PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Masterpieces from the S.I. Newhouse Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller)

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller)
dated and numbered '11 Septembre 37 (I)' (on the stretcher)
oil and Ripolin on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 1/2 in. (72.7 x 59.8 cm.)
Painted in Mougins on 11 September 1937
Estate of the artist (until at least the early 1990s).
Private collection (by descent from the above).
PaceWildenstein, New York (acquired from the above, 15 September 1998).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 14 January 1999.
D.D. Duncan, Picasso's Picassos: The Treasures of La Californie, London, 1961, pp. 131 and 225 (illustrated in color, p. 131; illustrated again, p. 225).
Y. Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d'Arlésiennes, 1912-1958, exh. cat., The van Gogh Foundation, Arles, 2005, pp. 74 and 165 (illustrated in color, p. 75; detail illustrated in color, p. 42; titled Sans titre).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: from the Minotaur to Guernica, 1927-1939, Barcelona, 2011, pp. 340 and 446, no. 1045 (illustrated in color, p. 340; titled Portrait of Lee Miller in Arlésienne Costume I).
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Further details
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

The product of a heady summer spent in the south of France with a group of Surrealists, Pablo Picasso’s L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller) depicts the famed American photographer, Lee Miller. One of seven portraits that Picasso painted of Miller in the guise of an Arlésienne over the course of this 1937 trip, the dazzling painting emerged during one of the most important years of Picasso’s life. Situated after an intensive period of artistic creation during which he produced Guernica, and before the autumn in which he focused on the haunting motif of the Weeping Woman, this portrait dates from a point of escapism and important creative exchange for Picasso.
Two weeks after he presented the finished Guernica to the Spanish Republican pavilion in Paris’s Exposition Universelle, Picasso traveled south to the small hilltop village of Mougins with his then-lover, Dora Maar. Staying in the Hôtel Vaste Horizon, they joined a number of Surrealist artists and poets—Paul Eluard and his wife, Nusch, as well as Man Ray and his girlfriend, Ady Fidelin, British Surrealist Eileen Agar and her husband Joseph Bard, and Roland Penrose and his new lover, Miller.
Far removed from the ever worsening political situation in Europe, this group spent a carefree, creatively fertile and liberating summer together. They swapped names—“Pablo Picasso became Don José,” Agar explained, “Joseph became Pablo Bard, I became Dora Agar, Man Ray became Roland Ray and so on” (A Look at my Life, London, 1988, p. 139)—as well as lovers, blissfully immersed in a hedonistic Surrealist idyll. Evocative photographs taken by Miller, Maar and Agar immortalize this summer sojourn—languorous lunches, days spent on the beach, Picasso posing in the striped shadows cast by the cane trellis of the hotel terrace, or pictured, in one case, holding an ox skull up to his head, as if transformed into a monstrous, minotaur-like figure.
It was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Picasso who held sway over this coterie of Surrealists—as Agar later described, it was “le Peintre Soleil himself, Picasso the Master, who was indubitably the boss of the roost, his thoughts and moods somehow setting the ruling temperature” (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Minotaur Years, 1933-1943, London, 2022, vol. 4, p. 155). Over the course of the summer, he painted a number of portraits, primarily of the group of friends that surrounded him, that were far removed from those that he had been working on prior to this vacation, in particular the intense and deeply moving Weeping Women series. “Picasso’s energy, in no way sapped by the ordeal of Guernica, expressed itself not only in his physical enjoyment of the unfailing sunshine but also in the constant invention of his mind,” Roland Penrose later wrote. “As a reaction to his recent preoccupation with tragedy, he was seized with a diabolical playfulness. The ‘portraits’ were most frequently of Dora Maar, but at other times his model was Eluard or Nusch or Lee Miller. The paintings were strangely like their models but distorted and disguised by surprising inventions” (Picasso: His Life and Work, London, 1958, p. 279).
Indeed, the artist appears to have relished the very act of painting during this summer sojourn, boldly exploring and playing with the materiality of his paint in canvases such as L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller). With a vibrant, fantastical palette, and bold application of paint, Picasso transformed his companions into playful, light hearted caricatured characters, introducing intriguing textures and finishes to his compositions in the process. For example, the chair in which Miller sits in the present portrait is rendered in bold curving lines that frame her form, and features horizontal bands of pigment that seem to feather and bleed in different sections. In other areas, thick strokes of paint have been deliberately allowed to drip freely, imbuing the composition with a sense of spontaneity, while also recording an impression of the speed and energy with which Picasso attacked the canvas.
For the bright yellow background, Picasso appears to have used whatever materials he could get his hands on, adding Ripolin paint to the composition. A readily available commercial paint, Ripolin was marketed to the general public as a do-it-yourself material and had been formulated to allow for easy application, usually to interior walls, doors or radiators. This iconic French brand quickly became synonymous with a new modernity during the early twentieth century, becoming so ubiquitous in society that the verb “to ripolin” was coined. Aware of its provocative potential in a fine art context, Picasso had begun to use Ripolin in 1912, leading Georges Braque to proclaim that “the weapons have been changed” (quoted in E. Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 231).
Produced in a variety of richly vibrant shades and designed to provide an even, opaque coverage, Ripolin was fast drying and resulted in a smooth, glossy, enamel finish. However, when applied in thicker layers the paint had a tendency to shift during the drying process, often resulting in wrinkling effects that lent the finished compositions a richly textured surface. Such rippling and creasing can be seen in certain passages of L'Arlésienne (Lee Miller), the vibrant yellow pigment subtly crinkling in unexpected ways that interrupt the smooth finish of the semi-gloss material. At one point, the Ripolin layer peels away dramatically, perhaps the result of an errant air bubble, revealing layers of matte paint below, that transition from delicately variegated pink to soft blue hues. Relishing the chance effects that arose from playing with such materials and the presence of his artistic comrades, Picasso’s imagination was stimulated, resulting in an outpouring of richly worked, vibrant portraits.
Miller had become Picasso’s primary focus towards the end of the summer; the artist was said to be captivated by the American, both by her famed classical beauty and her intellect. Beginning in early September, he commenced this group of seated portraits each of which show Miller in the quintessential Arlésienne costume, featuring most prominently the ribbon-trimmed headdress. As well as the liberated palette, what is most notable about these works is the striated technique that Picasso employed to convey Miller’s form, her shoulders and bust depicted with repeated lines or stripes and spirals. This motif would appear with ever-greater frequency in Picasso’s portraiture over the following years.
While abstracted, Picasso’s portraits of Miller retain the essence of the sitter at their center. Penrose, who would later become Miller’s husband, described, “The profile of Lee Miller seemed all the more recognizable when combined with large liquid eyes that had been allowed to run with wet paint and an enormous smile from a pair of bright green lips. It was by a combination of characteristics set out in hieroglyphic shorthand that the person in question became ludicrously recognizable” (op. cit., 1959, p. 279).
The present portrait is the most elaborately constructed portrait of the Miller series. With her face distorted so as to show both profile and frontal angles simultaneously—one of the artist’s most famous portraiture devices—Miller’s visage is painted with a collage-like construction of color. Describing another portrait of Miller from this series, Penrose remarked: “It was an astonishing likeness. An agglomeration of Lee’s qualities of exuberant vitality and vivid beauty put together in such a way that it was undoubtedly her but with none of the conventional attributions of a portrait” (Scrap Book 1900-1981, London, 1981, p. 109). In many ways, these portraits prefigured the great wartime portraits of Dora Maar, in which Picasso continued to employ both a dazzling palette and an elaborate fusion of lines, strokes, and striations to portray his wartime muse.
Miller had only met Penrose a few months before the Mougins trip, not long after she had returned to Paris, a city that she had adored for many years prior. She had first visited the French capital in 1925, aged 18, and was immediately intoxicated by the world of art and bohemianism that she found there. Returning to New York, she was discovered by the publishing magnate, Condé Nast, who launched her successful modeling career when she appeared on the cover of Vogue for the first time in March 1927.
With her own ambitions to become a photographer, Miller left for the French capital again in 1929, armed with an introduction to Man Ray from Edward Steichen, for whom she had frequently sat. She met the American Surrealist photographer by chance in a café. “I told him boldly that I was his new student,” she later recalled. “He said he didn’t take students, and anyway he was leaving Paris for his holiday. I said, I know, I’m going with you—and I did. We lived together for three years. I was known as Madame Man Ray, because that’s how they do things in France” (quoted in A. Penrose, The Lives of Lee Miller, London, 1999, p. 25). Though he was at the time living with Kiki de Montparnasse, Man Ray took Miller on as a student. They soon became lovers. While she posed for him, they also collaborated—most famously developing the solarization technique together. After almost a year working in his studio, she began to take on her own projects.
In 1932, she left Man Ray and returned home to New York, where she set up her own photography studio. The lure of Paris did not wane however, and finally in 1937 she arrived once more in the city, and was immediately re-immersed in the Surrealist world she had once inhabited. Attending a fancy-dress ball alongside the likes of Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, and gallerist, Julien Levy, she was introduced to Penrose, who had come, together with Ernst, dressed as a beggar. “Blond, blue-eyed and responsive she seemed to enjoy the abysmal contrast between her elegance and my own slumlike horror,” Penrose described. “And so it was for the second time that the coup de foudre struck” (quoted in ibid., p. 74).
Two weeks later, Penrose took Miller back to his native England. Together the pair traveled with Man Ray and Ady Fidelin to Truro, in Cornwall. Paul and Nusch Eluard were already there, together with Ernst and Leonora Carrington. Herbert Read, E.L.T Mesens, and Eileen Agar later joined, completing this group of avant-garde artists, writers and poets. A month later, many of this group regathered, this time in Mougins, where they were joined by Picasso and Dora Maar.
That Picasso chose to pose Miller in the costume of an Arlésienne is a reflection of his lifelong admiration for Vincent van Gogh. The artist had featured in a major exhibition in the Palais de Tokyo at the Exposition Universelle, which Picasso would likely have visited—indeed this show had drawn far more visitors and press coverage than Picasso’s own Guernica. Inspired by Van Gogh’s portraits of Madame Ginoux, the café owner from Arles, Picasso’s depictions of Miller show that the Dutch artist was still very much on his mind that summer. Borrowing the same costume as well as the high-keyed palette of his great hero, he transformed his friend into a dazzling amalgam of identities.
It was also at this time that Picasso learned that he, like Van Gogh, had been branded a “degenerate artist,” by the Nazi regime and that the authorities had begun to confiscate works, including his own, from German museums and collections. By appropriating the work of Van Gogh, Picasso was not only paying homage to the artist, but also demonstrating, in the face of derision, their shared status as defiant trailblazers of avant-garde art.
Regarded in this way, the series of Miller portraits stands not only as exuberant, escapist depictions of Picasso’s new friend, but an artistic symbol of defiance in the face of the increasing oppression of the fascist regime. “It becomes clear,” Anne Baldessari has written, “that the virulent theme of the ‘Arlésiennes’ of the summer of 1937 was as much a complex homage to Van Gogh, condemned to Nazi heresy by the Nazis’ ‘new order,’ as an act of ‘diabolical gaiety’… This is an encoded game, the shared language of a group of friends unconsciously struck by the imminence of catastrophe” (Picasso: Life with Dora Maar, Love and War 1935-1945, Paris, 2006, p. 205).
While Picasso and Miller remained close following this hedonistic summer of 1937, the group could not escape the impending realities of war for much longer. When the conflict broke out, Picasso holed up in his Left Bank studio, throwing himself into his painting. Miller and Penrose, meanwhile, were living together in London. Ignoring her family’s pleas for her to return to the US, Miller chose to remain in Europe and later became a war correspondent and photographer for Condé Nast. Over the course of the conflict, she captured London ravaged by the Blitz, the field hospitals in northern France, and later, Hitler’s apartment in Munich as well as the death camps of Dachau and Buchenwald.
It was amid the chaos that followed the Liberation of Paris that she made her way to Picasso’s studio, and, as her son, Antony Penrose has described, she “hammered on the door. [Picasso] opened it and nearly fell over backwards. And he hugged her and he kissed her and he hugged her, and then finally, when he stood back, he looked at her and he said, ‘It’s incredible. The first allied soldier I should see is a woman. She is you’” (quoted in R.L. Cosslett, “’Picasso nearly fell over backwards when he saw her’—Lee Miller’s son on their intense relationship,” in The Guardian, London, 5 September 2022).

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