Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Distinguished Private Collector
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Les femmes d'Alger (version 'F')

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Les femmes d'Alger (version 'F')
signed 'Picasso' (lower left); dated and inscribed '17.1.55 K' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
21 3/8 x 25 5/8 in. (54.2 x 65 cm.)
Painted on 17 January 1955
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the artist, May 1956).
Victor and Sally Ganz, New York (acquired from the above, June 1956).
Daniel and Eleanore Saidenberg, New York (acquired from the above, by January 1957, and then by descent).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2011.
F. Elgar and R. Maillard, Picasso: A Study of his Work, 1956, p. 244 (series discussed).
C. Zervos, "Confrontations de Picasso avec des oeuvres d'art d'autrefois" in Cahiers d'Art, 1960, nos. 33-35, p. 49 (illustrated).
F. Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 203 (series discussed).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1965, vol. 16, no. 348 (illustrated, pl. 126).
K. Gallwitz, Picasso at 90: The Late Work, New York, 1971, p. 136 (illustrated, p. 124, pl. 164).
L. Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth Century Art, New York, 1972, pp. 136-138 and 151 (illustrated, p. 137, fig. 84; illustrated again on a fold-out).
R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, Los Angeles, 1981, pp. 394-397 (series discussed).
K. Gallwitz, Picasso: The Heroic Years, New York, 1985, pp. 125, 127 and 136-142 (illustrated, p. 124, no. 164).
L. Nittve, ed., Pablo Picasso, exh. cat., Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 1988, pp. 132-133, 143 and 221 (illustrated, p. 132, no. 10).
F. Gilot, Matisse and Picasso: A Friendship in Art, New York, 1990, pp. 316-317 (series discussed).
P. Daix, Dictionnaire Picasso, Paris, 1995, pp. 362-363 (series discussed).
E. Lucie-Smith, Movements in Art Since 1945, New York, 1995, p. 16 (series discussed).
S. Galassi, Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 141.
M. FitzGerald, ed., A Life of Collecting: Victor and Sally Ganz, New York, 1997, p. 51.
B. Léal, C. Piot and M.-L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, pp. 405-413 (series discussed).
C. Gruneberg and A. Becker, eds., Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette: Picasso and the Model, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2014, pp. 226-227 (series discussed).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Rheinisches Museum and Kunsthalle-Altbau Hamburg, Picasso: Peintures 1900-1955, June 1955-April 1956, no. 127 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art and Art Institute of Chicago, Picasso, 75th Anniversary, May-December 1957, p. 109.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Picasso: A Loan Exhibition of his Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, Ceramics, Prints and Illustrated Books, January-February 1958, p. 24, no. 247.
New York, Cordier-Warren Gallery, Picasso: An American Tribute, April-May 1962, no. 7.11 (illustrated).
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Inc., Homage to Picasso for his 90th Birthday, Exhibition for the Benefit of the American Cancer Society, October 1971, p. 82, no. 72 (illustrated).
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centre de Arte Reina Sofía, Picasso: Las grandes series, March-June 2001, pp. 353-354, no. 4 (illustrated in color, p. 218).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Between 13 December 1954 and 14 February 1955, Picasso painted a series of fifteen canvases based on Eugène Delacroix’s masterwork Les femmes d’Alger, each of which he assigned an identifying letter from A to O. Together, these paintings constitute Picasso’s single greatest achievement in the decades following the end of the Second World War. They represent his first comprehensive appropriation and thoroughgoing exploration of an important painting by an earlier artist, as well as the most focused analysis he had done since the war years of the female figure set within a specific spatial environment. The full range of these variant versions adds up to a retrospective compendium—a master class—of modernist pictorial forms, revitalized and employed anew. Each of the individual canvases, moreover, is uniquely characterful in its own right, a marvel of teeming and brilliant invention.
Picasso painted the present Femmes d’Alger, Version F on 17 January 1955, around the halfway point in the cycle. It is the culminating, most fully resolved canvas from the first phase of the series, when Picasso favored medium-sized formats for his protean explorations. In its brilliant color, spatial complexity, and compositional resolution, Version F represents the bridge to the later, larger-scale works in the ensemble and a counterpart to the magisterial Version O, which brings the second half of the series to a close. “I never do a painting as a work of art,” Picasso explained. “All of them are researches. I search constantly, and there is a logical sequence in all this research. It’s an experiment in time” (quoted in L. Steinberg, op. cit., 1972, p. 149).
The fifteen paintings of Les femmes d’Alger are the direct descendant of historical events—and the art resulting from them—that took place nearly a century and a quarter earlier. Delacroix spent six months during 1832 in Morocco, while attached as an artist to record the journey of a diplomatic delegation that King Louis-Philippe had sent to deal with various issues arising from the French conquest of Algeria two years before. On his way back to France, Delacroix visited Algiers, where with the permission of an Algerian engineer, a former Christian friendly to the French who had converted to Islam, the artist entered the apartment of man’s three wives—his harem—an experience traditionally and expressly forbidden to non-family males.
Upon his return to Paris, Delacroix painted the first, large version of Les femmes d’Alger, which he exhibited at the Salon of 1834 (Musée du Louvre, Paris). King Louis Philippe purchased the painting for the Musée du Luxembourg, then the official showcase in Paris for contemporary art. Delacroix painted a second, smaller version of the composition in 1847, in which he adjusted the positioning of the figures and altered the architecture, decoration, and lighting (Musée Fabre, Montpellier). In subsequent years, sustaining its fascination as a window onto an unfamiliar land and culture, this scene inspired the rise of the Orientalist school that flourished throughout the 19th century into the next, and ultimately inspired two painters of Olympian stature—Picasso and Matisse, the greatest artists of the modern era—to take on this exotic subject in their own work.
Picasso had been fascinated with Delacroix and his work ever since he came to Paris as a young man and aspiring painter, having studied the version of Les femmes d’Alger in the Louvre. He transformed Delacroix’s harem apartment into the bordello setting in which he arranged the naked, partly Africanized women of Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. In Royan during 1940, Picasso made sketches after Les femmes d’Alger, perhaps with the intention of beginning a painting. “He had often spoken to me of making his own version of The Women of Algiers,” Françoise Gilot recalled, “and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it. I asked him how he felt about Delacroix. His eyes narrowed and he said, ‘That bastard. He’s really good’” (quoted in Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 203).
Picasso painted Les femmes d’Alger in his studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins, Paris, which had been his workplace since 1937. The series comprises ten paintings steeped in brilliant color, including the present Version F, and five rendered en grisaille. In this way, Picasso alternated between coloristic and linear approaches to the ultimate synthesis of means that he sought to attain. His method in creating the ensemble was part plan, but mostly inspired, spontaneous improvisation, in his usual manner. “Picasso had been telling me that he always thought about the following day’s picture in the Femmes d’Alger series and wondered what it would be like,” recalled the artist’s longtime dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. “‘You see,’ [he said], ‘it’s not time regained, but time for discovery’” (quoted in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology, Princeton, 1982, pp. 252-253).
The first two versions of Les femmes d’AlgerA and B, both painted on 13 December 1954—contain three figures: a smoker (an odalisque holding a narghile or water pipe), a sleeper, and the standing serving girl in the background. Henceforth the seated figure at the left—the smoker—will remain in place, dominating that side of the composition. Version C (28 December 1954) and Version D (1 January 1955) are the first to include four figures, as in Delacroix’s rendering of the scene, with the addition of a second, frontally facing, seated odalisque. In this pair of canvases, moreover, the sleeper first assumes her legs-up, recumbent position, which she will maintain throughout the rest of the series.
Picasso brought back the three-figure grouping in the next two variants, painted on consecutive days (16 and 17 January 1955). The smaller Version E is in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the larger Version F is the present painting. The sleeper, now dramatically enlarged, stretches out across the frontal plane and pushes up against the smoker at left, evoking Picasso’s recurrent vision of a sleeping figure watched by a wakeful one. The nude’s extended legs fill the canvas from bottom to top, her feet nearly reaching the upper edge. “Figures are no longer compressed in space but instead create it,” Susan Galassi has written, “their bodies measuring out the vertical, horizontal, and depth dimensions” (op. cit., 1996, p. 140). The sleeper’s head twists downward in opposition to her legs, while her torso rotates to reveal aspects of a front and back view simultaneously, a complicated configuration to which Picasso devoted numerous preparatory drawings.
In addition to referencing Delacroix, the composition now explicitly recalls Ingres’s Odalisque à l’esclave, 1839 (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, MA), itself a commentary on the 1834 Femmes d’Alger, which Ingres had seen at the Salon. The two 19th century masters—the arch-Romantic Delacroix and the classical exemplar Ingres—were antipodes in the stylistic and temperamental duel in art that took place in their day, as Picasso knew well. In 1946, while contemplating a donation of paintings to France, he had asked to see his wartime Aubade (Musée national d’art moderne, Paris), a re-interpretation of L’odalisque à l’esclave, held up for comparison beside Les femmes d’Alger in the Louvre. “Thus the dialogue with Delacroix evolves quickly from the particular source,” Galassi has written, “to what Picasso and Matisse referred to as ‘the great chain of artists’” (ibid., p. 141).
In Version E of Les femmes d’Alger, the canvas immediately preceding the present painting, Picasso rendered the sleeper in blue, at once a challenge and homage to Matisse’s Nu bleu, 1907 (Baltimore Museum of Art). Juxtaposed with the red-garbed smoker, this figure establishes the prevailing, cool tonality of the canvas. In the present Version F, conversely, Picasso’s palette is hot and heightened, comprised principally of saturated red and gold tones, as in the Montpellier Delacroix; these gain in strength against contrasting accents of blue. The airy, white passages in Version E are gone, here replaced with a dense, expressive weave of color and pattern that conveys—more so, arguably, than any other painting in the series—the hothouse atmosphere of the harem.
With Version F, Picasso brought Les femmes d’Alger to its first, provisional resolution. After painting a half-length study of the serving girl the next day (Version G; 18 January 1955), he set the series aside for a week. He resumed work on Monday the 24th, now on a larger scale, and produced three canvases in as many days. Version H is a final, three-figure variant; in Versions I and J, once more comprising four figures, the second, seated odalisque receives her definitive position in the center of the scene, framed by a doorway. In Versions K, L, and M—two complete compositions bracketing a powerfully hieratic study of the smoker—Picasso worked en grisaille in a highly distilled, cubist language, drawing in paint to emphasize the structural elements of the work (6, 9, and 11 February 1955). Version N, the penultimate canvas, retains the abstract vocabulary and thinly painted surface of these three preceding variants, but reintroduces color, volume, and sensuality (13 February 1955).
“Everything comes together in Canvas O [14 February 1955], the last of the Algiers series, a synthesis on many levels,” Leo Steinberg wrote (op. cit., 1972, p. 223). Shortly after Picasso completed this final version, Roland Penrose arrived at the artist’s studio to view the entire, extraordinary ensemble. “Bringing them out one after another he showed me the rich variety of style and fantasy to which Les femmes d’Alger had been subjected,” Penrose recalled. “My first sight of the Moorish interiors and the provocative poses of the nude girls reminded me of the odalisques of Matisse. ‘You are right,’ he said with a laugh, ‘when Matisse died he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient though I have never been there’” (Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 396).
Matisse had passed away on 3 November 1954, two months shy of his 85th birthday; Picasso was then 73. Since the Second World War, they had put aside their long-standing rivalry and become true friends. They were the two towering titans of modernism and, amid the rapid changes in painting during the post-war era, they saw themselves as the sole, remaining guardians of a long line of venerable traditions in European painting. Given their mutual regard, Matisse’s daughter Marguerite was baffled by Picasso’s behavior when she telephoned with news of her father’s passing. He would not get on the line, she told the photographer Brassaï; later, he did not attend the funeral. “Picasso doesn’t like to hear about death,” Brassaï replied. “That news was a terrible blow for him, I’m sure of it. It was so he wouldn’t lose his composure that he took refuge in work, in silence” (Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, p. 333). With the memory of Matisse weighing heavily on his mind, Picasso began Les femmes d’Alger just six weeks later.
A further catalyst in the creation of the series was the presence of Picasso’s new companion Jacqueline Roque, with whom he had been living since autumn 1954. Françoise Gilot had left Picasso the previous year, taking their two children with her. The artist had noticed and delighted in Jacqueline’s resemblance to the right-hand figure, seen crouching and in profile, in the Louvre version of Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger. With her classic Mediterranean appearance—jet-black hair, dark eyes, and a long, narrow nose—Jacqueline fully looked the part of the odalisques that Picasso now sat down to paint. “Françoise had not been the Delacroix type,” John Richardson has written. “Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it—and not just in physiognomy. All three ‘Women of Algiers’ likewise manifest Jacqueline’s submissiveness towards the absent but ever-present pasha, the painter” (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 18).
The advent of a new love in Picasso’s life usually resulted in portraits that, at the outset at least, show her off to best advantage. It was to give Jacqueline the full measure of her due, and to mark her installation as the reigning female presence in his life and his home, that Picasso cast her as the seated odalisque on the left side of Les femmes d’Alger—notwithstanding the fact that he had seen that pleasing resemblance to her in Delacroix’s right-hand figure. In the present Version F, the ogival niche that encircles this figure’s head like petals around a stamen, and the leaf-like form that she holds her in her lap, allude to the conception of the femme-fleur—a favorite device that Picasso had used to celebrate Françoise, here applied to her successor instead as a means of announcing Jacqueline’s primacy in his “harem”.
Les femmes d’Alger were the last major works that Picasso painted in the Grands-Augustins studio. A new mistress required a new home—thus in summer 1955, he purchased La Californie, a spacious villa overlooking Cannes, with numerous Art Nouveau features that created a loosely Orientalist air. “I thought so much about Les femmes d’Alger that I found La Californie; that’s how it is with painting,” Picasso told Pierre Daix. “And Delacroix had already met Jacqueline” (quoted in Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 329). In the same way that the three wives of the Algerian engineer in Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger rule the inner domestic sanctum of their home, so Jacqueline would hold sway over La Californie, looking after the artist’s needs and guarding his privacy so that he could devote most of his time to painting.
The fifteen versions of Les femmes d’Alger were first exhibited in June-October 1955 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, installed together as the most recent paintings in a major retrospective of Picasso’s work. The artist assumed that the individual canvases would end up with different collectors. Kahnweiler stipulated to prospective buyers, however, that the fifteen paintings must be purchased as a group, ostensibly on Picasso’s demand, which the artist denied. Victor and Sally Ganz of New York had, during the late 1940s and early 1950s, acquired some of Picasso’s most challenging pictures, including wartime works. They agreed to Kahnweiler’s condition and acquired the whole series in June 1956 for 80 million francs (nearly $213,000).
“Picasso told us the evening before that Kahnweiler had telephoned him to tell him that one American had just bought all Les femmes d’Alger,” Hélène Parmelin recounted. “It had a curious effect on everyone. What on earth would Les femmes d’Alger do abroad? The whole harem in one American’s house! These were too many canvases for one man. We wagered he would not keep the lot” (Picasso Plain, New York, 1959, p. 79).
Picasso and his friends were right: the Ganzes had spent more than they could afford. Working through the dealers Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg, and Paul Rosenberg, they soon sold ten versions to various collectors and museums in America. They kept Versions C, H, K, M, and O—three color and two grisaille paintings. Version C was sold in 1988 following the death of Victor Ganz, and the remaining four were included in the highly successful sale of The Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz at Christie’s, New York on 10 November 1997; Version O was offered again at Christie’s, New York on 11 May 2015, where it achieved the world-record price for the artist of over $179 million. Version F was acquired by the present owner directly from the descendants of Eleanore and Daniel Saidenberg, who had kept it for their personal collection. Other works from the series are located in public institutions such as the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; Museum Berggruen, Berlin and Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University, St. Louis.

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