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

L’Arlésienne (Lee Miller)

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
L’Arlésienne (Lee Miller)
dated and numbered ‘1er Septembre 37 (I)’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
31 7⁄8 x 25 5⁄8 in. (81 x 65 cm.)
Painted in Mougins on 1 September 1937
Estate of the artist.
Galerie Berggruen & Cie., Paris.
Dr. Samuel and Annette Mandel, New York (acquired from the above); sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 11 November 1999, lot 128.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1957, vol. 8, no. 371 (illustrated, pl. 179).
P. Daix, Picasso: La Provence et Jacqueline, exh. cat., Espace Van Gogh, Arles, 1991, p. 37 (illustrated).
I. Mössinger, B. Ritter and K. Drechsel, eds., Picasso et les femmes, exh. cat., Sta¨dtische Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, 2002, p. 205 (illustrated, fig. 6).
Y. Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d’Arlésiennes, 1912-1958, exh. cat., Fondation Van Gogh, Arles, 2005, pp. 66 and 165 (illustrated in color, p. 67).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Del Minotaur al Guernika, 1927-1939, Barcelona, 2011, p. 446, no. 1049 (illustrated in color, p. 341).
Roslyn, New York, Nassau County Museum, Picasso, Faces and Figures, November 1996-January 1997, p. 40 (illustrated in color, p. 8).

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

Lot Essay

The resplendent figure of Lee Miller is the enthroned protagonist of this vividly colored, exuberant portrait by Pablo Picasso. Painted during a halcyon summer that the artist spent in Mougins in the south of France in 1937, L’Arlésienne (Lee Miller) depicts the celebrated American photographer as an Arlésienne, in the traditional costume of Arles. This was a landmark year for Picasso, which saw the creation of some of his most important works: Guernica (Zervos, vol. 9, no.65; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid) was completed in the spring, while the haunting La femme qui pleure (Zervos, vol. 9, no.73; Tate, London) reached its final iteration in October. Alongside these monumental works, Picasso also painted a dazzling array of portraits: sensuous depictions of Marie-Thérèse Walter; charged portrayals of his new lover and muse, Dora Maar; as well as boldly colored images of those whom he spent time with throughout this prolific year, including Miller.
With her wide, smiling eyes and her notorious gap-toothed grin, L’Arlésienne is one of a series of seven portraits of Miller from this summer that reflects her famed beauty as well as the irrepressible vivacity for which she was renowned. With a kaleidoscopic palette of shocking pink, electric green, turquoises, and red, this portrait radiates a glowing light and energy, immersing the viewer in the artist’s fantastical vision of Miller.
Picasso first met Miller during the summer of 1937—though it is possible they had crossed paths with one another in Paris earlier in the decade. The artist had traveled south with Maar to Mougins, a small, hilltop village overlooking the Mediterranean where they had spent the previous summer. Here, they joined the poet, Paul Éluard and his wife, Nusch, as well as Man Ray and Ady Fidelin, British Surrealist, Eileen Agar and her husband, Joseph Bard, and Roland Penrose and his new girlfriend, Lee Miller.
Previously the student, muse, and lover of Man Ray, Miller was by this time a prominent figure in the world of Surrealism. After falling out with Man Ray she returned to New York in 1932, before moving to Cairo as the wife of a wealthy Egyptian businessman. This marriage did not last long however, and she returned to Paris five years later, in 1937.
It was in the French capital that she met Penrose. The pair quickly became lovers. Traveling to England, she was once more immersed in Surrealism, spending time with Max Ernst, Leonora Carrington, and the Éluards, in Cornwall. For the summer months, the majority of this Surrealist group voyaged south, to the Côte d’Azur, where they joined up with Picasso and Maar. Together, this group of painters, poets and photographers spent a carefree, creatively fertile and liberating summer, far removed from the bleak realities of Europe’s steady descent towards war. Spending time on the beach and enjoying long leisurely lunches, the group swapped names—as Eileen Agar explained, “Pablo Picasso became Don José, 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.
Man Ray later recalled, “We all stayed at a pension hotel, the Hôtel Vaste Horizon, back in the country in Mougins, above Antibes, lunching and dining on the grapevine sheltered pergola. After a morning on the beach and a leisurely lunch, we retired to our respective rooms for a siesta and perhaps love making. But we worked, too. In the evening Éluard read us his latest poem, Picasso showed us his starry-eyed portrait of Dora” (quoted in Picasso and the Camera, exh. cat., Gagosian, New York, 2014, p. 231).
Under the summer sun, Picasso painted numerous color-filled and playful portraits of his companions, including Maar, Paul and Nusch Éluard, and Miller. He had just emerged from a period of intense creativity, the result of which was Guernica. Released from this deep focus, Picasso was, as Penrose described, “seized by a diabolical playfulness” (Picasso: His Life and Work, London, 1958, p. 279). Engrossed in a Mediterranean idyll, Picasso escaped from the torments of the Spanish Civil War and the tensions caused by Europe’s ever-worsening political situation, leaving these subjects behind and instead depicting the sun-drenched landscape and his amorous, convivial friends.
With a bright color palette, Picasso transformed his companions into playful, light hearted caricatures. Éluard is transformed into a fantastical female peasant in La femme au chat (Zervos, vol. 8, no. 373; Private collection), and his wife, Nusch is depicted wearing an elaborate, Niçoise hat in Portrait de Nusch Éluard (Museum Berggruen, Berlin). Together these works are the antithesis of the haunting, deeply tragic motif of La femme qui pleure.
Of these Mougins portraits, seven are devoted to Lee Miller. Picasso was smitten by the American, captivated by her striking, classical beauty, as well as by her vivacious personality and sharp intellect. In these portraits, Picasso depicted Miller as an Arlésienne, adorned with the typical costume of this emblematic Provençal figure. Perched upon her head is the signature headdress with a ribbon flowing behind, and around her shoulders is the distinctive Arlésienne shawl. Yet, from behind this fanciful costume, the distinguishing features of Miller are evident: her coiffed, curly blonde hair, striking eyes and large smile.
Penrose, who would later become Miller’s husband, described a similar work in this series: “On a bright pink background Lee appeared in profile, her face a brilliant yellow like the sun with no modeling. Two smiling eyes and a green mouth were placed on the same side of the face, and her breasts seemed like the sails of ships filled with a joyous breeze. 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).
Throughout the summer in Mougins, Picasso visited his great friend and rival, Henri Matisse who was living in nearby Nice. Picasso and Matisse had been in regular contact throughout the year: the French master had visited his Spanish counterpart on numerous occasions in his Paris studio where he would have seen the development of Guernica. At this time, Matisse was painting a series of exuberant, brightly colored and ornately patterned female portraits. Dazzling in their riotous combination of colorful textiles, flowers, plants and light, these paintings depict women adorned in exotic and opulent fabrics, reclining like modern-day odalisques. In many ways, the vivid palette of Picasso’s own paintings of this summer, and his depiction, as in the present work, of the elaborate, decorative attire that Miller is portrayed in can be seen perhaps as a reflection of Matisse’s concurrent works.
Picasso rarely painted these portraits from life but, having absorbed the appearance and the character of a person, depicted their image in his own, unique pictorial language. Though seemingly depicting her face in profile, in L’Arlésienne, Picasso has included both her eyes, representing this dominant physiognomic feature with a striking simplicity. Two round pupils stare from the center of a series of red outlines. This device was a dominant feature of Picasso’s portraits of this time, seen frequently in the artist’s portrayals of his lover, Dora Maar.
With these works, the artist formed a new conception of portraiture, shunning the depiction of volume for a flattened and stylized composite of line and color. Yet, though simplified and distorted, the likeness of the sitter still characterizes these portraits. Penrose remarked on L’Arlésienne, “The paintings were strangely like their models but distorted and disguised by surprising inventions… In each case beneath the buffoonery, there was a masterly handling of color and form as well as a likeness, the reasons for which were almost impossible to define. 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., 1958, p. 279).
L’Arlésienne and the other portraits of this series mark the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the artist and the photographer. In 1944, not long after Paris had been freed from the Nazi Occupation, Miller visited the artist in his studio. Over the course of the following years, Miller, together with her husband, Penrose, who was devoted to the artist, paid many visits to Picasso’s various homes, remaining an important presence in his life up until his death. Miller took over one thousand photographs of Picasso—a unique visual record of their close and lasting friendship.
The figure of the Arlésienne pays homage to Vincent van Gogh’s series of striking portraits of 1888 that depict Madame Ginoux, the owner of the Café de la Gare in Arles. Throughout his career, Picasso revered Van Gogh and in 1937, at the time he painted L’Arlésienne, the legendary Post-Impressionist painter had once more ignited Picasso’s imagination. During the Paris Exposition Internationale of 1937, a large exhibition of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and modern art was held in Paris. Able to regard his own work in the same context as Van Gogh, Picasso was perhaps inspired to return again to the Dutch master’s work.
It was also during the summer of 1937 that Picasso learned that he, like Van Gogh, had been branded a “degenerate artist,” and that the Nazis 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.
Perhaps then, L’Arlésienne is not solely an exuberant, light-hearted depiction of his summer companion and muse, Lee Miller, but, if viewed in the context of the turbulent political times, it could also be seen as powerful artistic symbol—a reflection of Picasso’s unfailing creativity in the face of the increasing oppression of the Nazi 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).

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