PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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The Collection of Jerry Moss
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Nu couché

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Nu couché
signed 'Picasso' (upper right); dated and numbered '13.10.68. II' (on the reverse)
oil and Ripolin on canvas
44 7⁄8 x 63 5⁄8 in. (114 x 162.5 cm.)
Painted on 13 October 1968
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 1 November 1978, lot 58.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1973, vol. 27, no. 342 (illustrated, pl. 134).

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

Lot Essay

Pablo Picasso’s Nu couché from 1968 is a powerful example of the indefatigable zeal and astounding creative vigor with which the Spanish master approached painting during the final chapter of his career. Across this monumental canvas, Picasso’s brushstrokes interweave and overlap in an energetic mass of pigment, capturing the reclining female figure in cool tones of grey. Adopting an abbreviated style of painting, which the artist described as écriture-peinture, these works from the late 1960s express the passionate vitality and distinct sense of spontaneity with which Picasso approached his art during these years, as he sought to simplify the process of translating his vision swiftly and decisively onto the canvas.
Between March and October of 1968 Picasso had been intensely focused on the creation of a series of engravings, working feverishly to produce what has become known as La Suite 347, a sequence of etchings that showcased his skill and inventiveness in the medium. The successive entries, each compulsively dated and serialized, read like a sprawling, epic novel, featuring familiar characters and recurring themes in a mysterious narrative. Picasso, in the varying guises of artist, faun, jester and buffoon, guides the viewer through scenes of the circus, pageants, antique tableaux and mythological exploits. When he returned to painting later that fall, Picasso often drew inspiration directly from different plates within La Suite 347, distilling their compositions down to focus on a singular character or a particular concept which he found intriguing, exploring it anew on his canvases through thick, gestural strokes of oil paint. In the present Nu couché, completed just over a week after Picasso executed the final print of La Suite 347, certain aspects of the reclining female figure appear to echo the central character in the engraving Egyptien et femmes IV, particularly her pose and the striking treatment of her eye, which recalls the bold graphic style of ancient Egyptian art.
Displaying a distinct confidence and self-assuredness as she reveals her naked body to the desiring gaze of her partner, the female character in Nu couché appears to be the embodiment of l’éternal féminin. Lounging nonchalantly before her admirer, she rests one hand against her cheek while the other wraps around her head, her posture echoing the sensuous odalisques of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Francisco de Goya and Henri Matisse. With her dark hair, hieratic bearing and Grecian profile, the recumbent female appears to be an homage to the artist’s wife Jacqueline, the muse who entranced Picasso throughout his later years, filling his imagination and fantasies with her petite, yet voluptuous, form. Though she never modelled for him in the traditional sense, Jacqueline’s presence permeated every aspect of the artist’s work, captivating his imagination and inspiring a myriad of sculptures, drawings, etchings and paintings in her likeness. Picasso merely required the stimulation of Jacqueline proximity for her features to find their way into his work, subjecting her form to the lively play of his imagination.
While Marie-Laure Bernadac has characterized Jacqueline as “the ultimate odalisque” in terms of “her physique, in her strange likeness to the women in [Delacroix’s] paintings, her sensuous nature,” Picasso’s depictions of his last love went beyond a mere celebration of her physicality, capturing aspects of her personality and temperament in a manner that reveals the close intimacy the two shared (“Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model” in Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 55). The artist’s friend Hélène Parmelin wrote in 1966 that Jacqueline offered him “a hundred thousand possibilities. She unfolds to infinity… She takes the place of all the models of all the painters on all the canvases…” (Picasso Says…, London, 1966, p. 68). In Nu couché the sheer scale of Jacqueline’s body, combined with the attention Picasso has paid to relaying the flowing lines of her curves, serves as a testament to his enduring fascination with his wife. Here, her figure fills the picture plane to its very edges in a monumental homage to her sensuous form, her gaze captivating as she looks straight out from the canvas towards the viewer.
Residing in almost complete seclusion with Jacqueline at Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins during these years, Picasso was able to immerse himself entirely in his work, painting without disturbance for long hours each day. The result was an exuberant burst of creativity that belied the artist’s age, as he produced an astounding body of work that valiantly proclaimed his undiminished powers of creation. Taking great pleasure in the act of painting itself, he allowed process to take prominence over the finished image. “It’s the movement of painting that interests me,” he once explained, “the dramatic movement from one effort to the next, even if those efforts are perhaps not pushed to their ultimate end… I’ve reached the moment, you see, when the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself” (quoted in E. Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 640).
This fervent energy is reflected in the vivid, gestural brushwork the artist employed in compositions such as Nu couché—forms are modelled in long, sinuous strokes of pigment, the paintbrush zig-zagging across the canvas in broad passages of paint that trace the movement of the artist’s hand. An array of loose hairs from his brush remain embedded in the pigment in the present work, demonstrating the speed and force with which Picasso attacked the canvas. Executed in subtle shades of delicately modulated grey tones that shift in texture and finish from one section to the next, Nu couché is a powerful study in monochrome, recalling the grisaille techniques of the Old Masters. At a time when many were questioning the continued relevance of traditional easel painting, Picasso remained resolutely bound to the essential, time-honored elements and processes of art. His large canvases from the 1960s, painted with such lavish strokes of thick color and strident lines celebrate the very act of painting itself, demonstrating that the medium was far from dead; indeed, as Picasso showed with works such as Nu couché, it was thriving.

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