The summer of 1906 was one of the major turning points in Picasso's career, and the present work reveals the extraordinary advances in the depiction of the human figure that the artist made during that period. It is a transitional painting, and although rooted in Picasso's style of the Rose Period, it clearly points the way toward the epochal changes that Picasso unleashed in 1907 with Les demoiselles d'Avignon. Indeed, the figure in the present picture reappears, albeit in altered form, in Picasso's 1907 masterpiece.
Picasso and his mistress Fernande Olivier traveled from Paris to Spain in May of 1906. They stopped first in Barcelona where Picasso proudly showed off his fiancée to his family and friends (fig. 1), and then traveled to the remote village of Gósol in the Pyrenées. Picasso had heard about this village from his associates, especially the doctor Jacint Reventos, who sent his patients there to convalesce and praised its "good air, good water, good milk and good meat" (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, vol. I (1881-1906), p. 434), and from the Catalan sculptor Enric Casanovas, who arranged all the details of the trip for the painter. Picasso was rejuvenated by his return to Spain. As Fernande reported:
Spain was essential to him and gave him...special inspiration... The Picasso I saw in Spain was completely different from the Paris Picasso; he was happy, less wild, more brilliant and lively and able to interest himself in things in a calmer, more balanced fashion; at ease, in fact. He radiated happiness and his normal character and attitudes were transformed. (Quoted in ibid., pp. 434-435)
Gósol was a small village accessible only by mule over steep and treacherous mountain passes. Indeed, so dangerous was the journey to the village that during the trip Fernande almost fell to her death. Picasso and Fernande stayed at the town's only inn, the Cal Tampenada. They were deliriously happy there. Fernande wrote to friends:
Up there in air of incredible purity, above the clouds, surrounded by people who were amiable, hospitable, and without guile...we found out what happiness could be like... No cloud shed discord on Picasso and me, because, having no cause for jealousy, all his worries disappeared. (Quoted in ibid., pp. 444-445)
The painter flourished in this land of repose and reflection. He produced more during the ten weeks he spent in Gósol than he had in the previous six months: at least nineteen large or medium-sized paintings, plus countless watercolors, drawings, gouaches and carvings, and two large sketchbooks. In one of the sketchbooks he described himself as "a tenor who reached a note higher than any in the score" (quoted in ibid., p. 451); and given his prodigious output it is easy to imagine the energy and confidence he must have felt at this time.
The present painting clearly illustrates the nature of Picasso's work at Gósol that summer. The painting shows a standing half-nude woman in profile; she is draped from the waist down and her head is turned from the viewer; before her rest two earthenware jugs. The outlines are bold, firm and calligraphic; the palette is composed of a range of pale reds: terracotta and faded rose; the setting of the figure is unclear and the background is only sketchily indicated.
Throughout his stay at Gósol, Picasso was engaged in painting a series of nudes, both adolescent youths (fig. 2) and young women (fig. 3), often depicting them, as here, with jugs as the sole prop. While these images stem from the nudes which Picasso painted during his Rose Period (fig. 4), the artist had altered his aethestic ambitions by the summer of 1906, aiming at a style that would be at once primitive and classical. This is indicated especially by the figure types in the Gósol pictures, which are often derived from classical sculptures such as the Spinario and Venus Anadyomene, and by their rough and simple style, reminiscent of Puvis de Chavannes's classicism. This series of nudes culminated in Le harem (fig. 5), a painting which closely anticipates Les demoiselles d'Avignon (fig. 6).
Picasso's concentration on the nude during the spring and summer of 1906 must be seen as a conscious attempt to embrace an overtly Mediterranean genre. An emphasis on Mediterranean values was then a vital part of artistic debate in Spain and France, inspiring, among others, Aristide Maillol. The intentions of this movement are best indicated by the publications of Eugenio d'Ors, who in the spring of 1906 wrote:
I believe our position as Mediterraneans not only gives us rights but also imposes duties on us. And at the present moment one of the principal duties is to collaborate on the Mediterraneanization of all contemporary art. (Quoted in J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., p. 440)
The classicism of the present work becomes even more apparent when studying a sketch Picasso made in preparation for the painting (fig. 7). Here the Grecian character of the drapery is clear; and significantly, it is evident from other drawings made at the same time that this figure is a variation on a kouros (fig. 8). Picasso had studied classical and Egyptian sculpture, including kouroi, at the Louvre in 1905. Kouroi greatly appealed to Picasso; their combination of primitive strength and inchoate ideality perfectly fit the artist's program of recreating the figure according to a new typology. For the painter, the emphatic stylization of archaic Greek statuary had much the same appeal as that of African and Medieval Iberian sculpture, two other sources of his revolutionary conception of the human figure. Kouroi-like figures appear in countless drawings and paintings by Picasso throughout 1906 and 1907; the sketchbook Carnet No. 7 (Musée Picasso, Paris), which the artist used in the fall of 1906, is dedicated almost exclusively to meditations on the Greek sculpture type. The figure at the left edge of Les demoiselles d'Avignon (fig. 6) is unmistakably in the pose of a kouros.
Discussing the present picture and a closely related work (Zervos, vol. I, no. 330; Private Collection), Josep Palau i Fabre has commented upon the relationship of the Gósol nudes to classical models:
We...see the effort Picasso made to combine the female nude (the
idea of female beauty) with jugs or other ceramic objects which
have the power to evoke the remote past. In each case the woman, thanks to her structure or her position, eludes the classical idea of beauty and the rigidity of academies. These two girls (who may, in fact, be one and the same) are from an ordinary, everyday village, as are the objects around them or the ones they are
handling... (J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., p. 450)
The terracotta jugs in the present picture were also intended to evoke a primordial Mediterranean past. Terracotta jugs were--and still are--a common part of the material culture of the Mediterranean, not of northern Europe. Jugs also appear in Le harem (fig. 5), Les adolescents (fig. 2) and many other of Picasso's figure paintings from Gósol. Earthenware jugs were also a standard component of bodegones paintings and Spanish still-lifes; and in the summer of 1906, Picasso took up still-life painting, previously a rare genre in the artist's oeuvre.
A striking feature of the still-life in the present work is the artist's free play with perspective. The jugs are not rendered according to the rules of single-point perspective, but in a more empirical fashion which demands a change of focus as the viewer shifts his or her gaze from one jug to the other. The incorporation of different viewpoints in the same work would soon become a fundamental part of the painter's Cubist vocabulary. Indeed, the importance of Gósol and Spain to the development of Cubism can hardly be overstated. As Picasso himself once said, "Cubism is Spanish in origin, and it is I who invented Cubism" (quoted in R. Dor de la Souchère, Picasso in Antibes, New York, 1960, p. 14). Gertrude Stein attested to the same view, saying, "Cubism is part of the daily life of Spain" (quoted in G. Tinterow, Master Drawings by Picasso, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 98).
Throughout Picasso's early career, he regularly re-used his canvases by painting new pictures on top of earlier works. Demi-nu à la cruche is an example of this practice: at the upper left, for instance, are evident the black outlines of a head from an earlier painting which Picasso made on the same canvas. Anne Hoenigswald has used X-radiology, a non-destructive form of analysis, to examine and record the earlier layers of many of Picasso's paintings from his early period (see A. Hoenigswald, "Works in Progress: Pablo Picasso's Hidden Images," in exh. cat., Picasso: The Early Years, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1997). X-rays might uncover surprising results for Demi-nu à la cruche as well.
Picasso's enthusiasm about Gósol and his prodigious productivity while there came to a sudden end. In the middle of August, a maid at the Cal Tampenada fell ill with typhoid fever and Picasso, who was terrified of contagious disease, decided to flee at once. Picasso and Fernande left at five in the morning on the 13th and were in Paris a few days later. Despite his precipitous flight from Gósol, his stay there was to exert a profound influence on his work, and through him, all of twentieth-century art.
(fig. 1) Picasso, Fernande Olivier and Ramón Revenos, Barcelona, summer, 1906
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Les adolescents, 1906
Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, La toilette, 1906
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, La famille d'harlequin, 1905
Private Collection (Christie's, November 14, 1989)
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Le harem, 1906
Museum of Art, Cleveland
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Les demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, Esquisse, 1906
(fig. 8) Pablo Picasso, Esquisse, 1906