Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1966 and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 6, 2004, lot 120)
Acquired at the above sale
London, Tate Gallery, Picasso: Sculptor/Painter, 1994, no. 97, illustrated in the catalogue
Pierre Daix, Dictionnaire Picasso, Paris, 1995, discussed p. 818
The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Surrealism 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 32-163, illustrated p. 147
Yves-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso, Paris, 1999, illustrated in color pl. 74
Enrique Mallén, La sintaxis de la carne, Pablo Picasso y Marie-Thérèse Walter, Santiago de Chile, 2005, listed p. 304
Picasso's Bathers (exhibition catalogue), Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, 2005, no. 39, illustrated in color p. 112
The present work is the most well-defined and ambitious of the series of paintings and drawings that Picasso completed on the theme at the end of 1932. It was during these months that Marie-Therese contracted a serious illness after swimming in the Marne. The episode was the inspiration for Picasso's series of rescue pictures, but he took considerable liberties in its retelling. Not only does Picasso recast the scene at the beach, he embellishes it with oblique art historical references to Ingres' Bathers, Michelangelo's Pietà and Canova's Cupid and Psyche. In his most recent biography on the artist, John Richardson discusses Picasso's approach to these compositions and how they are colored by his own fears and desires: "He transposes the accident from the icy, rat-infested river to a sunny beach, where he envisions Marie-Thérèse being saved from drowning by her sisters or alternate versions of herself. She looks inert - maybe alive, maybe dead. The pathos of these images is tinged with eroticism. The drowned girls — eyes closed, head thrown back, breasts thrust up — swoons erotically in the arms of one of her alter egos, while others dive, swim and play ball, just as they did at Dinard in 1928" (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, pp. 487-88).
The beach was a source of inspiration for Picasso, an environment equally conducive to erotic exploration or evocations of the ancient world. As early as 1920, Picasso used the beach at Juan-les-Pins as a backdrop for the activities of his nudes, while at Dinard in 1922 two monumental nude goddesses ran recklessly along the beach. The summers of 1927 and 1928, spent respectively at Cannes and Dinard, were particularly productive as the clandestine presence of the young Marie-Thérèse Walter in Picasso’s life added an erotic frisson to seaside activities. John Richardson has described how, at Dinard in July 1928, “Whenever possible, Picasso would escape from his wife’s sulks and the stifling atmosphere of their ugly rented house (the Villa des Roches in the Saint-Enogat quarter of Dinard) and make for the Plage de l’Ecluse in another part of the town. Marie-Thérèse would be playing ball with some of the children from her holiday home – a scene Picasso would repeatedly portray on the spot over the next few weeks, and from memory laced with fantasy over the next few years” (J. Richardson, “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter,” Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934 (exhibition catalogue), William Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1985).
Picasso spent the summer of 1932 at Boisgeloup with Olga, while Marie-Thérèse vacationed on the seaside with her sister. The frustration of being away from his lover conjured memories of their happy summer together at Dinard in 1928, and he began work on a series of beach scenes that September. The scene of "the rescue" comes into being in November, during Marie-Thérèse's convalescence. The present work, which is the largest canvas devoted to this theme, appears to be an amalgam of two compositions, one in the collection of the Musée Picasso and the other in the Fondation Beyeler. In the former, the figures of the two women playing ball and the third reclining on the beach are monochromatic and delineated by strong black lines. In the latter, the dramatic image of a drowned woman being rescued, inspired by the Marie-Thérèse incident, is the central focus of the canvas. Picasso combines these two scenes of pleasure and terror in the present canvas, overlaying the lavender figures with shields of transparent color. The heads of the swimmer emerging to take a breath and the rescued woman gasping for air almost converge at the center of the canvas, dramatizing the insecurity of life.
Although the dramatic subject of this remarkable painting derived from Picasso’s most personal experiences and fears, it was also part of a discourse with his greatest rival Henri Matisse. The series of canvases to which the present work belongs was painted just a month after the publication of Matisse’s illustrations for the Poésies of Mallarmé and not long after Matisse had returned from America where he had been working on a version of La Danse for Dr. Albert Barnes. As Yves-Alain Bois has observed: “At the time, there was much talk in Paris of the work in progress on The Dance, all the more so since Matisse was keeping it secret from absolutely everyone, save his assistant. Games and Rescue on the Beach is Picasso’s anticipative response to The Dance, given the Mallarmé book – his anticipative outbidding. His prescience in this painting is uncanny: the flat tones, the contrapposto of the figures, the syncopated rhythm, the drama (half-violence, half-pleasure) – all the elements of this turbulent picture are 'echoes' of Matisse’s Dance" (Yves-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1998, p. 90).
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