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

Nu assis

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Nu assis
signed ‘Picasso’ (upper right); dated and numbered ‘6.4.69. II’ (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
51 ¼ x 35 in. (130.3 x 89 cm.)
Painted on 6 April 1969
Juan Vilató Ruiz-Picasso, Paris (gift from the artist).
Herman Krikhaar, Amsterdam (acquired from the above); sale, Christie’s, New York, 14 May 1986, lot 57.
Stanley J. Seeger, New York (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 4 November 1993, lot 484.
J & P Fine Art, Zürich.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2006.
R. Alberti, A Year of Picasso Paintings: 1969, New York, 1971, p. 219, no. 89 (illustrated in color, p. 117).
K. Gallwitz, Picasso at 90: The Late Work, New York, 1971, p. 196, no. 313 (illustrated in color, p. 198; titled Femme accroupie).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1976, vol. 31, no. 140 (illustrated, pl. 43).
K. Gallwitz, Picasso: The Heroic Years, New York, 1985, p. 196, no. 310 (illustrated in color, p. 198).
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso 1969-1970, May-September 1970, no. 21 (illustrated; titled Femme accroupie).

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Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

When Picasso paints, he never commands less than total attention. His tactic is simple, and makes for compulsory, riveting viewing. “It’s all there,” the artist declared to André Malraux. “I try to do a nude as it is. If I do a nude, people ought to think—it’s a nude” (quoted in M.-L. Bernadac, Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 80). In this Nu assis, Picasso even shines a spotlight on everything he insists we see.
Nu assis is among the later paintings in Picasso’s artist and model series, which he commenced as an ongoing, variously inclusive theme in 1963. Henceforth, woman, in her most forthcoming, unadorned corporeality became the existential cause and effect in nearly everything Picasso painted, drew, and etched, as he wrestled with time during the final decade that remained to him. Nu assis embodies the very essence of léternel féminin, painted as if this idea of a goddess were a phenomenal force of nature—human and otherwise.
After 1966 the artist and model theme morphed into the mousquetaires, whom Picasso depicted as a rollicking procession of 17th-century cavaliers and their courtesans, while he donned the mantle of Velázquez or Rembrandt as master of ceremonies. During 1969, the mercenary swordsmen had become so populous in his painted oeuvre that Nu assis, dated 6 April, was only the second nude Picasso had undertaken since the beginning of the year, while the subject flourished in his sketchbooks. Nu assis continued to be surrounded by mousquetaire heads until he completed the next nude on 10 July (Zervos, vol. 31, no. 315; Musée Picasso, Paris). Kissing, embracing couples stole the limelight that fall, carrying on through the end of the year.
The artist and model paintings tell of the manifold man-woman relationships in art and life. Picasso has here, however, taken himself—that is, in the persona of some chosen surrogate—out of the picture, and contemplates the model alone, inviting the rest of us to gaze upon her as well. “No painter has ever gone so far in unveiling the feminine universe in all the complexity of its real and fantasy life,” Marie-Laure Bernadac has written. “This intimate, passionate awareness is a constant source of renewal for his painting, which revels in the variety of the repertoire of forms that it affords, mineral and carnal by turns” (exh. cat., op cit., 1988, p. 80).
And in this way Picasso realized his primary, compelling, ultimate aim as an artist, to let painting, as he proclaimed, “unfold as it is, 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” (quoted in H. Parmelin, Picasso: The Artist and His Model, New York, 1965, p. 10). For Picasso, after all these years, this idea was suddenly a new thing: painting—like paradise—regained.
Picasso claimed to have received the odalisque, the grand orientalist tradition of the reclining nude, as a legacy from Matisse upon the latter’s death in 1954. Picasso’s treatment of this theme, however, often takes the viewer to a place Matisse had hardly ever traveled. “For Matisse, the sex slid, disappeared in the thighs of the odalisque,” Parmelin has written. “The admirable nudes of Matisse have no sex, just as they have no glances. The nudes of Picasso have a glance and a sex. The sex of a nude is for him an essential part of the body whose reality he seeks… If Picasso praises love, he makes no bones about it” (ibid., p. 158).
The nudes in Picasso’s late oeuvre celebrate the depth of his feelings for Jacqueline, his companion since 1954, who became his second wife in 1961. She became the constant model in as many guises as Picasso could invent for her, in every imaginable posture. She never sat for him, however—her mere presence around the house was inspiration enough. Picasso came to realize, like Matisse before him, that the synergy of the artist and model, this irresistible attraction between man and woman, was the wellspring in all art-making. Even as his vaunted sexual powers had diminished, there remained for Picasso the simple equation, as John Richardson framed it, of “sex and art as metaphors for each other” (Pablo Picasso: Meeting in Montreal, exh. cat., Montréal Museum of Fine Art, 1985, p. 90).
Picasso included Nu assis among the 165 paintings completed between January 1969 and February 1970 that he assembled for Yvonne Zervos to show in the Palais des Papes during the XXIVe Festival d’Avignon, during May-September 1970. "If I'm painting better,” Picasso commented to Pierre Daix after the show, “it's because I've had some success in liberating myself" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Work, New York, 1993, p. 365). He also remarked, “You have to know how to be vulgar, to paint with four letter words” (quoted in P. Cabanne, Le siècle de Picasso, Paris, 1975, vol. 2, p. 347).
The poet Rafael Alberti provided the text for a book made from the Avignon exhibition catalogue. He imagined the nude models in Picasso’s paintings telling their own stories: “His frenzy begins exactly at the moment when he has disjointed and unhinged us, quartered and disemboweled us as far the normal eye can see; in his own eye we become the ideal, the Beauty which many find monstrous compared with the feminine canons based on sublimely perfect lines… Picasso has invented a new pleasure, a carnal, seismic movement more powerful than the known, so worn by customary usage” (op. cit., 1971, pp. 113 and 114).

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