Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Curt Valentin Gallery, New York (by 1953)
Galerie Beyeler, Basel (by 1955)
Paul Kantor Gallery, Los Angeles
Gifford and Joanne Philipps, Santa Monica (by 1961)
Private Collection, New York (sold: Christie's, New York, May 10, 1989, lot 82)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
New York, Curt Valentin Gallery, Pablo Picasso 1950-1953, 1953, no. 26
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Rheinisches Museum; Kunstverein, Hamburg; Picasso 1900-1955, 1955-56, no. 117
Los Angeles, University of California, "Bonne fête" Monsieur Picasso, from Southern Califonia Collectors, 1961, no. 39
Los Angeles, U.C.L.A. Art Galleries, The Gifford and Joanne Phillips Collection, 1962, no. 94
Washington D.C., The Washington Gallery of Modern Art, Picasso Since 1945, 1966, no. 16
Pasadena, Art Museum, The Fellows -- A Selection, 1969
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1946 à 1953, vol. 15, Paris, 1965, vol. 15, no. 265, illustrated pl. 148 (catalogued as oil on canvas)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Fifties I. 1950-1955, San Francisco, 2000, no. 53-030, illustrated p. 116 (catalogued as oil on canvas)
Le Fumeur, painted in 1953, is considered by many to be a veiled self-portrait of Picasso. In countless photographs from this era the artist was pictured wearing his striped sailor's shirt or smoking a cigarette (see fig. 1), and the references to those two favorite accessories in this picture are clear clues to the identity of the sitter. Most of Picasso's unspecified depictions of men at this moment in his career were depictions of himself. By the 1950s, Picasso had reached a celebrity status that few artists of his generation would ever achieve. But along with the great admiration of the art world came Picasso's own anxiety about growing old and his bitter feuds with Françoise Gilot, the mother of his two children, who had grown intolerant of the artist's deified persona. The present work, created right around the time that Picasso's relationship with Françoise was coming to an end, can be read as an insightful combination of both ego and romantic preoccupation.
Not long after he painted the present work Picasso painted a portrait of Françoise in the same pose (see fig. 1). The year before, he had also painted a similar portrait of his friend Hélène Parmelin (see fig. 3), but in the large version of Françoise, he depicts her in the nude (see fig. 2). The fact that the present work relates so clearly in scale and in mannerisms to the portrait of his lover is a telling reference to the fact that Picasso saw his mistress as a reflection of himself. The figuration of the present painting and the bright, primary-colored palette that the artist has chosen for it also show clear ties to the recent work of Picasso's friend and longtime rival, Henri Matisse (see fig. 4). Matisse was making his bold color-cut outs around this time, and the present composition, with its sharp-edged modelling and highly linear figuration, can be seen as Picasso's aesthetic response to his colleague.
Kirk Varnedoe has proposed that in these portrait of the 1950s and 1960s, Picasso's self-depictions are not marked necessarily by their faithfulness to the artist's likeness, but rather by their tropes of 'artistic identity.' In an essay concerning Picasso's self-portraits, Varnedoe writes, "The one avatar Picasso embraced most consistently in his final decades was the one with the least disguised self-reference: the figure of the artist. Near the breakup with Gilot, he undertook a series of drawings, often lightly satirical, of the artist in his studio, some of which were published in Verve in late 1953; after that, one or another variant of this theme recurred at intervals, especially among his drawings and prints. The focus was not on his own circumstances. Neither live models nor traditional palettes, which are constant attributes of these late studio scenes, had anything to do with his practice, and the artists in question almost never display his figures in more than allusive fashion; they tend to be stock types, typically bearded, which Picasso never was. Here, as in the case of countless male busts or figures, Picassoesque combinations of traits can come and go within a series in a way that suggests we may risk a certain arbitrariness in singling out one or another as an authentic self-examination" (Kirk Varnedoe, "Picasso's Self-Portraits," Picasso and Portraiture, Representation and Transformation, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1996, p. 162).
Increasingly aware of his own mortality, Picasso was ever-conscious in his later years of establishing his position within the history of art and his relation to the old masters. In 1950, Picasso had executed a portrait of his artistic idol, the 17th century Spanish master El Greco. The figure in the present work, with a cigarette replacing the paintbrush, is perhaps a derivative of this earlier composition and a reassertion of Picasso's vision of himself as a master painter. With regard to Picasso's admiration for the old masters, particularly Rembrandt, Kirk Varnedoe has noted, "Rembrandt .... had set the standard for charting each rise and fall of his fortunes in a self-image, continuing through the most unflinching confrontations with his flabby features and ebbing vitality in old age. The ageing Picasso apparently felt a strengthening bond with the great Dutchman's secular materialism, which fostered an earthy realism about all the body's functions and its weaknesses; but he also found an affinity in Rembrandt's contrary penchant for lavish costumes and theatrical masquerades" (ibid. p. 163).
Fig. 1, Picasso in Vallauris with his friend Jean Cocteau in the 1950s. Photograph by Edward Quinn.
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue accroupie, July 9, 1953, oil on canvas, The Saint Louis Museum of Art
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Madame H. P., 1952, Private Collection
Fig. 4, Henri Matisse, Nu bleu IV, 1952, gouache on paper, cut and pasted, and charcoal on white paper, Musée Matisse, Nice-Cimiez
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