- Pablo Picasso
- LA LECTURE
- signed Picasso (upper right); inscribed 11 decembre M.CM.XXXII. on the reverse
- oil on panel
- 65.5 by 51cm.
- 25 3/4 by 20 1/8 in.
(possibly) Paul Rosenberg & Co., Paris
Valentine Dudensing Gallery, New York (acquired by 1940)
Keith Warner, Fort Lauderdale & New York
Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the estate of the above in 1963)
Mr & Mrs David Lloyd Kreeger, Washington, D.C. (acquired from the above in January 1964)
Mr & Mrs James W. Alsdorf, Chicago (acquired by 1980)
Sale: Habsburg, Feldman, New York, 8th May 1989, lot 57
Acquired by the present owner in 1996
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Exposition Picasso, 1932, no. 197 (in Paris); no. 202a (in Zurich) (as dating from 1931 and titled La Lecture interrompue)
New York, Valentine Dudensing Gallery, Three Spaniards: Gris, Miró, Picasso, 1940
Los Angeles, County Museum of History, Science and Art (on loan 1945-46)
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery & Baltimore, Museum of Art, Selections from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. David Lloyd Kreeger, 1965, no. 21, illustrated in the catalogue
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective, 1980, illustrated in the catalogue (titled The Dream (Reading) and as dating from January 1932)
P. Gréguen, 'Picasso: Primitif Cérébral', in Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1932, illustrated p. 114
J.L., 'Exhibitions of the Week: Three Spanish Painters, Gris, Miró, Picasso', in Art News, New York, 6th April 1940, illustrated p. 27
Paul Eluard, Pablo Picasso, Geneva & Paris, 1944, illustrated pl. 168 (titled Femme endormie and as dating from 1932)
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, œuvres de 1926 à 1932, Paris, 1955, vol. 7, no. 363, illustrated pl. 158 (with incorrect medium and measurements, and as dating from January 1932)
Henri Dorra, The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. David Lloyd Kreeger, Washington, D.C., 1970, illustrated p. 77
Jean Leymarie, Picasso: Métamorphoses et unité, Geneva, 1971, illustrated p. 78 (as dating from January 1932)
Margy P. Sharpe, The Collection of Mr. & Mrs. David Lloyd Kreeger, Richmond, 1976, illustrated in colour p. 206 (titled La Lecture interrompue and as dating from 1932)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Surrealism, 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 32-002, illustrated p. 86 (with incorrect medium and as dating from January 1932)
Picasso Harlequin, 1917-1937 (exhibition catalogue), Complesso del Vittoriano, Rome, 2008-09, mentioned p. 204 (with incorrect medium and measurements)
Picasso by Picasso, His First Museum Exhibition 1932 (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus, Zurich, 2010-11, illustrated in a photograph of the 1932 Galerie Georges Petit exhibition p. 98; illustrated in colour p. 243 (as dating from 1932)
Picasso's iconic paintings of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter reign supreme as the emblems of love, sex and desire in twentieth-century art. The sensual La Lecture, which is one of the most recognisable images among this landmark series from the beginning of 1932, essentially introduced the young woman as an extraordinary new presence in Picasso's life and his art. This exceptional work is one in a series of defining paintings in the artist's œuvre in which he depicts his lover asleep in an armchair, the curves of her body transformed into a sumptuous confection with colourful swirls and sweeping arabesques. Marie-Thérèse's potent mix of physical attractiveness and sexual naivety had an intoxicating effect on Picasso, and his rapturous desire for the girl brought about a wealth of images that have been acclaimed as the most erotic and emotionally uplifting compositions of his long career. Picasso's unleashed passion is nowhere more apparent than in the depictions of the sleeping beauty, the embodiment of tranquility and physical acquiescence. Similar to Le Rêve (fig. 1), painted only days apart, La Lecture is rich with signifiers of sexual availability, fertility and pleasure and exemplifies Picasso's creative power in full bloom.
Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse (fig. 2) on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old, while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. 'I was an innocent girl,' Walter remembered years later. 'I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together' (quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness.
La Lecture belongs to a group of works painted in January 1932 in anticipation of the major retrospective that Picasso was planning that coming June. It was during these preceding months that he first cast his artistic spotlight on the voluptuous blonde. Up until this point he had only made reference to his extramarital affair with Marie-Thérèse in code, sometimes embedding her symbolically in a composition or rendering her unmistakable profile as a feature of the background. But by the end of 1931, Picasso could no longer repress the creative impulse that his lover inspired, especially as his marriage grew increasingly unbearable. John Richardson explains that while Olga organised large holiday parties that December in an attempt to demonstrate family unity, Picasso was involved in an artistic blood-letting, painting violent or murderous depictions of his wife. The exercise was a catharsis, Richardson claims, that better enabled him to focus on a 'languorous, loving painting of a lilac-skinned Marie-Thérèse asleep' just in time for Christmas: 'On December 30, the day of the Christmas party, Picasso found time to turn her into a swirl of arabesques: a lunar octopus, which reminds us that he had associated her with the phases of the moon the previous summer. By January 2, Marie-Thérèse's moon face is full, her eyes stare us down. The fuzzy print in the open book that this moon goddess clutches in her anaconda arms signifies pubic hair. Over the next three weeks, Picasso produced a succession of large Marie-Thérèses, dozing in a chair with a red leather back, studded with brass nails' (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume III, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 466). Based on Richardson's description, we can deduce that La Lecture belongs to this group of paintings from January 1932. In the frenzy of holiday activity, Picasso must have mistakenly inscribed the reverse of this work with the date 11 decembre M.CM.XXXII., which cannot be correct as the painting was already exhibited from June until October 1932.
'When a man watches a woman asleep,' Picasso confessed, 'he tries to understand' (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, New York, 1991, vol. I, p. 317). The theme of the sleeping woman recurred in a series of works that explored his mistress in different poses, either fully recumbent (fig. 3) or seated. The image of sleep and the way in which Marie-Thérèse appears to lose herself in its oblivion links this work, via its association with the unconscious, to Picasso's most fertile Surrealist images. Roland Penrose, who was one of Picasso's Surrealist associates, said the following about these paintings: 'Most of these figures painted with flowing curves lie sleeping, their arms folded round their heads... The sleeper's breasts are round and fruitlike and her hands finish like the blades of summer grass. The profile of the face, usually with closed eyes, is drawn in one bold curve uniting forehead and nose above thick sensuous lips' (R. Penrose, Picasso, His Life and Work, London, 1958, p. 243). The suggestive imagery in La Lecture is not limited to the figure's body. Just as the lily is depicted as a symbol of her purity and fecundity, the open book in her lap is understood to be an allusion to her exposed genitalia, as are the hands in La Rêve and the musical instrument in Jeune femme à la mandoline (fig. 4).
'When I paint a woman in an armchair,' Picasso once recounted, 'the armchair implies old age or death... or else the armchair is there to protect her.' It is the latter sentiment that clearly governs these depictions of Marie-Thérèse, but as Judi Freeman explains, 'In the 1930s these chair-bound women directly responded to Matisse's work as well. Matisse painted many of his models in lavishly decorated interiors [fig. 5], often seating them on elaborately upholstered chairs or on divans' (J. Freeman in Picasso and the Weeping Women, op. cit., p. 157). While the differences between Picasso's and Matisse's treatment of this subject is readily apparent, Picasso was careful to distance himself from the work of his arch-rival. Picasso exhibited this work, together with Le Rêve (fig. 1), in a retrospective in Paris and Zurich in the summer and autumn 1932. At the Paris venue of this exhibition, he chose to hang his seated portraits of Marie-Thérèse, including the present work, alongside his Cubist and Surrealist compositions (fig. 6). Picasso's unusual placement of the pictures may have been intended to deflect immediate comparisons to Matisse's odalisques that had hung in the same gallery the prior year and to remind the audience of his undisputable originality.
It was on this occasion in Paris that Olga, upon seeing Picasso's numerous references to a specific face that was clearly not her own, was alerted to the presence of another woman in her husband's life. Until the exhibition, Picasso's relationship with Marie-Thérèse had been a secret affair, the evidence of which he had kept sealed away at the studio he maintained at Boisgeloup. He had purchased this property near Gisors in 1930 as a retreat, where he could escape from Olga and spend time alone with his mistress. The chateau at Boisegeloup was much larger than his studio in Paris, and the space allowed him to create the monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that were depicted in several paintings.
After this exhibition, Marie-Thérèse's features would become more readily identifiable in Picasso's art. Robert Rosenblum wrote about the young woman's symbolic unveiling: 'Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep' (R. Rosenblum in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 342).
When Picasso included La Lecture in his retrospectives in Paris and Zurich in 1932, it was listed in the catalogue as available for sale. By April 1940 it came into the possession of the Valentine Dudensing Gallery in New York. The picture was eventually acquired by Keith Warner (1895-1959), owner of a leather manufacturing company and collector of works by Mondrian, Calder and Picasso that are now in the collections of major museums in the United States. In 1964, the insurance mogul and distinguished art collector David Lloyd Kreeger purchased La Lecture from Picasso's dealer Paul Rosenberg, who had by that time relocated his gallery to New York. Kreeger was an associate of the Chicago-based philanthropist James Alsdorf, who served on advisory boards to many cultural institutions throughout the United States and eventually acquired La Lecture for his own esteemed collection.
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Le Rêve, 1932, oil on canvas, Private Collection, Las Vegas
Fig. 2, Marie-Thérèse Walter with her mother's dog, 1932. Photograph by Picasso, Collection Maya Picasso.
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue, feuilles et buste, 1932, oil on canvas. Sold: Christie's, New York, 4th May 2010
Fig. 4, Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille à la mandoline, 1932, oil on panel, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of The Carey Walker Foundation
Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Odalisque au tambourin, 1926, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Fig. 6, Installation view of the Galerie Georges Petit in June 1932, the present work is visible in the upper left. Photograph Collection Reber