Lot 9
  • 9

Pablo Picasso

35,000,000 - 50,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Nature morte aux tulipes
  • Signed Picasso and dated XXXII (upper right); dated 2 Mars XXXII H 9 à 11 1/2  Hs on the stretcher
  • Oil on canvas
  • 51 1/8 by 38 3/4 in.
  • 130 by 97 cm


Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris

Albert Bellanger, Paris

Paul Rosenberg & Co., New York (acquired from the above on October 5, 1956)

Private Collection, Europe (acquired from the above on April 26, 1957 and sold: Christie's, New York, May 9, 2000, lot 520)

Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)

Acquavella Galleries, New York

Acquired from the above


Paris, Galerie Georges Petit and Zurich, Kunsthaus, Picasso, 1932, no. 216

Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Picasso, 1934, no. 72

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Picasso: 40 Years of his Art, 1939-40, no. 243

Antibes, Musée Picasso, Château Grimaldi, Picasso tête à tête: La parabole du sculpteur, 1984, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue

Geneva, Musée Rath and Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Regards sur un minotaur, 1987-88, no. 212, illustrated in the catalogue

The Cleveland Museum of Art; The Philadelphia Museum of Art & Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Picasso and Things, 1992, no. 94, illustrated in color in the catalogue 

Avignon, Palais des Papes, Picasso au Palais des Papes, 1995, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Fundaçio Bienal de São Paolo, 23.Bienal Internacionale, Salas Especials, Pablo Picasso, 1996, no. 27

New York, Acquavella Gallery, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse, 2008, no. 11, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Cahiers d'art,nos. 3-5, Paris, 1932, illustrated p. 132

Albert Skira, Minotaure, Paris, 1934, illustrated p. 32

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 7, Paris, 1955, no. 376, illustrated pl. 64

Werner Schmalenbach, Bilder des 20.Jahrhunderts: die Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Munich, 1986, pp.214 and 217. Illustrated fig. 283

Michael FitzGerald, Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art, New York, 1995, illustrated in the gallery photograph p. 217,

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885-1973: Surrealism 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 32-024, illustrated  p. 96

John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 468

Picasso by Picasso, His First Museum Exhibition 1932 (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthaus Zurich, 2010. no. 216, illustrated in color p. 246

Catalogue Note

The extraordinary Nature morte aux tulipes  is one of the celebrated 'Marie-Thérèse pictures' that would ultimately establish Picasso as the most famous artist in the world. Painted in 1932, the year that is recognized as the pinnacle of Picasso's near-century long production, this magnificent painting evidences the creative explosion that defines the renderings of his incomparable golden muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.   Nature morte aux tulipes  provides us with a synthesis of the two main media (painting and sculpture)  that Picasso utilized to represent the scale, dimensionality and physical impact of his young lover.  More than many of the pictures from this era, it evidences his desire to objectify his model in the truest sense of the word.  "Picasso pursued, embellished, transformed, deconstructed, and annexed Marie-Thérèse, as a wild beast its prey," says the artist's grand-daughter Diana Widmaier Picasso (D.W. Picasso, Picasso & Marie-Thérèse, L'Amour fou (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 61).  This grand picture, completed in the span of less than three hours on a single day in March, is one of the most powerful examples of Picasso’s tireless pursuit, with Marie-Thérèse's image transformed into a divine object of veneration.

As a singular composition,  Nature morte aux tulipes appears to be a vibrantly colorful ode to classicism:  a plaster bust positioned alongside an offering of tulips and adorned with a garland crown.   But there is much more to this picture than meets the eye, as it is the story behind the canvas that adds another powerful dimension.   What we see here is the unmistakable profile of Marie-Thérèse Walter, bathed in the warm glow of a kerosene lamp that hung in his Boisgeloup studio.  In prior years he had only referenced his extramarital affair with Marie-Thérèse in his pictures in code, sometimes imbedding her initials in a composition or rendering her strong, Grecian profile as a feature of the background.  By the end of the year, Picasso could no longer repress his creative impulse with regard to Marie-Thérèse, and she became the primary focus of art.    

Throughout 1931 Picasso had been working on several monumental plaster busts that incorporated the strong profile of Marie-Thérèse.  While molding wet plaster into the likeness of his lover offered Picasso a way to caress her in absentia, it also allowed him to transform her body into a fully-exploitable object.   These bright white forms, gleaming amidst the darkness of his Boisgeloup carriage house, were an irresistible spectacle, inciting Picasso’s Cubist fascination with the dimensionality of form in space.  By the end of 1931 he began to feature images of his plaster sculptures into his paintings, and it is Marie-Thérèse’s highly tactile and plasticized form that defines these magisterial paintings of 1932 (figs. 1, 4 & 5).

Elizabeth Cowling has written on Picasso’s incorporation of sculptural imagery into his paintings of this era:  "Here, as in many paintings, drawings and prints of the Marie-Thérèse period, Picasso reflects on the relationship in his work between paintings ...  and sculpture...  The style of the painting as a whole seems intended to dramatise the oppositions between pictorial flatness and sculptural mass in the oppositions between pure line and bold areas of color on the one hand and gradations of light and dark on the other.  The sculpted head is a synoptic reference to the earlier series of plaster heads inspired by Marie-Thérèse.  The same head, raised on a tall plinth and sometimes garlanded with vines, in a object of veneration in several of the etchings in the 'Vollard Suite'" (E. Cowling in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 272).

Although it is believed that the bust depicted in the present composition was not painted from a specific one in his studio, certain elements featured in the composition can be seen in photographs from the time (fig. 1), including the garland that is draped over the head and the dark shadows cast against the wall from the artificial light source.  Some objects are symbolic embellishments, such as the lapis-blue cloth and blooming tulips that evoke the iconography of the Blessed Virgin.  Others, like the basket, are recycled from past compositions.  A similar arched, woven basket had appeared in an earlier charcoal composition from September 1931, where it featured as a signifier for Marie-Thérèse.  In that earlier picture, the basket was positioned alongside a stark porcelain vessel -- the same minimalist one that was used to signify Picasso’s wife Olga in Still with Jug and Apples of  1920 (fig. 3). 

John Golding has written about  the studio environment in which this painting was depicted, and how it "evokes [Picasso's] nocturnal working habits, and the light shed by the big kerosene lamp made him particularly sensitive to the play of shadows over the white plaster sculptures.  He tended to distrust the official heaviness of bronze and declared that the Boisgeloup plaster heads in particular were more beautiful in their original white or plaster state.  While the studios were being got ready Picasso executed a series of small slender standing figures whittled out of single pieces of wood, and the respect for material that these required may have encouraged him to concentrate on more closed, self-contained sculptural forms."  (J.Golding in  Picasso:
(exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 28).

Picasso’s theme for his picture is drawn from a more literary source.  Not long after his fiftieth birthday that past October, he began a series of Ovidian etchings to celebrate a new publication of the Metamorphosis and would ultimately create a body of work over the years know collectively as the Vollard Suites (fig. 6).  The present work is one of several canvases that alludes to Ovid’s writings, specifically the harrowing story of Persephone’s abduction by Pluto to Hades:

Playing, gathering flowers
Violets, or white lilies, and so many
The basket would not hold them all…
Sorrowful to be sure, and still half frightened
And still a queen, the greatest of the world
Of darkness and empress, the proud consort
Of the proud ruler of the world of darkness

Jean Sutherland Boggs made the following association between the Persephone myth and the present picture in her research for the Picasso and Things exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art.  She writes in the catalogue entry for this picture, “It is as the goddess returned to the earth in the spring that we find her here, the wreath in her hair, the basket of tulips and three pieces of fruit before her pedestal indicating the season with which she is identified.  Although she is placed on a blue cloth of royal intensity and assurance, the background has mysterious black shadows against the dark brown, and there is a pattern of a delicate gray on the bust itself, perhaps to remind us of the shadows of the underworld” (Picasso and Things, op. cit., p. 237).

Nature morte aux tulipes
is one of the legendary pictures completed in anticipation of the major retrospective that Picasso was planning that summer in Paris and Zurich.   It was at this exhibition 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 (fig. 8).  Until the exhibition, Picasso's relationship with Marie-Thérèse had been a tightly guarded secret, 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 house, 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 inspired the present picture.    Nature morte aux tulipes  evidences Marie-Thérèse's role as a completely accessible aesthetic resource for Picasso's art.  Like the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, Picasso would take his sculpture off its pedestal and brought his muse to life.