This painting has been requested for the exhibition Picasso: The Early Years, 1892-1906, to be held at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. from March to July, 1997, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from September, 1997 to January, 1998.
It is the hope of the current owner that the purchaser will agree to this exhibition of the painting.
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 fiancé to his family and friends (fig. 1), and then traveled to the remote village of Gósol in the Pyrenees. 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); the Greek sculptor Enric Casanovas arranged all the details of the trip for Picasso. Picasso was rejuvenated by his stay in 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 particularly stimulating and invigorating for Picasso, and during his short stay there his art underwent a significant transformation.
Gósol was a small village accessible only on muleback over steep mountain passes (fig. 2). Indeed, so dangerous was the journey that during the trip Fernande almost fell to her death. Pierre Daix described the town and the treacherous approach to it:
Gósol is...the land of red-ochre earth, the effect of that extraordinary light of the Spanish sun on soil the color of terracotta. One does not go to Gósol by accident, because one thinks it pretty at the turn of a road, for the very good reason that...there is still no road leading there, only some twenty kilometers of beaten path. The natives can cover it in their little cars but strangers brave it only in jeeps. Picasso was looking for the harshness of the Catalan mountains; he found there the color of baked earth. The result was that extraordinary experience of ochre monochrome, bathed, flooded and permeated with a light which is always warm, the color of flesh and fire. (P. Daix, G. Boudaille and J. Rosselet, op. cit., p. 96)
And in a letter which Fernande wrote to Guillaume Apollinaire on the 21st or 22nd of June 1906, she described Gósol as follows:
The landscape! ...mountains in front, mountains behind, mountains on the right, mountains on the left, and still more mountains between all these points... (quoted in P. Caizergues and H. Seckel, Picasso-Apollinaire, Correspondance, Paris, 1992, p. 51)
Picasso and Fernande stayed at the town's only inn, the Cal Tampanada, and they were deliriously happy there. Fernande wrote,
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 J. Richardson, op. cit., 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 there it is easy to imagine the energy and confidence he must have felt at the time.
The present picture is one of the two images of Gósol which Picasso painted that summer. Unlike the other image, which depicts the façades of the houses across from the Cal Tampanada, the present picture is a panoramic view showing the relationship of the village to the surrounding countryside. The dominant hues of the picture are terracotta and sienna, reflecting the palette of the Rose Period from which Picasso was just then emerging. The composition is simple but dynamic. The line formed by the houses is an energetic diagonal that runs from the upper left to the lower right of the picture, and the forms seem almost to cascade across the canvas. Picasso has eliminated the church bell-tower at the end of the landscape (see fig. 2), which would have created an obstacle to the flow of the composition.
As in so many of Picasso's portraits, the focus of the picture is selective. Here only the houses at the left center have been fully resolved, with the result that they draw the eye to them. The prismatic and rectilinear shapes of this portion of the picture, varied solely by modulation of light and dark values, clearly anticipate the Cubist revolution which Picassso and Braque were to unleash beginning the following year. Indeed, the importance of Spanish architecture for Picasso's invention of Cubism has been stressed by Gertrude Stein:
Cubism is part of the daily life of Spain, it is in Spanish architecture. The architecture of other countries always follows the line of the landscape...but Spanish architecture always cuts the lines of the landscape and it is that that is the basis of cubism, the work of man is not in harmony with the landscape, it opposes it. (quoted in G. Tinterow, Master Drawings by Picasso, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1981, p. 98)
In the present work, Picasso's debt to Cézanne is especially clear. Gósol is readily compared with Cézanne's Mont-Sainte- Victoire près Gardanne of 1886-1890 (fig. 3). Furthermore, the Gósol picture unquestionably forms the foundation for the Cubist landscapes which Picasso was to paint at Horta de Ebro in Spain during the summer of 1909 (fig. 4). The evolution of the landscape in early modern art can be measured in the comparison of these three works.
In Picasso's oeuvre, the landscape is the rarest of the major pictorial genres. It can be no accident that he turned to this theme almost exclusively when he was in Spain on holiday from France. Clearly, these works are motivated in part by his love of Spain and of the Spanish countryside. As Fernande commented,
It seemed that calm and serenity flowed into him as soon as he got back to Spain...and the Spanish countryside. They gave his work a lighter, airier and less tormented feeling. (quoted in ibid., p. 68)
The period at Gósol was also critical for Picasso's conception of the figure. There he broke away from the nearly Hellenistic figure style of his Rose Period in favor of a more primitive canon; his treatment of the human head in particular became more hieratic and mask-like. This was to be the decisive change for his formulation of the figure during the Cubist epoch. One canvas from Gósol, Le harem (fig. 5), is especially predictive of the future direction of the artist's work; it contains the first seeds of Les demoiselles d'Avignon (fig. 6), which Picasso began in 1907. One source of this change in Picasso's ideal of the human figure was his exposure in Gósol to Iberian sculpture, especially the Madonna of Gósol (fig. 7). As John Richardson has remarked,
[The Gósol Madonna] left more of a mark on Picasso's work than is generally allowed. Friends like Rusiñol, Vidal Ventosa and others of the Guayaba group had kept Picasso informed of their efforts to
rescue and record these endangered treasures. But he had not
derived much inspiration until he found himself in Gósol, with
only one work of art to hand: this Madonna. Its hieratic
stylizations--the Madonna's wide-open, staring eyes and eyebrows
emphatically drawn in as if by a cosmetician--will be a feature of
his work for the next six months. (J. Richardson, op. cit., p.
Indeed, immediately before leaving for Gósol, Picasso had abandoned his portrait of Gertrude Stein, despite dozens of sittings, because of his failure to depict the head in a manner he found satisfactory. But upon his return from Gósol, he completed the picture, rendering her head in mask-like fashion (fig. 8). This new ideal was part of a critical and permanent transformation that redirected and reinvigorated the Picasso's work, and it was to have a profound influence on the course of modern art. Summarizing the effect which Picasso's stay in Gósol had upon his work, Daix wrote,
Picasso was soaked in the colors of Gósol...the village itself, its landscape and its inhabitants, forced themselves upon [him]. But instead of submitting himself to them and simply receiving them passively, Picasso used them as a springboard for a new experiment, ending the classical period with its themes brought from Paris with a brutal rupture, a plunge into the harsh and crude reality of the high Catalan mountains. (P. Daix, G. Boudaille and J. Rosselet, op. cit., p. 99)
Although Picasso and Fernande had originally intended to stay at Gósol through early September, a maid at the Cal Tampanada fell ill with typhoid fever around August 12th and Picasso, who was terrified of contagious disease, decided to flee at once. They left at five in the morning on the 13th and arrived in Paris a few days later.
(fig. 1) Picasso, Fernande Olivier and Ramón Reventos in Barcelona, summer, 1906
(fig. 2) View of Gósol
(fig. 3) Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire près Gardanne, 1886-1890
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Maisons sur la colline, Horta de Ebro, 1909 The Museum of Modern Art, New York
(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) The Gósol Madonna, 12th century
Museu d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona
(fig. 8) Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Gertrude Stein, 1905-1906
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York