Christian Zervos dated this vigorously verticalized papier collé to the winter of 1912-1913, when, in Paris, Picasso had created an important group of works in which he first employed the novel practice of cut and pasted papers in his picture-making (op. cit., 1942). Pierre Daix, however, later ascribed Figure to the spring of 1913, noting that Picasso had actually executed it in Céret (op. cit., 1979, p. 301), during the third and final of his consecutive annual sojourns in that Pyrenean town situated in the French portion of old Catalonia. Daix numbered Figure among those papiers collés in Picasso's "second generation" of this kind (ibid., p. 300), works which were even more inventive and widely inclusive in their source materials than his initial efforts done the year before.
The tell-tale sign for Daix was Picasso's choice of a wallpaper, a "grandiose Baroque brocade," as Elizabeth Cowling described it, a pattern likely of local provenance the artist is known to have used only in Céret ("What the wallpapers say: Picasso's papiers collés of 1912-1914," The Burlington Magazine, vol. CLV, no. 1325, September 2013, p. 599). In the related work La Guitare, Picasso pasted down pieces of the same brocade paper, as well as the front page from the Barcelona newspaper El Diluvio, which bears the date "31 de Marzo de 1913" (Daix, no. 608; Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 348).
The use of this wallpaper and a second with a leafy pattern on a light blue ground–an old-fashioned Madame de Sévigné design–suggests that Picasso has depicted here a figure in an interior. He sketched in the fretted neck of a guitar near the center of the sheet, as he did in Personnage assis dans un fauteuil (Daix, no. 583; Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 340), which Zervos also misdated, but is now known to have been done in Céret, 1913. Guitars, the heads and figures of men as either musicians or harlequins dominated Picasso's production during that spring and summer.
Picasso, with his new girlfriend Eva Gouel, arrived in Céret by 12 March, and took up residence on the first floor of the Maison Delcros, the same quarters he had rented during his previous two stays. He had shared these rooms with Braque during the summer of 1911. The outlines and windows of this cube-like domicile appear in Figure, sandwiched like the fragment of the guitar between the two strips of blue wallpaper. Céret was quickly becoming an artist's colony; Picasso's friends the sculptor Manolo and the American artist Frank Burty Haviland–who in 1911 had suggested to Picasso that he spend his working holiday there–were making the town their home. Herbin and Kisling also stayed in Céret during the summer of 1913, and Juan Gris, who was quickly becoming the "third man of cubism," arrived in July to begin his magnificent run of Céret paintings (sale, Christies, New York, 3 November 2010, lot 23). Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who acted as dealer for Picasso, Braque and Gris, dubbed Céret the "Mecca of Cubism" (Juan Gris: Life and Work, New York, 1969, p. 16).
It was less than a year previously that Picasso and Braque detonated a pair of bombs under centuries of conventional practices in picture-making. Picasso made the first collage in May 1912 when he glued a piece of oilcloth printed with a chair caning pattern to an oval cubist canvas he had been painting, for its trompe l'oeil effect (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 294; Musée Picasso, Paris). He did not follow up this idea until Braque made a further giant leap forward during early September in Sorgues, while Picasso was away in Paris for a couple of weeks. Braque took some imitation wood-grain paper he had purchased in a local decorator's supply store, cut from it and pasted down several pieces on a sheet of moderate size, then drew on and around them, producing the first papier collé. Braque recalled at that moment having "felt a great shock, and it was an even greater shock for Picasso when I showed it him" (quoted in W. Rubin, Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1989, p. 40). Picasso–always quick to exploit a signal idea when he saw one, and to equal if not out-do its inventor–quickly followed suit. That fall he photographed a wall in his Paris studio showing two rows of his own drawings with papiers collés pinned up above his bed.
The use of cut and pasted papers had opened up a vast new range of possibilities, and would soon reshape–through the use of actualités (newspaper items) and ordinary found paper materials–the very stuff of content in modern art and the entire underlying conceptual basis for translating subject matter into pictorial form. Picasso took advantage in Céret of this first opportunity to employ the technique outside of Paris, using materials he had not collected in the capital, but locally. The art of creating papiers collés proved indeed to be a most moveable feast.
The use of wallpapers in Figure points to a significant divergence in Picasso's and Braque's choice of readymade papers and their connotative function in the papiers collés of 1912-1914. Braque, who had worked as a housepainter, preferred the commercial patterns currently in use, like the faux bois fragments he had employed in his very first papier collé, just as he had adapted the use of various painter's combs to simulate wood grain in his application of paint on canvas. Picasso, however, took a different approach. He acquired cheap rolls of old papers, used some found by friends, or even removed peeling sections from shabby old rooms. "He sought out papers in distinctive styles that spoke not just of times past in a generalised sense but of particular environments, aspirations and categories of people," Cowling has observed. "Picasso's papers collés can be seen as acts of preservation...as repositories of the extinct. Rather than celebrate modernity, he seems bent on escaping it, the charming ache of nostalgia offsetting his mocking, iconoclastic humor" (op. cit., 2013, p. 600).
A second development in the Céret papiers collés of 1913 proved as potent for the development of modern art as the introduction of the papers themselves. Picasso began to employ a vocabulary of signs, a kind of personalized but legible pictorial shorthand, to characterize his subjects, such as the configuration of points, curved and straight lines to fabricate the planar head in Figure. The convergence of signs and pasted materials, when adapted and translated into formal elements created purely in paint, set the stage for the new "synthetic" phase in cubism. The modern work of art had unassailably achieved the privileged state in which it was no longer a mere simulacrum of things in the real world, but had become an object in and of itself, existing in the world like anything else, possessing a distinctive factuality and integral reality all its own.
Pablo Picasso, Bouteille et verre, Céret, spring 1913. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. BARCODE: 28864141
Pablo Picasso, Guitare, Céret, spring 1913. The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Nelson A. Rockefeller Bequest. BARCODE: 28864103
Pablo Picasso, Personnage assis dans un fauteuil, Céret, spring 1913. Location unknown; Galerie Kahnweiler archive photograph. BARCODE: 28864097
Pablo Picasso, Arlequin, Céret, summer 1913. Gemeentemuseum, The Hague. BARCODE: 28864110