaunted creative powers–sexuality, as always for Picasso, being indissociable from artistic prowess.
Picasso drew this provocative scene on the reverse of a large business card belonging to Sebastià and Carles Junyer Vidal, his closest friends in Barcelona from 1902 until 1904. The two brothers had inherited a yarn shop from their uncle, and Picasso spent countless convivial evenings there, gossiping with the proprietors and sketching on whatever paper he found at hand. He filled at least three dozen of their sturdy trade cards with drawings, sometimes rehearsing the wretched figures that populated his Blue Period canvases during this period, other times creating sardonic parodies of contemporary types or scenes of overt sexuality to entertain and titillate his friends.
“[The latter] group provides a microcosm of Picasso’s sexual fantasies,” John Richardson has written. “Some have a graffiti-like directness; others an adolescent prurience; the most revealing”–he cites Le Phallus as a prime example–“manifest a perversity and misogyny that anticipate the artist’s surrealist chimeras of the 1930s” (op. cit., 1996, p. 281).
As Picasso’s foremost carousing companion in Barcelona, Sebastià Junyer Vidal was an eminently receptive audience for this carnal compendium. Picasso portrayed his friend in at least twenty drawings, including a racy parody of Manet’s Olympia, and also painted a major Blue Period canvas that depicts Sebastià sharing a café table with a gaunt prostitute (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 174). When Picasso left Barcelona for his fourth trip to Paris in April 1904, Sebastià loyally joined him, and the two painters found a studio at the Bateau Lavoir. Sebastià returned home after a few weeks, however, and the pair lost touch; this time, Picasso was in France to stay.

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