- Pablo Picasso
Signed Picasso (lower right); signed and dated Picasso 1907 on the reverse
Watercolor, gouache, and India ink on paper
- 23 by 15 ½ in.
- 59.8 by 39.5 cm
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (sold: 3e vente, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, July 4, 1922, lot 19)
André Lefèvre, Paris (acquired at the above sale and sold: Galliera, Paris, December 1, 1964, lot 25)
Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Acquired from the above on March 19, 1965
Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Collection André Lefèvre, 1964, no. 238
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. XXVI, Paris, 1973, no. 281, illustrated pl. 88 (titled Nu debout)
Pierre Cabanne, Le siècle de Picasso, vol. I, Paris, 1975, n.n.
Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet, Le Cubisme de Picasso, Neuchâtel, 1979, no. 39, illustrated p. 198
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, vol. 1 (exhibition catalogue), Musée Picasso, Paris, 1988, no, 59, illustrated p. 78
Nu jaune, also known as Nu debout, belongs to a series of Picasso’s studies in pencil, gouache and oil that culminated in the groundbreaking work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, completed in the spring of 1907. According to Pierre Daix, the present work is the first study for this world-renowned masterpiece and depicts the figure along the right side of the final composition (see fig. 1). The preliminary sketches that Picasso completed for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon not only demonstrate various stages, processes and changes in the artist’s mind that led to the final work, but also constitute a vital body of experimental work that resulted in the invention of Analytic Cubism. Completed in the incipient stages of early Cubism, all of these studies deal with the subject of the female nude, some concentrating on single figures, others on a group. Never tiring of his subject matter, Picasso used this theme in a stream of experimentations and innovations that eventually led to one of the most revolutionary changes in the course of twentieth century art.
The present picture exemplifies Picasso’s primary reliance on draftsmanship as a means of creative expression. Picasso used drawing throughout his career in order to experiment with different artistic problems: how to show volume, mass and weight; how to convey movement through gesture and other means; and how to establish monumentality and scale. Moreover, at critical moments in his artistic development, he typically drew with increased fervor and intensity. This was the case during the Summer of 1907, around the time he was working on Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. His numerous sketchbooks and drawings reveal that he not only worked out his ideas for the different figures and the overall composition for this work but also for related figures and compositions, some of which were taken up later and others rejected.
As Daix points out, Picasso’s attention here is on the figure’s face, particularly on the angularity and dimension of the nose which is rendered with a network of cross-hatching. In the series of drawings that Picasso completed for Les Demoiselles, he combined bold strokes of gouache or sometimes ink with areas of loosely applied wash and left much of the surrounding space untouched. In several of them he mixed wash, oil and sometimes ink with gouache. Perhaps the closest in technique and, to some extent in form, to the present work, are the full-length Femme nue debout (see fig. 2) and Buste de femme nue (see fig. 3).
Nu jaune and all of the studies for Les Demoiselles are clear indicators of Picasso’s indebtedness to the aesthetic of African art (see figs. 4 and 5). The geometric modeling of tribal masks and the liberties that African sculptors took with the representation of the face was of great inspiration to Picasso, who incorporated this aesthetic into his own work. Years after he completed the present picture, Picasso told Françoise Gilot about his appreciation for African art and its impact on his pictures, “When I became interested in negro art….it was because at the time I was against what was called beauty in museums….men had made those masks for a sacred purpose, a magic purpose, as a kind of mediation between themselves and the unknown hostile forces that surrounded them, in order to overcome their fear and horror by giving it a form and an image. At that moment, I realized that this was what painting was all about. Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation; it’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing power by giving form to our terrors as well as to our desires” (quoted Pierre Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 75).
Fig. 1 Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, June-July 1907, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue debout, June-July 1907, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme nue, June-July 1907, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Switzerland
Fig. 4, Photograph of Picasso in his studio with African sculptures
Fig. 5, Etoubi mask from the Republic of Congo, Musée Barbier-Müller, Geneva