Impressionist & Modern Art

A Picasso Discovery

By Colton Klein

P ainted in February 1930, Le Baiser is a bold, linear rendering of a kissing couple and is an important example of Picasso’s early experimentation with found objects. It is a significant discovery that the present work appears to be a counterpart to Figure, painted only several weeks later, which is currently in the collection of the Musée de Grenoble having initially belonged to the Musée National Picasso. Figure, like the present work, is painted on a wooden door bearing all of its original hardware with its metal hinge. Given the similarity in dimension and material, it seems the works are executed on wooden doors from the same piece of furniture – a wooden cabinet perhaps. Both works depict open-mouthed figures bearing their teeth and have blackboard like surfaces. 

PABLO PICASSO, LE BAISER, 1930. ESTIMATE $1,800,000–2,800,000.

In Le Baiser, the two figures are shown in profile, filling the board with an explosive force. Picasso's use of everyday objects in his work dates back to 1912 when he incorporated a piece of woven chair into a collage composition in a gesture that heralded the shift from Analytic to Synthetic Cubism. The artist would also use found objects in his sculptural work, incorporating pieces of broken ceramic vessels, shutter handles, bicycle seats which would later be cast into bronze – processes celebrated in the recent retrospective of Picasso’s sculpture at the MoMA in New York and the Musée Picasso in Paris. Like its museum counterpart, Le Baiser is a shockingly modern work, daring in composition, material and execution.


Limiting his palette to two contrasting colors of black-and-white, Picasso relied upon the cinematic effect of transparency. In Figure, Picasso’s tortured screaming figure remains alone in the center of the abstracted composition. But in Le Baiser, Picasso has united the two images - an apt metaphor for the confrontations occurring in his marriage with his first wife Olga Khokhlova. These distorted figures rendered on dark backgrounds directly influenced Francis Bacon, perhaps most clearly in his seminal series of screaming popes which he began in the late 1940s. Picasso’s influence on Bacon cannot be understated as the artist himself claimed that he abandoned interior design and took up painting after seeing an exhibition of Picasso’s work at Paul Rosenberg’s Paris gallery in the late 1920s. The biomorphic, bone-like figures in works such as Le Baiser revealed to Bacon the ‘possibilities of painting.’ Echoes of Le Baiser can also be found in in Cy Twombly's Blackboard paintings, executed between 1967 and 1971. Twombly's interest in Picasso's work went as far as Twombly painting his own copy of a work by Picasso which now hangs in the dining room of his former assistant, Nicola del Roscio's home in Gaeta, Italy. Sotheby’s is proud to offer Le Baiser, a counterpart to Figure from the Musée Grenoble, as a highlight of the upcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on November 14, 2017.

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