PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Property from the Neumann Family Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Femme assise (Dora Maar)

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Femme assise (Dora Maar)
signed and dated '31.5.38. Picasso' (upper right)
pen and India ink on paper
17 7/8 x 9 5/8 in. (45.9 x 24.5 cm.)
Drawn in Paris on 31 May 1938
Louis Carré Gallery, New York.
Morton G. Neumann, Chicago (acquired from the above, 21 February 1952, then by descent to the present owners).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1958, vol. 9, no. 146 (illustrated, pl. 72).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Minotaur to Guernica, 1927-1939, Barcelona, 2011, pp. 383 and 448, no. 1179 (illustrated, p. 383).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso in Chicago: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints from Chicago Collections, February-March 1968, pp. 82 and 117, no. 93 (illustrated, p. 82).
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, The Morton G. Neumann Family Collection: Picasso Prints and Drawings, October 1981-January 1982, p. 42, no. 28 (illustrated).

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Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Femme assise (Dora Maar) of 1938 presents Pablo Picasso's wartime lover, the artist and photographer, Dora Maar. Depicted on the scale of a painted portrait, Maar commands the scene, adorned in an elaborate hat, one of her favorite accessories, decorated with a fish. Demonstrating Picasso’s extraordinary abilities as a draughtsman, this striking work on paper reflects the artist’s devotion and deep love of Maar, presenting her as a self-assured Parisienne, at once elegant and mysterious. From the Weeping Women to the plethora of seated portraits, Picasso’s images of Maar are among the greatest of his wartime work. At times haunting, arresting, adoring or reverential, the visual power of these portraits is due in part to the symbiotic creative relationship the pair shared: Maar was not simply a muse, but, as an artist in her own right, she was an active participant in their intense artistic dialogue.
Picasso had met Maar in the winter of 1935-1936. Their now legendary first encounter at the Parisian café, Les Deux Magots, has been frequently recounted. As Picasso later related to Françoise Gilot, “Pablo told me that one of the first times he saw Dora she was sitting at the Deux Magots. She was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéed on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long, pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with the knife, her hand was covered with blood” (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 85-86).
Picasso was fascinated by this spectacle, and fell quickly under the Spanish-speaking artist’s spell. By this time, Maar was a well-known figure within the Surrealist circles of Paris, her photography—from photocollage, to the uncanny compositions she captured of contemporary street life—as well as her political activism making her a key figure within the avant-garde and intellectual world of the city. She engaged with Picasso as more of an equal than some of his prior lovers, the self-assurance with which she is endowed in the present work an indication of this. “I just felt finally, here was somebody I could carry on a conversation with,” Picasso later told Gilot (ibid., p. 236).
In the spring of 1938, a month before he executed the present work, Picasso had begun to portray Maar using a tight framework of small repeated lines and striations that have often been likened to the woven straw of baskets or chair caning. This linear or “basketweave” method of construction clearly fascinated Picasso, as he went on to portray Maar with this technique for much of the summer. In contrast to the volumetric, sensuously curving lines which dominated his concurrent depictions of Marie-Thérèse Walter, this rigid, geometric linear vocabulary came to define his depictions of Maar. Of his painted portrait of the previous year (Zervos, vol. 8, no. 331; Musée Picasso, Paris), Brigitte Léal has written, “stripes proliferate until they cover the figure and background entirely, becoming an eloquent statement of the intensely emotional character of her image. What is one to think of the meaning of this network of concentric lines that, not content to bud prettily on her clothes, begins progressively to invade every part of her body…” (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 392).
A year later, as the present work shows, these lines had taken over to become the entire structure of her body. Appearing as if caught in a spider’s web, Maar’s form is depicted solely with these clear, assured marks. One breast is portrayed with concentric circles while the other takes the form of an arrow piercing it, a reflection perhaps of the way in which her heart had been ensnared by the artist. On the same day that he created the present work, Picasso painted a closely related oil, which shows Maar in the same pose, the intricate linear pattern replaced with bold three-dimensional forms (Fondation Beyeler, Riehen). Though the chair rises up threateningly around her, Maar still presides over the scene, her legs casually crossed, arms nonchalantly resting, and most importantly, her powerful gaze set resolutely out of the picture plane, her head topped by one of her signature hats, which appear like, “the great wings of a voracious insect” (ibid., p. 389).

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