Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The James and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Guitare pendue au mur

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Guitare pendue au mur
signed and dated 'Picasso 27' (lower left)
oil and black Conté crayon on canvas
10 5/8 x 13 7/8 in. (27.1 x 35.2 cm.)
Executed in 1927
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler), Paris.
André Lefèvre, Paris (by 1950).
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York.
Richard Feigen Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owners, by December 1968.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1955, vol. 7, no. 54 (illustrated prior to signature, pl. 25).
J.S. Boggs, Picasso and Things, exh. cat., The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, p. 224 (illustrated, fig. 88d; dated 1926).
J.M. Faerna, Picasso, New York, 1994, p. 103.
I. Mössinger, B. Ritter and K. Drechsel, eds., Picasso et les femmes, exh. cat., Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, 2002, p. 167 (illustrated in color, p. 168, fig. 9; titled Guitare et profil).
M. Müller, ed., Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: Between Classicism and Surrealism, exh. cat., Graphikmuseum Pablo Picasso Münster, 2004, p. 40 (titled Guitar and Profile).
J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, vol. III, p. 332 (illustrated; titled Guitar with Profile of Marie-Thérèse and Monogram).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From The Minotaur to Guernica, 1927-1939, Barcelona, 2011, p. 428, no. 38 (illustrated in color, p. 32).
J. Richardson and D. Widmaier-Picasso, L'amour fou: Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 64 (illustrated in color, fig. 7; titled Guitare accrochée au mur avec profil).
S. d'Alessandro, Picasso and Chicago: 100 Years, 100 Works, exh. cat., The Art Institute of Chicago, 2013, p. 112 (illustrated in color, p. 65, pl. 46; titled Head (Hanging Guitar with Profile)).
J. Melius, "Inscription and Castration in Picasso's The Painter and His Model" in October 151, Winter 2015, p. 57 (illustrated; titled Guitar with Profile).
Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Thérèse Walter & Dora Maar, February 1994-January 1995, pp. 143-144 and 171, note 24 (illustrated, p. 144, fig. 103).
Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art and Tokyo, Tobu Museum of Art, Picasso: The Love and The AnguishThe Road to Guernica, October 1995-March 1996, p. 200, no. 70 (illustrated in color, p. 201).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, April 1996-January 1997, p. 343 (illustrated in color; titled Hanging Guitar with Profile).
Vancouver Art Gallery, Picasso: The Artist and His Muses, June-October 2016, pp. 59 and 152 (illustrated in color, p. 59, fig. 41).
London, National Portrait Gallery and Barcelona, Museu Picasso, Picasso Portraits, October 2016-June 2017, p. 241, no. 113 (illustrated in color, p. 132; titled Guitar Hanging on a Wall with Profile).

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

“We would joke and laugh together all day, so happy with our secret... You know what it is to be really in love? Well, who needs anything else then? We spent our time worrying about nothing, doing what every couple does when they’re in love…”
Marie-Thérèse Walter
A seeming assortment of interlocking lines that create the form a guitar hanging in a light-filled interior, Pablo Picasso’s Guitare pendue au mur is in fact one of the very first works in which the artist paid homage to his new lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, the woman who would come to dominate his art for much of the next decade. Executed in 1927, this clandestine declaration of love sees Picasso amalgamate Walter’s initials, "M" and "T", with his own towering "P", creating an intimate monogram known only to the artist and his new lover. Overlooking this amorously intertwined union of letters is the ghostly white profile of a figure; the only witness to this romantic coupling, he can be regarded as the figure of the artist himself. Picasso created six of these playfully cryptic, coded compositions in the spring of 1927, each of which features his new paramour’s initials integrated within a minimal composition of lines and reduced forms; the present work is the only one in which Picasso has included himself into the ideogram of his lover. With their relationship shrouded in secrecy, it was not until 1931, four years after their first meeting, that the recognizable forms of Walter finally appeared in Picasso’s art, first in the form of monumental plaster heads, which were swiftly followed by the outpouring of large scale, highly colored portraits of her that marked the beginning of the artist’s annus mirabilis of 1932. Rich with personal symbolism, Guitare pendue au mur marks the beginning of this period of extraordinary creativity and revitalization that Marie-Thérèse brought about in Picasso’s art, her youthful innocence, vitality and undying devotion arousing an ecstatic rebirth in every aspect of his artistic production.
Guitare pendue au mur was painted soon after Picasso’s first fateful meeting with Marie-Thérèse. On a January evening in 1927, the artist was wandering Paris’s boulevards in search of new inspiration, bored of his newly adopted bourgeois lifestyle and his increasingly loveless marriage to Olga Khokhlova. Outside the Galeries Lafayette he caught sight of a striking young blonde, blue-eyed beauty. “You have an interesting face,” he said to her. “I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together. I am Picasso” (quoted in J. Richardson, op. cit., 2007, p. 323). Though she had no idea who Picasso was, Marie-Thérèse was nevertheless beguiled. She agreed to meet him again, and, just a few days later, she visited his rue la Boétie studio. “He took me to his studio,” she recalled. “He looked at me, he seduced me. He kept looking at my face. When I left he said ‘Come back tomorrow’. And then afterwards it was always ‘tomorrow’” (quoted in D. Widmaier Picasso, "Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso: New Insights into a Secret Love" in exh. cat., Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter: Between Classicism and Surrealism, Münster, 2004, p. 29).
As with each new lover, Picasso immediately began to translate Marie-Thérèse’s image into visual form, creating naturalistic drawings as he explored her features and image. Yet, the pairs’ affair had to be kept entirely secret; Picasso was married, and Marie-Thérèse was much younger than the artist. As a result, many of these initial drawings have been lost, “destroyed apparently because the model had to hide them from her mother and the artist from his wife”, John Richardson has explained ("Picasso and L’Amour Fou" in The New York Review of Books, 19 December 1985). Secrecy shrouded their relationship for the years that followed; even after Marie-Thérèse had given birth to their daughter Maya, many of the artist’s closest friends were still unaware of her identity. In an interview with Walter years later, in 1974, Pierre Cabanne asked her what first came to her mind when she heard the name Picasso. Walter answered: “Secrecy. This was because my life with him was always concealed. It was calm and tranquil. We didn’t tell anyone. We were happy like that, and that was enough for us” (quoted in P. Cabanne, "Picasso et les joies de la paternité" in L’Oeil, no. 226, May 1974, p. 7).
As a result of the intensely clandestine nature of their relationship, Marie-Thérèse first publicly entered Picasso’s art in the form of the carefully concealed code of Guitare pendue au mur. Picasso took great pleasure in this secrecy, relishing the opportunity to play visual games with his new lover’s identity, the meaning of which could only be deciphered by him. In this work, her initials appear in laid over the strings of a guitar—an oft-used substitute for the female form in Picasso’s art—which appears to hang on the wall. In another work of the series (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 58), Picasso has used the interlocking ‘MT’ to construct the form of a bowl of grapes, while a doorknob and a dove, further visual symbols of the artist and his lover, are constructed as cut-out forms amidst the monochrome composition.
That Picasso found in letters the perfect way to playfully conceal and at the same time, covertly reveal his new lover’s presence was also a reflection of his Surrealist engagement at this time. A movement indelibly wedded to literature, Surrealism was deeply engaged with language, its artists and writers often engaging in an exploration of the alchemy and magic of letters, words and semiotics. Breton’s 1923 Clair de terre had featured a secret alphabet, while in Nadja, a story that expounded the concept of l’amour fou—the Surrealist obsession of finding a lover by chance—he declared that “life needs to be decoded like a cryptogram”. Long captivated by the magic of words himself, Picasso had already adopted letters and playful verbal puns in a number of his earlier cubist compositions that made reference to his girlfriend of the time, his “jolie”, Eva Gouel. His ‘MT’ monogram was, however, far more symbolic and personal than these earlier examples. Marie-Thérèse later reminisced that at the beginning of their relationship, Picasso would often jot down their combined initials as a token of his affection for her (L. Gasman, Mystery, Magic and Love in Picasso, 1925-1938, Ann Arbor, 1981, p. 965), and he continued to use this visual code, both in his correspondence and occasionally in art works, for the duration of their relationship. While some have noted the similarity of Picasso’s love-filled monogram with the Christian symbol of the Virgin Mary’s initials wrapped round the Cross, for Picasso, an artist whose work was almost unfailingly autobiographical, this visual code was entirely self-referential; an intimate visual game the master of which was the artist himself. The marriage of letters not only serves as a shorthand for their union, but could also be seen to reveal a secret message whispered from the artist to his lover, the letters like a code spelling out "Je t’aime, Picasso".

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