In September 1958, dissatisfied with the increasing encroachment on his privacy at Cannes by high-rise apartment buildings and paparazzi, Picasso purchased an isolated fourteenth-century château near Aix-en-Provence, set amidst sprawling, forested grounds (fig. 1). The imposing residence--the Château de Vauvenargues--had belonged to a venerable French family, of which the most renowned member was the Marquis Luc de Clapiers de Vauvenargues, a philosopher and close friend of Voltaire. More important to Picasso than the castle's lineage, however, was its location on the slopes of Mont Sainte-Victoire, where Cézanne had famously painted. "I've bought the Montagne Sainte-Victoire, the real thing," he told Kahnweiler, boasting that Cézanne had only painted the mountain but that he now actually owned it (quoted in Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 69). Although the château was splendidly decorated in an extravagant baroque style, the building itself was austere and lordly, with noble proportions, dauntingly high ceilings, and a somewhat Spanish character that spoke strongly to Picasso. When Kahnweiler suggested that it might be excessively dreary in winter, the artist replied simply, "I'm Spanish" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 341). Picasso made the château his own by filling it with paintings by other artists that he had been storing in bank vaults in Paris, and by lining the main walkway with his own recent sculptures, which had accumulated in the garden of La Californie, his villa at Cannes.
Although Picasso and Jacqueline ended up using Vauvenargues mostly as a country retreat, retaining La Californie as their principal residence, the artist worked there often from early 1959 until mid-1961, when he and Jacqueline re-located from Cannes to Mougins. Inspired by the moody splendor and Spanish air of the château, the paintings that Picasso made at Vauvenargues are dominated by dark red, deep green, ochre, and black. "Some of his finest paintings of 1959-1960--easily recognizable for their heraldic combination of viridian and carmine--were done there," John Richardson has written (exh. cat., op. cit., London, p. 20).
The present canvas is part of the very first series that Picasso painted at Vauvenargues, in February and March of 1959 (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 332, 379, 384, 389, 394-395; figs. 2-3). The paintings, seven in all, depict Picasso's Dalmatian Perro standing in the dining room of the château in front of a spectacularly ornate Henri II sideboard, which is itself the subject of no fewer than fifteen pencil drawings from March alone (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 375-378, 380-383, 385-388, 390-392). Picasso was famously fond of animals, and his menagerie during the late 1950s consisted of three dogs (in addition to Perro, the dachshund Lump and the boxer Jan), a goat, and a roost of doves. David Douglas Duncan, who accompanied Picasso and Jacqueline on the day that they moved into Vauvenargues, photographed Perro being loaded into the car at La Californie and then heading off to explore the grounds of the new château. "Perro--with nothing on his mind--trotted out of sight, not to be seen again until suppertime," Duncan recalled. "Lump, a born ambassador, heard someone at the gate before the bell rang and howled his welcome" (Goodbye Picasso, New York, 1974, p. 91). That night at supper, Lump prowled for tidbits under the table, while Perro--already at home at Vauvenargues--occupied a place of honor in a chair right next to Picasso (see ibid., p. 98).
The impetus for the paintings that Picasso made of Perro seems to have been the contrast between the grandiose, highly wrought sideboard ("a spectacularly monstrous piece of black spiky furniture," Richardson has called it) and the bold, graphic patterning of the dog's coat (Picasso: The Mediterranean Years, 1945-1962, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, London, 2010, p. 44). Neil Cox and Deborah Povey have written, "It certainly seems that Picasso relished the decorative stimulus of his Dalmatian Perro during the late fifties and early sixties. The coat of this energetic but lanky animal made Picasso see spots before his eyes... The amusement Picasso found in the spotty dog also coincided with his... continuing pleasure in the efforts of his two children, Claude and Paloma, to draw like their father" (A Picasso Bestiary, London, 1995, p. 112). The starkly linear, surface-bound quality of Picasso's renderings of Perro indeed suggests a child-like approach to form, which Picasso emphasized in two versions of the composition by including Paloma (in radically simplified silhouette) alongside the dog. In contrast, he depicted the looming sideboard either in abundant detail or, as in the present painting, in loose swirls of rich color that evoke the moody splendor of the château. The jocular figure of the dog, silhouetted against the sideboard like a paper cut-out, seems entirely at odds with this setting, suggesting that Picasso was not celebrating the grandeur of his new home but rather poking fun at its heraldic pomp and circumstance.
The dining room at Vauvenargues continued to provide Picasso with inspiration throughout the spring and summer of 1959. On April 10th, he picked up the motif of the sideboard once again, producing eight more pencil drawings that explore its various decorative details (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 393, 396-399, 401-403). The same day, he painted two still-lifes that center on a tall pottery coffee pot or ewer, juxtaposed in one case with a plate of fruit and in the other with a drinking glass and mandolin (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 434-435). In both, the objects are set against the ornamental moldings of the sideboard. Over the course of the following week, he continued to experiment with this still-life composition, painting eight variations (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 436-442, 444). In these, the backdrop of the sideboard has either been eliminated entirely or reduced to a single ornamental motif that resembles a highly schematized fleur de lis, with two back-to-back C shapes anchored in the center by a circle or a square.
In the midst of painting these still-lifes, Picasso also began a series of portraits of Jacqueline in profile, seated in a straight-backed chair with her knees drawn up to her chest (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 443, 445-448, 452). The chair resembles the one that we see to the left of the sideboard in some of the paintings of Perro, and the fleur de lis motif re-appears in the background of certain examples as well, suggesting that the portraits of Jacqueline were also painted in the dining room at Vauvenargues. The palette of the portraits, moreover, boasts the same contrast of moody black and rich, regal red as the present canvas, and most notably, Jacqueline wears a polka-dotted mantilla that takes the place (from a compositional standpoint) of Perro's spots. Picasso boldly emblazoned the final canvas in the series with the words "Jacqueline de Vauvenargues," transforming the painting into a mock state portrait of his châtelaine in the manner of Spain's Golden Age, inscribed in a time-honored heraldic way (fig. 4).
Finally, in early May, after briefly stepping outside the confines of the château to paint the landscape around Vauvenargues (Zervos, vol. 462-464), Picasso re-introduced Perro into his work in a new series of pencil drawings (Zervos, vol. 18, nos. 454, 458, 475-477, 489). The sideboard is gone now, and the Dalmatian is instead shown in front of his mistress, who is seated in an armchair, anticipating the portraits of Jacqueline and the Afghan hound Kabul from 1961-1962 (Zervos, vol. 20, nos. 160, 244-245; vol. 23, nos. 77, 86-87). As in the paintings from February and March, it was Perro's characteristic spots that seem to have attracted Picasso's attention here. In one drawing, Jacqueline wears a collared blouse and shawl with the same configuration of spots, which contrast graphically with her striped skirt and the hexagonal tiles of the floor; elsewhere, Picasso has eliminated the spots on the dog itself, but given Jacqueline a necklace of round beads that recalls the Dalmatian's distinctive patterning. On May 13th, Picasso used these drawings as the basis for a monumental oil of Jacqueline and Perro, which he did not complete until the following January (Zervos, vol. 18, no. 481). In a group of photographs by Duncan, the canvas appears in an unfinished version in front of the fireplace in the great salon at Vauvenargues, the profuse baroque ornament of the plaster overmantle taking the place of the extravagant sideboard in the original paintings of Perro (see D.D. Duncan, op. cit., 1974, pp. 248-249).
On June 21st, Picasso placed Perro in front of the sideboard for one last painting, an elegant coda to the series from February and March (Zervos, vol. 18, no. 486). Shortly thereafter, he left Vauvenargues to spend the summer at Cannes; when he returned to the château in August 1959, he embarked upon his cycle of variations on Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, setting aside the dining-room motifs that had preoccupied him in his first months in the new dwelling. Following their purchase of Notre-Dame-de-Vie near Mougins in 1961, Picasso and Jacqueline spent far less time at Vauvenargues--though it was there that they would both later be buried. Richardson has concluded, "The place was too rural for someone who had always thrived on urban life, a tertulia of supportive friends, and, whenever possible, the nearness of the reinvigorating Mediterranean. Vauvenargues might also have proved a mixed blessing in regard to Cézanne. Picasso had devoured Cézanne at the time of Cubism, but after poaching on his favorite motif he may well have felt in danger of being devoured himself. Better to wait until he was dead and buried in front of his château at the foot of Cézanne's mountain" (exh. cat., op. cit., London, p. 44).
(fig. 1) The Château de Vauvenargues. Photo: Edward Quinn.
(fig. 2) Picasso with his Dalmatian Perro. Photo: Edward Quinn.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Le chien dalmate, 1959. Sold, Christie's, London, 6 February 2006, lot 80.
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline de Vauvenargues, 1959. Private collection.