Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Property from the Estate of a Lady
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

La femme aux bas bleus

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
La femme aux bas bleus
signed 'Picasso' (lower right)
oil on board laid down on canvas
25 ½ x 19 5/8 in. (65 x 50 cm.)
Painted in Paris in 1901.
Galerie Mouradian et Vallotton, Paris (by 1940).
Frank Perls Gallery, Beverly Hills.
James Vigeveno Galleries, Los Angeles.
Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, New York and California (acquired from the above, 3 February 1944); sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 15 January 1958, lot 89.
Niveau Galleries, New York (acquired at the above sale).
Stephen Hahn Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the late owner, by 1974.
J. Cassou, Picasso, New York, 1940, p. 165 (illustrated in color, pl. 33).
P. Daix and G. Boudaille, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods, A Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, Neuchâtel, 1966, p. 182, no. V.62 (illustrated).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1969, vol. 21, no. 246 (illustrated, pl. 94).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: The Early Years, 1881-1907, New York, 1981, p. 236, no. 601 (illustrated, p. 237).
P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 439, no. 58.
B. Wright, ed., Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, exh. cat., The Courtauld Gallery, London, 2013, p. 181, no. 57.
L. Le Bon, C. Bernardi, S. Molins and E. Philippot, Picasso: Bleu et rose, exh. cat., Musée d'Orsay, Paris, 2018, p. 393, no. 57.
(possibly) Paris, Galeries Ambroise Vollard, Exposition de tableaux de F. Iturrino et de P.R. Picasso, June-July 1901, no. 57 or 58 (titled Femme de nuit or Vieille fille).
New York City Center Gallery, Collectors of the Theater, November 1955, no. 4.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Picasso: The Early Years, 1892-1906, September 1997-January 1998, p. 355, no. 56 (illustrated in color, p. 155).

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Lot Essay

Pablo Picasso painted La femme aux bas bleus in 1901, the infamous, breakthrough year during which he burst onto the Parisian art scene with his daring, dazzling paintings, many of which feature an array of demi-monde women. On this, his second trip to Paris, the nineteen-year-old artist threw himself into preparing for his first exhibition in the capital, which was to be held, along with work by the Basque artist Francisco Iturrino, at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in the rue Lafitte at the end of June. Though Picasso had arrived from Spain in May with around twenty works, he needed more to fill the show. He immediately plunged himself into cosmopolitan life and proceeded to show his incredible versatility, capturing various aspects of the turn-of-the-century city. Working at a rapid pace and with a prodigious self-assurance, Picasso pictured whirling can-can dancers and cabaret scenes, the ostentatiously dressed beau-monde parading at the races, bustling cityscapes, portraits and still lifes. Together these works formed a spectacular visual incarnation of Paris as a “kind of Eden or dirty Arcadia”, as the artist’s friend, Carles Casagemas, had aptly described the year prior (11 November 1900, quoted in M. McCully, Picasso in Paris: 1900-1907, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2011, p. 18).
It was to the shadowy, nocturnal, bohemian world of Montmartre that Picasso was irresistibly drawn, and in particular to the women that he found there. The Chat Noir and Moulin Rouge offered an array of subjects—courtesans, dancers, singers, and prostitutes—set under the garish bright stage lights or in the darkened back rooms of these dance halls. “We see them at the café, in the theatre, in bed even, before or after the shock…,” Gustave Coquiot wrote in his introduction to the Vollard exhibition, which was later republished in Le Journal (“La vie artistique: Pablo Ruiz Picasso”, Le Journal, 17 June 1901, Paris, in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton, 1981, p. 33). These were not entirely novel subjects for the artist however. In the months preceding his return to Paris, Picasso had painted a number of elaborately dressed women, following in the footsteps of his compatriots, Velázquez and Goya. In Paris however, these scenes and subjects had a different heritage, calling to mind the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist French masters: Manet, Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, all of whom had made their names depicting and mythologizing figures from this bohemian milieu.
Picasso transformed these Montmartre denizens into fiery visions of blatant eroticism and sexuality. In La femme aux bas bleus, the protagonist is frontally seated, enthroned in a yellow armchair, nude save for her voluminous white skirt, a vivid contrast to her blue spotted stockings and scarlet boots. Capturing idiosyncratic details—her red-painted lips and golden tresses piled up in a chignon—Picasso has pictured this inscrutable woman with a dazzling palette of rich, intense, jewel-like color. Deployed with rapid, brash, impulsive strokes of paint—the defining characteristic of these breakthrough, early 1901 works—each stroke detonates a streak of violent color upon the picture’s surface. This brazen, visceral painterly energy heightens the rawness of the image itself: unlike the voyeuristic depictions of the more demure bathers and dancers of Degas, this figure meets the viewer’s gaze with an unflinching directness; slouching, shoulders hunched and hands crossed, she is no longer willing, nor perhaps able, to pull up the performative façade her job demands.
It is possible that La femme aux bas bleus was included in the Vollard exhibition. Of the sixty-four works included in the landmark show, three were given titles that could, as Pierre Daix, Josep Palau i Fabre and Marilyn McCully have all variously discussed, have described the present work: no. 15, Une Fille, no. 57, Femme de nuit, or no. 58, Vieille fille. Recently McCully and Michael Raeburn have stated that the present work likely appeared in the exhibition as no. 57, the title an allusion to the female figure’s profession (M. McCully and M. Raeburn, “Works in the 1901 Vollard show”, in Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901, exh. cat., Courtauld Gallery, London, 2013, p. 181). Another similar work of this time, which could also have been exhibited, Le nu aux bas (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 48; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon) likewise features a woman—perhaps the same fair-haired figure of the present work—nude save for her stockings, reclining on a white divan, perhaps awaiting her next client.

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