Quatre nus à la fleur effeuillée is a powerful example of the mastery of line and the classical roots that distinguish Pablo Picasso's late drawings. As was the case in many of the greatest works from this period, Picasso is paying tribute to the Old Masters. During the last fifteen years of his life, Picasso very rarely travelled, but from his villa in Notre-Dame-de-Vie he found visual inspiration in art books, postcards, and above all his extraordinary memory.
The present work belongs to a group of around sixteen pencil drawings that Picasso executed between December 1967 and February 1968 which refer to Ingres' Le bain turc (Musée du Louvre), one of which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Le bain (Zervos, vol. XXVII, no. 206). The subtle detail of the eyelashes and flower petals recall the harmonious sensuality of Picasso's predecessor.
Ingres' sensual harem scene had first come to Picasso's attention in 1905, when it had been exhibited publicly for the first time, and inspired the artist's early masterpiece La coiffure, 1906 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). This drawing comes near the end of a long line of works that Picasso painted and drew over the course of his career inspired by the painting. John Richardson has observed that 'As for the various nineteenth century masters included in Picasso's pantheon, the most consistent favourite for more than seventy years was Ingres', and quotes Picasso: '"One must paint like Ingres," he said. "We must be like Ingres"' (in exh. cat., Late Picasso, The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 36).