Pierre Daix has confirmed the authenticity of this drawing.
On October 29, 1902, Picasso, who had just turned 21, arrived for his third stay in Paris. He had heard that the dealer Berthe Weill was planning a show and he hoped to consign some of the blue paintings that he had recently completed in Barcelona. He met with Weill and presumably turned over to her whatever pictures he had brought with him. Picasso also visited other dealers and acquaintances he thought might help out. For the past nine months he had been living in Barcelona in deeply straitened circumstances. His family had just sent some funds that enabled Picasso to buy his way out of obligatory military service; there was nothing more to spare, and the artist had hardly any money on him when he came to Paris.
During Picasso's second stay in Paris the previous year, the critic Gustave Coquiot, who had written the laudatory preface to the catalogue for his successful exhibition at Ambroise Vollard's gallery in July 1901 commissioned from the young artist an album of portrait drawings he intended to publish, featuring famous female entertainers and demi-mondaines. Picasso had done some drawings of cabaret performers that were illustrated in the magazine Frou-Frou, which he signed with his patronymic "Ruiz," but he never managed to begin work on Coquiot's project. His money from the Vollard sales soon ran out and he had to return to Barcelona at the end of the year.
Now, back in Paris nine months later and desperate for work, Picasso was grateful to learn that Coquiot's commission was still on the table. The artist began by meeting his subjects, including the mime Jane Thylda, a Spanish dancer known as Teresina, Rose Demag, Anna Thibault, Jeanne Bloch, and the most important of all, the still glamorous and much-loved dancer Jane Avril, whom Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec had famously depicted a decade earlier in paintings, prints and posters (fig. 1). Unfortunately the project was never completed, for as John Richardson wrote, based on recollections that Picasso shared with him in 1962, "Many of these stars were impossibly spoiled and vain, and after successive rebuffs, he lost patience and abandoned the project" (in op. cit., p. 253).
Among the few works that survive from this commission were two black chalk and pastel drawings of Jane Avril: a frontal portrait (illustrated in ibid., p. 252), and the profile seen here. In 1963, Picasso's long-time dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler contacted the artist about this drawing, at which time Picasso verified that the sitter was Jane Avril. Strongly characterized and vigorously rendered, the only hint of Picasso's melancholy Blue period stylization may be discerned in his use of blue pastel in Jane Avril's hat. Richardson continues, "The only one of these women Picasso actually liked and felt privileged to have drawn was Jane Avril. The two surviving portraits of her (handsome black chalk drawings, one [sic] of them heightened with pastel) reveal that Picasso was determined to come up with a new image for the face that Toulouse-Lautrec's posters had made into an icon. He succeeded. He found Jane Avril far more sympathetic than the other vedettes he drew, Picasso said. For one thing, she had started life as an equestrienne in a circus. This endeared her to him. She not only adored Toulouse-Lautrec but understood the finer points of his work and enjoyed discussing them with Picasso" (ibid.).
The frustrations that Picasso experienced while working on Coquiot's album were typical of his third stay in Paris, which turned into a nightmare of unending miseries he would always try to forget. Lonely, hungry, down on his luck, and barely scraping by, Picasso returned home to Barcelona in January 1903. There he renewed his efforts and produced some of the masterpieces that mark the very peak of his Blue period, including the celebrated Portrait de Angel Fernández de Soto (see lot 47 in Christie's Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art, 8 November 2006).
(fig. 1) Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Divan Japonaise, lithographic poster showing Jane Avril, 1893, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.