With its spectral protagonist looming large before the viewer, her hand outstretched as if to repel our gaze, Untitled (from the series Jacqueline: The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore) is the only work of this scale from the artist’s landmark series of paintings depicting Pablo Picasso’s widow Jacqueline: his last great love and muse. Painted in 1996, the year before Kippenberger’s own life was tragically cut short, it takes its place within the definitive final throes of his extraordinary oeuvre. Standing among the artist’s most poignant series of works, Untitled (from the series Jacqueline: The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore) represents a grand denouement of many of the themes that were so deeply embedded in his practice: artistic identity, creative suffering and unfinished legacies. Inspired by David Douglas Duncan’s haunting photographs of Jacqueline mourning her husband’s death, Kippenberger embarked upon a visionary sequence of paintings: “Picasso died, she was sad. So I’m taking over his job,” he claimed. “Working from the last photographs of Jacqueline Picasso — black and white, blurred — I’m trying to turn them into colour pictures and to paint Picassos. Completing his work, in a sense. After all she was one of his main subjects” (M. Kippenberger, quoted in ‘Parachever Picasso/Completing Picasso: Interview between Martin Kippenberger and Daniel Bauman’, 1997, reproduced in Martin Kippenberger, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2006, p. 64). For more than two decades, Picasso had been Kippenberger’s most important alter-ego; now, in the image of his grieving widow, the artist found a new lens through which to confront his multifaceted self-image. The present work is the first from the series to come to auction: another is housed in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, whilst a further is currently on loan to the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva. First exhibited at the Galerie Samia Saouma, diagonally opposite the Musée Picasso in Paris, the series was celebrated anew at the Museo Picasso Málaga in the 2011 exhibition Kippenberger Meets Picasso.
The blurring of the distinction between artist and model, and indeed between male and female, were themes that ran throughout the work of both Kippenberger and Picasso. For Kippenberger, who famously exclaimed to Jutta Koether in 1990 “Yes, I am also a woman,” the slippage between prescribed roles was central to his life and work. Through the image of Jacqueline, Kippenberger was able to shine new light upon the melancholy, the playfulness and the pathos that formed the lifeblood of practice. As Jan Avgikos has argued, “Without Jacqueline’s inclusion in the pantheon of illustrious (and not so illustrious) characters that function as signs for Kippenberger in his art, we would only have half the pictures he painted of himself as an artist, for she is more revealing of him than he’s ever been about himself. Compare the Jacqueline series of paintings with the other, great self-narrative cycles of paintings from 1996 (The Raft of the Medusa), 1992, and 1988, and it becomes apparent that in depicting himself as a woman, Kippenberger is not nearly so hard on himself; rather, he shows himself in a much more sympathetic light and is more generous toward himself than we’ve ever known him to be – no more ruthless depictions of his aging body, no self-recriminations, no tearing himself down … When Kippenberger paints Jacqueline to represent himself, we see a portrait of the artist at his most vulnerable. As Jacqueline, he mourns the loss of the great artist; in turn, through her, he is able to mourn his own passing” (J. Avgikos, “The Paintings that Martin Couldn’t Paint”, in Martin Kippenberger. Jacqueline: The paintings Pablo couldn’t paint anymore, exh. cat., Metro Pictures, New York, 2000, p. 14).
Contemporaneous with Kippenberger’s reinterpretation of Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, in which the artist cast himself as the vessel’s unfortunate shipwrecked victims, the Jacqueline paintings engage similar themes of demise and rescue, loss and redemption. The source image for this particular work presents Jacqueline at a critical point in this narrative. In Duncan’s book Picasso and Jacqueline, published in 1988 as the sequel to The Silent Studio, the photographer describes how Jacqueline fell into a deep depression following Picasso’s death in 1973. As his wife since 1961 and his muse for almost twenty years, she had defined the final prolific stages of his career. In the years immediately after his death, Jacqueline withdrew herself from society, unable to relinquish her despondency. It was not until a visit from her friend Marie Bell and her dachshund puppy Julio in 1975 that she began to find the first hints of salvation. Across the final pages of Duncan’s book, an almost cinematic sequence of seven black and white photographs tells the story of this single afternoon on Easter weekend. “Marie Bell and Julio were led to the kitchen for luncheon: Picasso’s favorite vegetable soup perpetuated by Jacqueline as though it might lure him again to the table,” he recalls. “… Her eyes, already painted years before by Pablo, suddenly bored straight into mine when she said: “Not one tear, Ismael, I have not cried once! Now I want nothing … except to be with him.” At this point, she raised her hand in front of her face, her palm turned outwards towards the camera: “Nothing … nothing … nothing,” she exclaimed (D. D. Duncan, Picasso and Jacqueline, Verona 1988, pp. 214-17). The photograph, and subsequently Kippenberger’s painting, captures Jacqueline at this point. From the nihilistic depths of this moment came new light: in the next photograph, a smile crosses her lips as she reaches out to stroke the puppy; in the next, she holds the tiny dachshund up to her face in comfort. Though that afternoon marked a start of a slow regaining of strength that bought her another ten years, she was ultimately unable to endure her loss, tragically taking her own life in 1986.
Kippenberger first discovered Duncan’s photographs whilst staying with his friend Michel Würthle on the Greek island of Syros in 1995, and acquired his own copy of Picasso and Jacqueline the following year. Whilst several works from the series were based on photographs from the couple’s heyday, depicting Jacqueline whimsically dressed in headwear from Picasso’s folk art collection, most were inspired by Duncan’s final set of mourning pictures. Kippenberger’s fascination with the image of the grieving woman was both poignant and prophetic: his own wife, the photographer Elfie Semotan, whom he had married just a few months earlier, would be his widow by the following March. Though his untimely death would cast a long shadow, Kippenberger’s final year was marked by great personal happiness, unprecedented professional triumph and newfound creative freedom. He had finally received his long-awaited invitation to Documenta, followed by his first major art prizes: the Konrad von Soest Prize in Münster, the Arthur Köpcke Prize in Copenhagen and the Käthe Kollwitz Prize in Berlin. Newly installed in a peaceful studio in the rural setting of Jennersdorf in Burgenland, Kippenberger had never been more content. As his sister Susanne recalls, “his last year would turn out to be his most fruitful and successful … a regular explosion of work came out of his studio” (S. Kippenberger, Kippenberger: The Artist and his Families, Berlin 2007, p. 501). Alongside the Jacqueline paintings and The Raft of the Medusa, he threw himself into collecting motifs for his exhibition The Eggman and his Outriggers - a tribute to another long-standing alter-ego. For Kippenberger, this was a time of true artistic independence: as Valeria Heisenberg explains, “Everyone wanted more of his drunken lampposts, but he wanted to paint portraits, like a classical painter … A lot of artists talk that way but don’t dare do it ... Martin could do it, because of all the variety and fissures in his work” (V. Heisenberg, quoted in S. Kippenberger, ibid., p. 502).
Kippenberger’s portraits of Jacqueline represent his most intimate engagement with his great antecedent. A source of inspiration to the artist since childhood, it was Picasso who, according to Diedrich Diederichsen, showed Kippenberger how to operate across multiple visual registers whilst simultaneously performing as a one-man “brand” — an artist and a showman. As Kippenberger himself asserted, “[the artist] also has to be ready to show himself in public. Like Mr. Picasso, he stepped into the bullring and let everybody gape at him and did it with love”(M. Kippenberger, quoted in S. Kippenberger, ibid., p. 426). When Kippenberger published his first artistic monograph — From Impressionism to Expressionism. ¼ Century of Kippenberger — in 1979, he did so under the bombastic moniker Verlag Pikasso’s Erben (‘Publisher of Pikasso’s Heirs’), substituting Picasso’s ‘c’ with ‘k’ for ‘Kippenberger’. Later, it was Duncan’s iconic photograph of Picasso standing in his underwear on the steps of Château de Vauvenargues in 1962 that guided Kippenberger’s first steps into the realm of self-portraiture: a genre that would occupy his output until the end of his life. The photograph, first appropriated for an exhibition poster and invitation in 1985, became the inspiration for a set of calendar illustrations in 1988, which in turn gave way to Kippenberger’s seminal series of large-scale self-portraits created in Carmona, Spain, that same year. Here, Kippenberger painted himself in Picasso’s image, mimicking the same preposterous pose and state of undress. In the Jacqueline paintings, he went one stage further: taking over Picasso’s muse, he not only impersonated the artist but assumed his cause, writing himself into his lineage and taking on his mantle. In many ways, this was an act straight out of Picasso’s own handbook: in his last two decades, following the death of Matisse, Picasso had sought new dialogues with his historical forebears, reinventing the work of Delacroix and Manet, and often replacing their muses with the face of his own beloved Jacqueline. For Kippenberger, who placed the mythology of artistic genius at the very core of his practice, the Jacqueline paintings were his last and most important reflections upon this theme.
In the present work, it is a complex figure that confronts the viewer. For the first time, Kippenberger integrates his subject with the planar articulation of his characteristic striped background, intertwining and overlapping the two elements to create a layered optical depth reminiscent of Francis Picabia’s Transparencies. The figure hovers before us like a translucent apparition: in one light, she appears to advance towards the viewer like an ethereal projection; in another, she seems to recede from our grasp, pushed back into the depths of the canvas through the force of her own outstretched hand. This perceptual play is mirrored in the twisted nature of the figure’s identity — a source of debate within scholarship on the series. Primarily, she is Jacqueline, the grieving widow, her initials inscribed in the lower left-hand corner of the painting. There are also overtones of Elfie, Kippenberger’s own beloved ‘Jacqueline’. Yet perhaps most striking is the proposition that the artist has painted Jacqueline in his own image, importing the vernacular of his self-portraits, as well as deliberately masculine elements of his own facial structure. Jacqueline’s reclusive stance in this portrait is undoubtedly one that spoke to Kippenberger’s public persona — the suffering artist, thrust into the limelight, unwilling to submit to the braying demands of the audience. Indeed, her pose might almost be one of Kippenberger’s own theatrical gestures; those iconic postures captured on camera by Elfie in preparation for The Raft of the Medusa. At the same time, there is also the sense that we are looking at another Hand-Painted Picture, Kippenberger’s self-portrait series of 1992 in which his hands — the creative, life-giving tools of his trade — are enlarged to dramatic, almost grotesque proportions. In the circular sweep of Jacqueline’s neckline and the curve of her hair, Kippenberger finds a ghostly trace of the signature egg-like shape that populates his practice. Seen in this light, the initials ‘J. P.’ are perhaps less of a dedication than a signature: here, Jacqueline is not simply the subject — rather she becomes the creative vehicle for a new incarnation of Kippenberger’s self-image: an addition to his parade of alter-egos. She is no longer the model but, in a sense, has become the artist.