W ithin Picasso’s prodigious output, the human figure and portraiture remained his most enduring subjects.
From his days as a schoolboy in the 1890s, Picasso constantly engaged with the characters surrounding him. As art historian Adam Gopnik states: ‘Caricature was Picasso’s mother tongue’. (Adam Gopnik and Kirk Varnedoe, High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture). With a sharp eye, Picasso filled his school textbooks with playful cartoons of his friends and family. In his early years as a working artist, he continued this practice, using his skill at distilling characters into a few bold strokes to build relationships with his patrons and dealers and to capture his feelings towards his lovers and rivals.
The drawings from these years in the Marina Picasso collection include early sketches of similarly spontaneous draftsmanship and humorous imagination. In Personnages et une femme – recto Homme à la barbiche – verso, Picasso utilises both sides of the sheet. On the recto, an emaciated figure in striped briefs is drawn from above, an angle that accentuates and distorts the skeletal frame. By him is a well-heeled woman in blue, her figure outlined in elastic black ink and a bodyless floating head with sunken eyes. On the reverse is an image of a moustached gentleman with an elongated beard, hands sunk deep in his thick coat – a compelling juxtaposition of struggle and wealth at the turn of the century.
In another work, Divers, nus grotesques, Picasso playfully combines wonderful caricature with course humour, conveying a sense of his raucous youth. He incorporates cigarette burns which penetrate through the paper. These holes obscure and sexualise the genitalia of the figures, even exoticising the scurrilous gargoyle-like creature with the placement of an urna on its forehead.
Ancient traditions of sculpture and so-called ‘primitive’ art informed Picasso’s work on an even larger scale. Breaking away from the Western traditions of naturalistic representation, Picasso explored forms in terms of faceted geometric shape and volume. The Marina Picasso collection includes drawings infused with Cubism, from its embryonic stage to the flattened cubist style of his later artistic practice (see lots 313, 329 and 330).
Of particular note, Étude de torse féminin is a sketch produced in Horta de Ebro in Spain at the very advent of Cubism in 1909. As an early exploration of perspective and the body, Picasso breaks the elements of the figure into triangles and cone-like forms, overlaying them and incorporating heavier drawn lines and shadow to add structure and corporeality to the study.
The separate views and spatial complexity first articulated in Cubism continued to intrigue Picasso throughout his life. In Visage de femme 1962, Picasso utilises the simplicity of two folds in the paper to transform the drawing into a sculptural piece which renders the subject from actual faceted perspectives.
The other notable component of this collection is the substantial group of ceramics. In the late 1940s, at the Madoura workshop, a ceramic studio in Vallauris in the South of France, Picasso made his first venture into the medium. Completely enthralled, Picasso relocated to the town in 1948, working playfully and prolifically, exploring the endless possibilities held by this tactile and malleable material, colourful enamels and the exciting transformation of the firing process.
Picasso’s work in ceramic is intimately related in both theme and subject to his broader œuvre. He incorporated the techniques and elements of portraiture and caricature that he had mastered in drawing, painting and sculpture into his highly inventive forms. In Visage, Picasso used thin pieces of clay to build up a face in a stylised caricatural shorthand, whilst simultaneously incising the clay, giving great depth and variability to the profile.
Remaining with Picasso all his life, the rich variety of this collection allows us to follow the artist’s boundlessly creative approach, as he transferred from style to style, moving between work and medium and from subject to subject. Tête-à-Tête avec Picasso: Unique Works from the Collection of Marina Picasso offers an exceptional insight into the personality of both the artist and his portraits.