N o matter the decade, Pablo Picasso’s works on paper exhibit his unparalleled artistic dexterity. Beginning in the early 1900s, Picasso began to draw incessantly, laying the groundwork for what would be his most revolutionary picture to date: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Over the course of the next two years, the female form would continue to dominate Picasso’s paintings and sketchbooks. Throughout these works, the human body is characterized by an increasingly geometricized grouping of forms, which allowed the artist to experiment with the sitter’s figure from a multitude of angles – achieving a highly sculptural end result.
As Picasso explored illustration, World War I played out violently across Europe. The Battle of the Somme claimed over one million lives between May and November 1915. Many of Picasso’s friends and peers had left for the front, including Apollinaire, Breton, Léger and Braque.
The following decades were also marked with political malaise for the artist, as World War II spread across Europe shortly thereafter. Despite the contentious circumstances, Picasso remained in Paris – and continuously perfected his craft. Here, uncover a selection of Picasso’s innovatory illustrations from a distinguished private collection.
Femme nue debout, 1909
T he year 1909 would prove a particularly fruitful time for Picasso. Femme nue debout most likely dates to the spring of that year when Picasso painted and drew large nudes, bathers and studies of heads, busts and bodies. In these compositions the figures read, play guitar and lounge in semi-abstracted space.
A few months later Picasso and his lover, Fernande Olivier, would travel to Horta, a strenuous journey from Paris that involved days on a train and then a vertiginous mule ride through the mountains. It was in this remote village that Picasso would paint a series of oils of Fernande, further breaking down form and creating a truly sculptural aesthetic, which in turn culminated in his bronze bust of Fernande’s head crafted in the fall on their return to Paris. In its static pose, daring application of medium and abstracted, sculptural quality, Femme nue debout is a prime example of the twentieth century’s greatest artist on the brink of the shocking and enlivening Cubist movement.
Fumeur assis à une table, 1914
F umeur assis à une table was composed in the summer of 1914, immediately prior to the outbreak of World War I, when Picasso and his lover, Eva Gouel, stayed for a few months in the medieval city of Avignon.
The period leading up to this had been tumultuous for Picasso. In 1911, his first lover Fernande Olivier began an affair with a young Futurist artist, Ubaldo Oppi, and by the following year they were separated. Soon after Fernande began her affair, Picasso and Gouel, who were then living with fellow cubist Louis Marcoussis, became romantically involved.
In 1913 Picasso and Gouel traveled to Catalonia to visit his family with the intention of discussing marriage. In May of that year however, Picasso's father passed away and Gouel contracted tuberculosis soon after. Picasso and Gouel traveled to Avignon partially due to the latter's ultimately fatal diagnosis.
During his stay in Avignon, Picasso continued his experimentation with Cubism, executing sketches such as Fumeur assis à une table, which broke down the form of the sitter into a multitude of perspectives, as well as more finished brightly colored oils.
The incorporation of such a colorful palette into his Cubist canvases from this period was a departure from Picasso's mostly monochromatic works of 1908-12. These changes signify further evolution of the Cubist movement from a purely analytic style into a synthetic one as well as the influences of collage and papier collé, with which Picasso had been intensely occupied over the preceding two years.
Homme accoudé à une table, 1915
H omme accoudé à une table is a testament to Picasso’s extraordinary draftsmanship. Executed in 1915, the work displays the motifs of Picasso’s Cubist output to superb effect. The rippling lines and textures are exceptionally varied, and it is this variation that renders the work to be visually stimulating.
Nu assis et deux personnages, 1968
“To draw is to take possession of the world and, very directly, of the women we have loved... One must keep in mind this exploratory role in order to capture the reach of these drawn works belonging to the last six years of the artist’s work.”
Nu couché, 1969
N u couché was executed in 1969 when, at almost 90, Picasso’s own physical stamina had inevitably waned, yet his focus on erotic subjects in his paintings and drawings only intensified. Rendered with a confident and free-flowing line, this image of a reclining nude takes the odalisque paintings of Ingres and Matisse as clear references. The figure reclines, and her contortions evoke some of Picasso's most sensual depictions of Marie-Thérèse from the 1930s. It is Picasso's innate ability to combine his dream-like imagery with the energetic confrontation of his strong line that makes Nu couché emblematic of his late work.