PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Scène de cirque

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Scène de cirque
signed, dated and numbered 'Picasso 22.9.68.I' (lower centre); dated again 'Dimanche 22.9.68.' (on the reverse)
coloured wax crayons and pencil on paper
9 3⁄8 x 12 1⁄8 in. (24 x 31.3 cm.)
Drawn in Mougins on 22 September 1968
Galerie Louise Leiris [Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler], Paris.
Private collection, Palm Beach, by whom acquired circa 1970; estate sale, Christie's, New York, 4 November 2004, lot 152.
Private collection, Barcelona, by whom acquired at the above sale.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Christie's, New York, 13 November 2015, lot 1112.
Private collection, by whom acquired at the above sale; sale, Christie's, New York, 13 November 2021, lot 543.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 27, Œuvres de 1967 et 1968, Paris, 1973, no. 299 (illustrated pl. 118).

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Lot Essay

Since his earliest days as an artist, the world of the circus had served as rich inspiration for Pablo Picasso’s imagination, its dynamic cast of harlequins and acrobats, jesters and jugglers, fuelling his creative fantasies and shaping his work in a variety of different media. From his acclaimed Rose-period Saltimbanques, to his biomorphic Surrealist visions of twirling acrobats in the 1930s, and his suite of drawings published in 1954 under the title Picasso and the Human Comedy, the circus reappeared frequently across his oeuvre, an enduring and timeless motif that prompted him to create whimsical scenes in painting, sculpture, ceramics and prints.

John Richardson has traced the source of these circus fantasies to Picasso’s memories of Rosita del Oro, a well-known circus rider and the artist’s first girlfriend when he was still an adolescent living with his parents and family in Barcelona. ‘The conquest of this star equestrienne by a boy just turned fifteen says a lot for his personality and sexual magnetism,’ Richardson has explained. ‘Nor was this a short-lived adolescent fling; it was a relationship that lasted on and off for a number of years. At the very end of his life, however, Rosita comes back to haunt Picasso. His lifelong passion for the circus, his identification with acrobats and clowns, stems from this early romance’ (A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, vol. I p. 68).

Picasso’s interest in the motif went further than his own biography, however – he was deeply intrigued by the variety and range of the performers he encountered on his many subsequent visits to the circus through the years. As with Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Georges Seurat before him, he frequented the Cirque Médrano in Montmartre while living in Paris, and was captivated by the lights, costumes, music, exotic beasts and acrobatic performances that played out within the tent each evening. Beyond this dazzling spectacle, Picasso felt a deep affinity for the eclectic cast of characters, who struck him ‘as true artists, like himself,’ Richardson has written, ‘wanderers who led a picturesquely marginal existence when they were not, like him, performing feats of prodigious skill’ (ibid., p. 371).

The theme continued to thread its way through the grand sequence of Picasso’s late drawings and prints, reappearing at various intervals in his work. The present Scène de cirque is one of four drawings that Picasso executed on Sunday, 22 September 1968, and the only one from that day that the artist chose to render in colour, employing vigorous strokes of bright wax crayon and pencil to infuse the scene with a vivid sense of life and joie de vivre. While the trio of other works from this day focus on the danger-filled act of the lion-tamer in the ring, here Picasso focuses his eye on the daring performance of an equestrienne, as she stands atop her wild horse, a picture of carefully controlled balance and fearlessness. The vigorously worked sheet is rich with anecdotal details, providing a strong sense of atmosphere – a trio of figures positioned along the far edge of the ring represent the captivated audience, while a towering strong-man watches the movements of the equestrienne, his powerful physique captured in great sweeping lines and a twisting swirl of green colour.

However, it is the imposing man to the left of the composition who catches the eye and is perhaps the most intriguing character within the scene. Though seated, with his hands resting in his lap, he is positioned in such a way that he seems involved in the performance, more than a passive bystander watching events unfold. A thick weave of criss-crossing pencil marks cover the entirety of his torso, holding him in place like a network of interlacing ropes, creating the impression that he has been tied to his chair. His wide eyes are fixed on the voluptuous equestrienne as she balances on one leg, leaving him seemingly oblivious to the advancing horse she stands upon, who metamorphoses into a mythical hybrid creature that can breathe fire, multicoloured flames curling from its mouth as it readies itself to charge.

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