31
31

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE WEST COAST COLLECTION

Pablo Picasso
SYLVETTE
Estimate
12,000,00018,000,000
LOT SOLD. 13,605,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
31

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE WEST COAST COLLECTION

Pablo Picasso
SYLVETTE
Estimate
12,000,00018,000,000
LOT SOLD. 13,605,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

|
New York

Pablo Picasso
1881 - 1973
SYLVETTE

Provenance

Estate of the artist (1973-1979)

Private Collection, Paris

Stephen Mazoh & Co., Inc., New York

Acquired from the above in 1984

Exhibited

Paris, Petit Palais, Hommage à Pablo Picasso, Dessins, Sculptures, Céramiques, 1966-67, no. 317, illustrated in the catalogue

London, The Tate Gallery, Picasso, sculpture, ceramics, graphic work, 1967, no. 126, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, The Museum of Modern Art, The Sculpture of Picasso, 1967-68, no. 124, illustrated in the catalogue

San Francisco, Museum of Modern Art, Matisse to Diebenkorn, 1995

San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Picasso the Sculpture, 1995-96 

Literature

Roland Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso, New York, 1967, illustrated p. 148.

Werner Spies, Picasso, Sculpture by Picasso, New York, 1971, no. 489, illustrated p. 233

Werner Spies & Christine Piot, Picasso, Das Plastische Werk, Düsseldorf, 1983, no. 489, illustrated p. 273

Werner Spies & Christine Piot, Picasso, The Sculptures, Stuttgart, 2000, no. 489, illustrated pp. 287 & 378

Elizabeth Cowling, "Metaphor in Picasso's sculpture," From Rodin to Giacometti : sculpture and literature in France, 1880-1950,  Atlanta & Amsterdam, 2000, p. 19

The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Fifties I, 1950-1955, San Francisco, 2000, no. 54-321a, illustrated p. 266

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Diana Widmaier Picasso for providing additional information on this lot.

Picasso's dynamic, three-dimensional rendering of Sylvette is among his most powerful interpretations of the human face.  Using bent sheet metal onto which he has painted the girl's features, he created a wildly imaginative likeness of a young woman with her blonde ponytail and blue-striped sailor's shirt.  This highly detailed sculpture features two simultaneous interpretations of the woman's face which can be seen when viewed in the round.  Of the four metal sculptures of Sylvette, the present work is perhaps Picasso's most complex work devoted to his elusive model. 

19-year-old Sylvette David was Picasso's neighbor in Vallauris who had caught his eye from afar during the spring of 1954.  When she arrived at his house one afternoon with some of her friends, he allegedly exclaimed "it's you!" and began a series of nearly forty paintings and drawings and four sculptures, including the present work, that would occupy him for over two months.   Picasso met Sylvette at a critical period in his personal life, just when his relationship with Françoise Gilot was coming to an end.  Sylvette's boyfriend was a constant presence when she posed at the artist's studio between April and June, and the fact that she was unattainable perhaps fueled Picasso's obsession with her.   With his tireless reconfiguring of her face in various media, he transformed this young woman's personal style into the identity of a generation.  In 1968, he would return to the image of Sylvette to create a monumental public sculpture that was installed in a plaza on the New York University campus in Manhattan (fig. 6).

Pierre Daix wrote about Picasso's fascination with this young woman and the effect that she had on his art: "Picasso glowed with enthusiasm and spoke of her with such warmth that I suspected he had fallen in love.  He disabused me by describing the fiancé.  The challenge posed by Sylvette was in fact the challenge of a new type of woman.  Through her he would appropriate for his own purposes the generation which followed that of Françoise, and even of Geneviève Laporte.  At this point he plunged into one of his most extraordinary campaigns of possession, not through working and reworking an oil painting but with a dazzling series of forty paintings and drawings done inside a month.  Sylvette seated in an armchair; Sylvette in three-quarter face; Sylvette in profile; in the vigorous geometrization used for the nudes of Françoise; and in all the grace of her natural curves, with the neck more or less elongated; somewhat stockier; somewhat thinner; Sylvette obdurate; closed; ironic; absent.  How to capture the secret of her youth?  The secret of painting?" (Pierre Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 318).

During the relatively brief time that he spent painting her, Picasso came to know Sylvette through his work, not through an intimacy that he shared with many of his other models.    Her fame as Picasso's model forever solidified her image in his mind as "The Girl with the Ponytail," which is how she had been identified in the press.  Picasso was evidently so satisfied with his "Sylvette" creations that he turned down the opportunity to paint Brigitte Bardot, whom he dismissed as a look-alike of his original muse.   But when Sylvette came to visit him several years after he completed this series, she had aged so much that Picasso almost did not recognize her.  For him, the real Sylvette was the woman in his art, the woman whom he had created and who emblemized a type of radiant youth that he forever preserved in his paintings and sculptures. 

Picasso’s sculptures of Sylvette were executed in sheet metal, a material that he could fold and bend into form with relative ease.  Werner Spies wrote about Picasso's renditions of Sylvette in sculpture, and described how he could manipulate her image with unabashed creativity using the three-dimensional medium of sculpture. “The first phase of the sheet metal sculptures began in 1954 with the Sylvette heads.  The sheet metal used in these pieces is thin and the cutout forms are folded.  The surface of the metal remains smooth and is not, as in the works of the second phase, supplemented with soldered-on, relief-like metal strips.  In the second phase, painting sometimes yields to this relief-like application of metal, used as a graphic means.  A series of sketches shows how Picasso developed these works: here, the fields of vision that open themselves up to successive perception are first of all projected onto a plane.  The possibilities for viewing are exactly predetermined.  Sylvette first presents itself in an overall view, the projecting and receding folds lending the form a slight sense of movement. Yet since painting itself, above all in the central areas, produces spatial effects, the sculptural situation is obscured.  The folded sheet-metal form begins to exert a sculptural effect when we divide it up into planes of action and take each of the form surfaces as a separate visual point of departure”  (Werner Spies, op. cit., p. 291).

Picasso's series of Sylvette introduced a new phase of his art in which he would concentrate on rendering variations on a given theme.  In the months and years that followed, Picasso would apply this approach and a similar aesthetic to the many portraits of Jacqueline Roque, who was making her way into Picasso's life around the same time that he was painting Sylvette.  But perhaps most significantly, the portraits of Sylvette became important cultural icons of the 1950s, essentially character studies of the new post-war “teen-ager” elevated into high art.  Klaus Gallwitz has observed, “what makes the Sylvette portraits remarkable is that through Picasso’s paintings this young girl came to typify a whole generation.  Young people recognized themselves in these portraits when they saw them in exhibitions or reproductions.  The ponytail (which was not an invention of Picasso's) and Sylvette’s high carriage of the head became fashionable styles ‘à la Picasso.’ For the first time since the war one of Picasso’s portraits had become the idol of a rising generation” (Klaus Gallwitz, op. cit., p. 90).

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

|
New York