signed Picasso (lower right) and dated 26. 7. 61. V (upper left)
Les Dejeuners, dating from 1961, is one of a series of radical reinterpretations of Edouard Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe (fig. 1) in which Picasso playfully pays hommage to the traditions of art history whilst challenging his predecessors' most potent images. Discussing Picasso's engagement with Manet's masterpiece Carste-Peter Warncke has written: 'Manet's famous painting, which shocked its 19th century audience and prompted a scandal when first exhibited, shows two naked or near naked women with two clothed men in a country setting. Manet had painted his work as something of a pastiche, drawing on Giorgione's Concert in the Country and a detail from a copper engraving by Raimondi after a design by Raphael. The figure group of Déjeuner had begun to interest Picasso in June 1954 because his own treatments of painters and models used a similar grouping. At that time he did a number of sketches after Manet, returning at the end of the Fifties to more concentrated work on the material. He did variations on the composition of Déjeuner in oils, graphics and drawings, emphasizing the contrast between the female nudes and the male figures, which he subjected to greater or lesser degrees of deconstruction' (C.-P. Warncke, Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, Cologne, 1994, vol. II, pp. 579-580).
The vibrant, primary colours Picasso has used in the present work strikes a delicate balance between the art-historical significance and the raw sensuality of the nudes. Susan Grace Galassi has discussed the relationship between Manet and Picasso's versions, noting how Picasso has made this image distinctly his own: 'For Picasso, as for Manet, the Déjeuner offered the opportunity to reassess the central theme of the nude and invest it with new life. Over the course of his transformations, he strips away Manet's overlay of realism, and takes the female figure back to something more timeless, enduring and primordial. The female nude was for Picasso, as it was in Manet's time, "the very essence of art...Its principle and its force, the mysterious armature that prevents its decomposition and dissolution". She is equated with the originating impulse of art, eros, inspiration, and generativity, and is the link between generations' (S. G. Galassi, Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 201).
Fig. 1, Édouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe, 1863, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
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