Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Michael Hertz, Bremen
Sale: Christie's, New York, May 17, 1983, lot 64
Stanley J. Seeger, London (sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 4, 1993, lot 448)
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Rheinisches Museum; Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Picasso 1900-1955, 1955-56, no.74 (no. 70 in Munich, Cologne and Hamburg)
London, Tate Gallery, Picasso, 1960, no. 130
Vienna, Museum des 20 Jahrhunderts, Kunst von heute-Eröffnungsausstellung, 1962, no. 140
Paris, Grand Palais, Hommage à Pablo Picasso, 1966-67, no. 161
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Picasso, 1967, no. 75
Vienna, Österreichische Museum für angewandte Kunst, Pablo Picasso, 1968, no. 40
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Pablo Picasso, 1968, no. 43
Bremen, Michael Hertz, Picasso-Léger-Masson, 1977, no. 1
Kunsthalle Bielefeld (Richard-Kaselowsky-Haus), Picasso's Surrealism, Werke 1925-1937, 1991, no. 46
André Breton, "Picasso dans son élément," Minotaure, Paris, 1933, no. 1, illustrated pp. 12-13
Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1935, no. 7/10, illustrated p. 172
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso: Oeuvres de 1932 à 1937, vol. 8, Paris, 1957, no. 63, illustrated p. 27 (illustrated without the signature)
André Breton, Der Surrealismus und die Malerei, Berlin, 1967, illustrated p. 110
Domenico Porzio and Marco Valsecchi, Understanding Picasso, Milan, 1974, p. 90
Pierre Daix, Dictionnaire Picasso, Paris, 1995, discussed p. 818
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Surrealism, 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 32-162, illustrated p. 147
For Picasso, time spent on the beach was never time wasted. Throughout his life the beach was a source of inspiration, an environment equally conducive to erotic exploration or evocations of the ancient world. At Juan-les-Pins in 1920 the beach was used as a backdrop for the activities of three humorously distorted nudes while at Dinard in 1922 two monumental nude goddesses ran recklessly along the beach (see fig. 1).
The summers of 1927 and 1928, spent respectively at Cannes and Dinard, were particularly productive as the clandestine presence of the young Marie-Thérèse Walter in Picasso’s life added an erotic frisson to seaside activities. John Richardson has described how, at Dinard in July 1928, “Whenever possible, Picasso would escape from his wife’s sulks and the stifling atmosphere of their ugly rented house (the Villa des Roches in the Saint-Enogat quarter of Dinard) and make for the Plage de l’Ecluse in another part of the town. Marie-Thérèse would be playing ball with some of the children from her holiday home – a scene Picasso would repeatedly portray on the spot over the next few weeks, and from memory laced with fantasy over the next few years” (John Richardson, “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter,” Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934 (exhibition catalogue), William Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1985).
Sketchbook 1044, used by Picasso between July 27 and November 17, 1928 is virtually a diary of this period when Picasso’s emotional life veered between despair at the state of his marriage and exhilaration at the freedom experienced with Marie-Thérèse. John Richardson has commented: “No question about it, the sketchbook casts a shadow ahead of it out of all proportion to its format. Apart from the wire constructions, the so - called 'Bone' paintings of 1929 emanate from it. And four years later Picasso was still executing variations on the ball-playing bathers who originated in its pages” (ibid.) (see fig. 2).
During the summer of 1932 Picasso was at Boisgeloup while Marie-Thérèse was vacationing on the seaside, probably at Dieppe or Etretat. Beginning in September with Femmes sur la plage (Zervos vol. 8, no. 152) and Baigneuses (Zervos, vol. 8, no. 61, Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) a series of works emerged from memories of the summer spent at Dinard in 1928.
In addition to three India ink drawings executed between November 22 and November 25 (Zervos, vol. 8, nos. 57-59) and to a series of etchings, there are two closely related oil paintings. In another composition entitled Le sauvetage from 1932 (see fig. 3), figures involved in both rescue and play are rendered against a backdrop with similar blocks of bold color. In Le Sauvetage, painted in December of 1932, Picasso isolates and monumentalizes the rescue scene itself (see fig. 4). The dramatic image of a drowned woman being rescued is inspired, perhaps, by an event in which Marie Thérèse participated or reported to Picasso.
In the present work Picasso includes both motifs, confronting his viewer with the contrast between the graceful arabesques of the ballplayers and the unexpected tragedy of the rescue group. Instead of separating the motifs to different sides of the canvas, Picasso presents them layered upon each other, increasing the intensity of this particular moment on the beach. That the features of the figures in the rescue group are based on those of Marie-Thérèse adds a particularly poignant note to the composition. It is also noteworthy that the open mouth and streaming hair of the figure of the rescuer prefigure Guernica.
Although the dramatic subject of this remarkable painting derived from Picasso’s most personal experiences and fears, it was also part of a discourse with his greatest rival, Henri Matisse. The series of canvases to which the present work belongs was painted just a month after the publication of Matisse’s illustrations for the Poésies of Mallarmé. As Yves-Alain Bois has observed: “At the time, there was much talk in Paris of the work in progress on The Dance (see fig. 5), all the more so since Matisse was keeping it secret from absolutely everyone, save his assistant. Games and Rescue on the Beach is Picasso’s anticipative response to The Dance, given the Mallarmé book – his anticipative outbidding. His prescience in this painting is uncanny: the flat tones, the contrapposto of the figures, the syncopated rhythm, the drama (half-violence, half-pleasure) – all the elements of this turbulent picture are 'echoes' of Matisse’s Dance" (Yves-Alain Bois, Matisse and Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1998, p. 90).
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Deux femmes courant sur la plage, 1922, gouache on plywood, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Page from the Dinard Sketchbook, August 18, 1928
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Le Sauvetage, November 1932, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 6, 2004, lot 120
Fig. 4, Pablo Picasso, Le Sauvetage, December 1932, oil on canvas, Beyeler Collection, Basel
Fig. 5, Henri Matisse, Study for Dance I, 1930-31, oil on canvas, Musée Matisse, Nice-Cimiez
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