Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Au bout de la jetée is a rare example of Picasso's illustrated poetry from a private source. Most of Picasso's writings remain in the collection of the Musée Picasso, Paris. It is also among the finest of similar such works from his hand, for while the artist occasionally drew sketches in the margins of some of his texts, here he has deliberately and beautifully composed the sheet as a unified expression of word and image.
Picasso began to write poetry at the age of 54 in his château at Boisgeloup on 18 April 1935. His first day's effort resulted in a 34 page long poem. Further torrents of words flowed from his pen during a period of crisis in his life and work. Kathleen Brunner has observed,
For reasons that are not known and will probably never be completely understood, he gave up art almost completely and continued in this state of abstinence for nearly a year. Biographical accounts cite the separation from his wife Olga, and his impending fatherhood [the birth of Maya, his daughter by his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter], as the traumatic events that precipitated this artistic hiatus. Either for legal or personal reasons, Picasso stayed away from his studio at rue la Boétie while the separation proceedings were in progress. Or perhaps Picasso fell prey to the 'misère morale' of the mid-1930s, as he described the mood of that era of political crisis and cultural stalemate. The texts, dated like a diary, sometimes to the hour of the day, describe obliquely Picasso's life as he was living it at that moment, even at the very instant of writing...relying on the medium of writing to come back from the void (in Picasso Rewriting Picasso, London, 2004, pp. 19 and 26).
Picasso continued to write poetry after he returned to his studio in 1936. He would experiment with this pursuit during the war years in the next decade and occasionally in the 1950s. The poems with which Picasso filled his notebooks were usually comprised of long, unpunctuated prose lines, written in Spanish or French. These pages bustle with a kaleidoscopic tumult of images, as might be expected from a supremely visual creator, that rush by with little sense of apparent logical sequence or development. Picasso's method was neither automatic writing as the Surrealists practiced it, nor Joycean stream-of-consciousness. It is more akin to a process of free association, driven by the artist's obsessions, recollections and acutely observed details of life around him.
By the time Picasso wrote and illustrated Au bout de la jetée in mid-September 1937, he had transformed the private despair to which he gave vent in his earlier poems, into the monumentally dramatic, public cry of outrage against the horrors of the Spanish Civil War seen in his mural Guernica (Coll. Museo de la Reina Sofía, Madrid), which he painted in May-June. His famous series of 'Weeping Women' followed. In late July he and his lover Dora Maar went to stay at the Hôtel Vaste-Horizon in Mougins, near Cannes, where they had vacationed the previous summer. Picasso brought along his new Afghan hound Kazbek, and they were soon joined by Roland Penrose, the poet Paul Eluard and his wife Nusch, Man Ray and his companion Ady, Christian Zervos and the photographer Lee Miller. This menagerie filled the small hotel, and Picasso as their ringmaster was in decidedly good spirits. Penrose wrote, "As a reaction to his recent preoccupation with tragedy, he was seized with a diabolical playfulness" (in Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 311).
And so Picasso very fittingly turned to Père Ubu as the subject of the drawing in Au bout de la jetée, where he associated "the gentleman so correctly dressed" with the grossly monstrous, despotic, megalomaniacal, but ineptly silly character invented by Alfred Jarry in his trilogy of Ubu plays written around the turn of the century. This drawing is certainly Picasso's most definitive and archly characterized rendition of Ubu. While Picasso never met Jarry, who died in 1907 at the age of 34, he became, probably through the influence of his friends, the poets Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob, a devotee of his writings, and acquired the manuscript of Jarry's second Ubu play, Ubu cocu. John Richardson has pointed out that, "When Picasso temporarily abandoned painting for writing, he would turn again to Jarry. His poetry of the late thirties bubbles with Jarryesque images" (op. cit., p. 367). This drawing of Ubu was used to illustrate the programme of Jarry's final Ubu play, Ubu enchaîné, which received its posthumous premiere at the Comédie des Champs-Elysees on 22-26 September 1937.
Mougins Vast Horizon
12 September 37
at the end of the promenade jetty
behind the casino the gentlemen
so correctly dressed so gently
stripped of his pants eating his
bag of fries of turds
the pits into the face
of the sea
prayers on the cord
of the flag grilling
at the end of the swear word
that illuminates the scene
the music hides its
maw in the arena
from the frame of wasps
the fan melts
its wax on the anchor
(translated by Pierre Joris, in op. cit.)