PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
4 More
Property from a New England Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Le repas de l’acrobate

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Le repas de lacrobate
signed ‘Picasso’ (upper left)
gouache, watercolor and pen and India ink on card laid down on paper
12 ½ x 9 1/8 in. (31.6 x 23.3 cm.)
Executed in 1905
Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich von Reber, Lausanne (by 1931).
Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York and Paris (acquired from the above, 28 July 1933).
Mrs. Frederick G. Clark, New York (acquired from the above, 1 February 1938, until at least 1947).
Acquired by the family of the present owner, 1950s.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1932, vol. 1, no. 292 (illustrated, pl. 124).
D. Cooper, Picasso et le théâtre, Paris, 1967, p. 81, no. 38 (illustrated).
P. Daix and G. Boudaille, Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1900-1906, London, 1967, p. 260, no. XII:14 (illustrated).
A. Moravia, P. Lecaldano and P. Daix, The Complete Paintings of Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods, Milan, 1968, p. 100, no. 169 (illustrated).
F. Sopeña Ibañez, Picasso y la música, Madrid, 1982, p. 164 (illustrated, no. 41).
D. Kosinski, "G.F. Reber: Collector of Cubism" in The Burlington Magazine, August 1991, vol. 133, no. 1061, p. 530 (titled Two Saltimbanques and dated 1904-1905).
London, The Lefevre Gallery (Alex. Reid & Lefevre, Ltd.), Thirty Years of Pablo Picasso, June 1931, no. 6 (titled Deux Saltimbanques and dated 1904-1905).
New York, Jacques Seligmann & Co., Picasso, Blue and Rose Periods, 1901-1906, November 1936, p. 21, no. 24.
New York, Pierre Matisse Gallery, Pastels, Watercolors, Drawings, April-May 1937, no. 15.
New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Picasso Before 1907, October-November 1947, no. 30.
Sale room notice
Please note the updated medium for this work, which can be accessed online:
gouache, watercolor and pen and India ink on card laid down on paper

Brought to you by

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

Lot Essay

Amidst an expansive, ethereal landscape, a pair of saltimbanques, perhaps a father and son, take their meal in a makeshift shelter in Pablo Picasso’s Le repas de l’Acrobate, the drum, ladder, and tricolore all signs of their profession as itinerant acrobats, performers who wandered from one town or fairground to another, staging impromptu shows. Executed in 1905, this work dates from the height of Picasso’s famed Rose Period; one of the great series that features the troupe of saltimbanques, harlequins and jesters that had entered his work at the end of the year prior.
Rendered with an exquisite refinement, in a palette of delicate, soft hues, the protagonists of these works appear as otherworldly figures set in barren, neverland-like worlds. A sense of stillness and silence pervades, the compositions evoking a mysterious and elusive timelessness that reflects the increasingly classical mindset that had begun to prevail in French painting. Indeed, created with a fusion of inspiration taken from contemporary Parisian life, as well as French literature both past and present, these Rose period works show Picasso’s immersion into the culture and heritage of his newly adopted home. The present work is literally steeped in the colors of France: the blue, white and red of the hanging tricolore are repeated not only in the costumes of the two saltimbanques, but have also seeped into the expansive, rolling hills of the landscape that stretches behind them.
Following three unsuccessful attempts to make his name in Paris between late 1900 and early 1903, Picasso finally established himself in the capital during the spring of 1904. On his arrival in the city he took a studio on the top floor of the dilapidated, ramshackle “Bateau-Lavoir” at 13, rue Ravignan in Montmartre. Soon Picasso was immersed in a world of poverty-stricken yet heady bohemianism, surrounded by artists and poets, including Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, and André Salmon, as well as the playwright Alfred Jarry. That summer he also met the first great love of his life, Fernande Olivier. Together this group gathered in Picasso’s studio—aptly signed ‘Au rendez-vous des poètes’ on the door—as well as other Montmartre meeting places, the Closerie de Lilas and Lapin Agile.
Together this motley crew of artists, poets, and writers were regular spectators at one of Montmartre’s most notorious nocturnal haunts, the Cirque Médrano. “We were scarcely ever out of the Médrano,” Fernande later reminisced, “we went there three or four times a week at least’ (quoted in T. Reff, “Harlequins, Saltimbanques, Clowns, and Fools” in Artforum, October 1971, vol. 10, no. 2, p. 33). Not only would Picasso and his companions watch the dazzling circus productions—featuring clowns, acrobats, jugglers, horseback riders, and more—they could mingle with the performers backstage, something Picasso was said to adore. Gertrude Stein wrote that Picasso and his friends, “all met once or twice a week at the Cirque Médrano and there they felt very flattered because they could mix with the clowns, the jugglers, the horses and their riders. Picasso was little by little more and more French and this started the rose or harlequin period” (Picasso, Paris, 1938, p. 7).
It was not just in the Médrano that Picasso found these performers, but in the streets of Montmartre and beyond too. When asked by Josep Palau i Fabre about the origins of his saltimbanques and the Rose period, Picasso described a specific day when, walking home through the Esplanade des Invalides, he came across a troupe of acrobats. Whether or not they were performing the artist could not recall, nor did he specify the time of year; yet this image of the players clearly remained in the artist’s mind (Picasso: The Early Years, 1881-1907, Barcelona, 1981, p. 398).
This was not an infrequent sight in Paris at this time. Groups of performers often lived in makeshift tents and shelters along the boulevards close to the fairs or circuses where they were performing at the time. The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke encountered a similar scene: in a letter of 1907 he described a family of saltimbanques—bringing to mind Picasso’s Les Bateleurs of 1905 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 285; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.)—that he had witnessed in the Luxembourg Gardens. Apollinaire conjured the image of a group of acrobats performing in a square in Saint-Germain in his poem, Un fantôme de nuées, published in 1913. He writes of saltimbanques, the oldest of which, “wore tights of that purplish pink one finds/On the cheeks of certain fresh young girls close to death,” and, “a small saltimbanque dressed in consumptive red/With fur at his wrists and ankles,” who is performing a balancing act upon a ball, lines that vividly conjure Picasso’s own painterly depictions of this characters.
Indeed, Apollinaire also provided one of the most insightful contemporaneous descriptions of this new bande that had appeared in Picasso’s work in a review in La Plume in May 1905. “The harlequins go in splendid rags while the painting is gathering, warming or whitening its colors to express the strength and duration of the passions, while the lines, delimited by the tight curves, intersect or flow impetuously,” he wrote. “The color has the flatness of frescoes; the lines are firm” (quoted in M. McCully, Picasso in Paris, 1900-1907, exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2011, p. 146). There is the sense in his writing and poetry that Apollinaire was feeding Picasso’s imagination as much describing what the artist was painting. This reciprocity between painter and poet, art and life, French culture and personal identity, defines Picasso’s work of this time.
Towards the end of 1904, these figures began to enter into Picasso’s work, replacing the indigo-hued emaciated, indigent figures that had peopled his Blue period. Unlike his predecessors, Edgar Degas, Georges Seurat, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and others who had pictured the spectacle of dancers, acrobats and others in the midst of their circus performances, Picasso took a different approach. His saltimbanques and harlequins appear alone, in pairs, or often in families, in tender, intimate depictions filled with a warmth that defies the often empty, ghostly surroundings in which they are set. While the melancholic blue in which his Blue period protagonists bathed had thawed, replaced by a soft, exquisitely delicate pastel palette, Picasso rendered these figures with the same elongated, attenuated style as their predecessors, their bodies often androgynous, and their faces captivatingly expressionless.
There was another reason that the saltimbanques appealed to Picasso. Already by the early twentieth century these figures, which were hugely popular in art and literature, were symbolic of the nonconformist, Romantic notion of an artist—existing on the fringes of society, nomadic, and devoted solely to their art. A number of nineteenth century poets and artists, including Gustave Flaubert, Charles Baudelaire, Théodore de Banville, Paul Cézanne (whose Mardi gras was shown in the Salon d’Automne of 1904), and Honoré Daumier had featured these marginal figures in their work, and Picasso’s friends of the time, Apollinaire and Jacob, were also ardent fans of the Symbolist poetry of Paul Verlaine, a volume of which Picasso owned, and Jules Larforgue, in whose work the characters of the commedia dell’Arte featured frequently.
These figures struck Picasso as true artists like himself, “wanderers who led a picturesquely marginal existence when they were not, like him, performing feats of prodigious skill,” John Richardson has written. “Picasso and his friends were forever indulging in elaborate jokes and fantasies, forever pretending they were someone else, and they may well have identified with these saltimbanques, lingering in their never-never world, their symbolist limbo” (A Life of Picasso, 1881-1906, London, 2009, vol. I, pp. 336 and 386). Indeed, this world of saltimbanques and harlequins can be seen as the artist’s newly formed and so-called bande à Picasso, their life a rose-hued bohemian idyll, penurious, and yet dazzling and prolific.
One of the first owners of Repas de l’Acrobate was the German native, textile magnate, and prolific collector, Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber. Initially an ardent collector of late nineteenth-century French work, at the beginning of the 1920s Reber fell under the spell of Cubism. He began to exchange many of his earlier Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces for works by the leading artists of this ground breaking movement, namely Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger and Picasso.
The financial crash of 1929 was the main factor for a reversal in Reber’s fortunes, and he was forced to gradually sell off his notable art collection. On 28 July 1933, he sold Repas de l’Acrobate to the dealer and gallerist, Jacques Seligmann. This rare work has remained in the same family collection since the 1950s.

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