Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more ABSTRACTION BEYOND BORDERS: WORKS FROM A DISTINGUISHED PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTIONFrom Paris to Munich, Berlin, Milan and Hanover, in the opening decades of the Twentieth Century, a number of artists created art that radically differed from those of their predecessors. Working across Europe, these pioneering provocateurs, radicals and trailblazers – Georges Braque, Francis Picabia, František Kupka, to name just a few – shunned the last vestiges of illusionism to instead create unprecedented works with no visible, recognisable or definable subject matter. Liberating colour, line and form from their centuries-old descriptive role, they overturned pictorial tradition, embarking on an abstract adventure that would come to define art of the Twentieth Century. Crossing geographical boundaries, encompassing a variety of media, and often blurring traditional distinctions of painting and sculpture, abstraction spread with an extraordinary speed, transforming artistic practice forever. From the initial steps towards a new artistic language, to the paradigmatic embodiment of this concept, this diverse group of works embodies this varied, experimental and groundbreaking path of abstraction, demonstrating the variety of ways that artists across the globe embraced this radical practice. Braque’s cubist composition, Cartes et cornet à dés presents the origin of this move towards a new, non-representational artistic language. Along with Picasso – the pair, ‘like mountain-climbers roped together’, as Braque recalled of this frenzied period of seismic innovation – the artist undermined conventional notions of perspective, opening the door to a whole new way of depicting the world. As rebellious as the cubists’ rejection of the centuries-old rules of representation, Picabia’s playful collage Sans titre (Pot de fleurs) uses the very materials of art making to parody the mimetic traditions of art, creating a semi-abstract play of colour and line. Far removed from any trace of the recognisable world, Kurt Schwitters’ rare Merz relief, Das Richard-Freitag-Bild dates from the height of his involvement with the International Constructivist movement. It was executed during a period when he was codifying Merz – the one-man art movement that he created in 1919 – into a utopian Constructivist language of form, taking the deconstruction of Dada and combining it with the aims of Constructivism. Following the same aesthetic, Georges Vantongerloo’s perfectly composed De Stijl composition embodies the tenets of geometric abstraction. In addition, Kupka, one of the leading pioneers of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this collection with a rare composition entitled Series C, III, Elevation, a work that marries his elegant abstract idiom with the deeper, spiritual dimension that was often the source of his abstractions. By contrast, Magritte, an artist whose unique form of Surrealism serves as the very antithesis to the development of non-representational abstraction, is represented in this group with an important early painting, Les signes du soir. A pictorial trompe l’oeil riddle, with this painting Magritte confuses, undermines and questions the entire nature of representational painting, paving the way for the conceptual art that dominated artistic production of the post-war era. From the purely formal – Schwitters and Vantongerloo – to the spiritual, mystic or surreal – Kupka, Jawlensky, Magritte and Picasso, this collection, assembled with the eye of an aesthete, encapsulates the multi-faceted nature and pioneering spirit of modernist abstraction throughout the Twentieth Century. Their curiosity, daring eclecticism and pioneering spirit of exploration nearly 100 years ago paved the way for artists and collectors today.
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Le cirque

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le cirque
signed and dated 'Picasso 5-2 XXXIII' (upper right); dated and inscribed 'Paris 5 fevrier XXXIII' (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
13 1/8 x 16 1/4 in. (33.5 x 41.2 cm.)
Painted in Paris on 5 February 1933
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (no. 11181), by 1991.
Private collection, Switzerland.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 8, Oeuvres de 1932 à 1937, Paris, 1957, no. 88, n.p. (illustrated pl. 38).
D. Cooper, Picasso Theatre, New York, 1987, no. 388, p. 357 (illustrated n.p.; titled 'Circus scene' and with incorrect dimensions).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: from the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 417, p. 435 (illustrated p. 138; with incorrect dimensions).
Bielefeld, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Picassos Surrealismus: Werke 1925-1937, September - December 1991, no. 52, p. 328 (illustrated p. 87; with incorrect dimensions).
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Lot Essay

‘Resemblance is what I am after, a resemblance deeper and more real than the real, that is what constitutes the sur-real’ -Pablo Picasso

‘From [Picasso’s] open air laboratory, divinely unusual beings will continue to fly into the gathering night, dancers dragging shards of marble fireplaces with them…’ -André Breton

Depicting three floating, amorphously rendered figures engaged in a whirling acrobatic display in front of an audience of onlookers, Pablo Picasso’s Le cirque was painted in Paris on 5 February 1933, a time that is often regarded as his Surrealist period. One of a small series of five works, this painting presents one of Picasso’s favourite themes: the circus. Since his earliest days as an artist, the performance and characters of the circus, the harlequins and acrobats, had served as rich subject matter for the artist. Here, perhaps as a result of visiting Paris’ Cirque Médrano, something that he had frequently done throughout his life in Paris, Picasso has reimagined this motif, using a language of biomorphic distortion to depict the dancing performers. Engaged in part with the Surrealist movement since its bold inception in 1924, Picasso, while sharing the same preoccupations as these artists, and admiring their collaborative spirit of creativity, had maintained a conscious distance from this avant-garde group, hesitant to lose his artistic independence.

Le cirque encapsulates a number of the themes and ideas that had been preoccupying Picasso at this time. Completely immersed in his youthful, radiant and blonde-haired muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso had spent the previous year painting the now-legendary portraits and nudes of his clandestine lover and muse. Young, innocent, athletic and cheerful, Marie-Thérèse had unleashed a rapturous new passion-filled aesthetic in the artist, as he painted with sweeping, sensuously undulating lines and radiant colours. Together the pair spent blissful days at the artist’s home in Boisgeloup. Far from his neurotic wife Olga, and the commitments of life in Paris, Picasso could indulge unimpeded in his muse and lover, producing a prolific number of paintings, sculptures and drawings. Towards the end of the year however, Marie-Thérèse had fallen seriously ill after catching a disease whilst swimming in the river Marne. Hospitalised, she took many months to recover. This event deeply affected Picasso, a fact reflected by the proliferation at this time of works that take as their subject the theme of a rescue. In November, he painted a small series of paintings that combine acrobatic, leaping figures set upon a seashore – reminiscent of his earlier Bather scenes of the late 1920s – with a drowning figure being scooped up out of the water (Zervos vol. 8, nos. 62-64). In December, this theme culminated in the Le sauvetage (Zervos vol. 8, no. 66, Fondation Beyeler, Basel), which presents a nymph-like girl – most likely the figure of Marie-Thérèse – falling back lifelessly as two other women attempt to pull her from the watery depths. Though presenting a starkly contrasting subject, the three acrobatic protagonists of Le cirque are immediately reminiscent of the ‘Rescue’ works of the previous year. Picasso has used the same simplified corporeal distortion to portray these circus performers. With their limbs extended in different directions, they seem to float amorphously above the stage, their lilac and white bodies – the same painterly language that he frequently used to depict Marie-Thérèse – iridescent under the glowing stage lights and the darkened background. It comes as no surprise that these acrobatic figures are reminiscent of Picasso’s contemporaneous depictions of Marie-Thérèse. At this time, every figure in Picasso’s art became that of Marie-Thérèse; she appears as a recumbent fertility goddess, an enthroned Madonna, a Venus serenaded by a pipe player, a nude woman being devoured by a minotaur, a bather, or a girl at rest, sleeping or reading. Painted at the height of his obsession with Marie-Thérèse, Le cirque could likewise be seen as another evocation of his lithe, athletic lover; a further metamorphosis of his powerful muse.

As much as Le cirque reflects Picasso’s current obsessions, it is also reminiscent of one of the artist’s earlier masterpieces: La danse of 1925 (Tate Gallery, London). In what has become regarded as one of the artist’s most Surrealist works, here Picasso pictures three frenzied female figures engaged in an ecstatic, Dionysian-like ritualistic dance. Moving away from the Synthetic Cubism that had defined his art post-World War One, this enigmatic painting shows Picasso embrace the unbridled biomorphic figural abstraction that would come to characterise his work of the later 1920s and 30s, fusing these distinct idioms in a work that seems to explode with fervent energy and vibrating emotion. In front of a window, these figures are engaged in a performance, their arms thrown up and legs lifted as if moving to a sound the viewer is unable to hear. This sense of performance and display is also evident in Le cirque and the rest of the works of this small series. Like La danse there is the same sense of frenzy and movement, as these abstracted figures seem to dance and move in tandem, their limbs almost touching one another as if they are linked in a chain of feverish movement. Heightening this sense of performance are the faces that look on from the shadowy background, as well as the lines of red and green paint – most likely the glowing stage lights – that frame this whirling trio. Transporting the viewer in to the realm of the circus, Picasso presents us with a strange, energy-charged ritualistic performance. As Josep Palau i Fabre has described these figures, ‘Bird-personages they spin through the space, describing with their bodies arabesques that are more subtle still’ (J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso 1917-1926: From the Ballets to Drama, Cologne, 1999, p. 136).

It was in 1933, the year that he painted Le cirque, that Picasso came the closest he ever came to publicly affiliating himself with the Surrealists. Indeed, John Richardson states that this was the only year in which Picasso actually confessed to being a Surrealist (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume III: The Triumphant Years, London, 2007, p. 488). In the spring of this year, Picasso was commissioned to design a cover for a new Surrealist periodical edited by André Breton, called Minotaure. Inspired by the periodical’s name, he created a work that featured a minotaur, which graced the front of what was essentially an issue dedicated to the artist. Along with Brassaï’s photographs of Picasso’s Boisgeloup sculpture studio, the periodical also presented the artist’s concurrent Anatomies, a sequence of drawings in which the female figure is transformed into a composite of found object parts. In addition to his contribution to this project, the artist also participated in the Surrealist Exhibition at the Galerie Pierre Colle. Never before had Picasso so overtly linked himself with Surrealism. Breton had long hailed Picasso as the embodiment of the Surrealist artist – someone who was dedicated to the pursuit of a distinct subjective vision which was realised with a constant diversity of styles – and had tried on numerous occasions to persuade Picasso to publicly declare himself as a member of the Surrealist group. Ultimately however, Picasso maintained his own unique form of expression, remaining distinct from any specific group or movement. It was this independence that ensured he remained in a league of his own, occupying a distinct and unassailable position at the forefront of the interwar avant-garde world of Paris.

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