Oil on canvas
Galerie Thannhauser, Munich (by 1902)
Alfred Flechtheim, Düsseldorf (by 1913)
Hugo Perls, Berlin (in 1932)
Galerie Käte Perls, Paris (acquired from the above in 1937)
Perls Gallery, New York
Walter P. Chrysler, Jr., New York (by 1941 and sold: Parke-Bernet, New York, March 22, 1945, lot 90)
Alfred and Katrina Romney (acquired at the above sale)
Acquired as a gift from the above in 1964
Paris, Galerie Käte Perls, Picasso, avant 1910, 1937, no. 14 (as dating from 1905)
Philadelphia, Museum of Art; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Walter P. Chrysler, 1941, no. 149 (catalogued as signed Picasso on the reverse)
Paris, Musée Picasso, Picasso 1901-1909: Chefs d'oeuvre du Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1998-99
Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, Picasso's World of Children, 2000, no. 20
Maurice Raynal, Picasso, Paris, 1922, illustrated pl. 5 (as dating from 1902)
Denys Sutton, Picasso: peintures, époques bleue et rose, Paris, 1955, no. 1, illustrated (titled Virgin and Child)
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1895 à 1906 , vol. 1, Paris, 1932, no. 108, illustrated pl. 54
Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille, Picasso, The Blue and Rose Periods, Neuchâtel, 1967, no. VIII, illustrated p. 196 (alternately titled Mother and Child and catalogued as being signed on the reverse)
Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years, Barcelona, 1985, no. 699, illustrated p. 277 (titled Woman and Her Child Standing on Her Lap)
Maternité, also known as Mère et enfant, dates from the autumn of 1901 during Picasso's second trip to Paris. The artist was only 20 at the time he painted this work, and the spontaneity of the composition evidences his receptivity to the post-Impressionist, Nabis and Symbolist paintings that he saw at the Salon that year. At this point, Picasso was still officially living in Spain, and his visits to the French capital were occasions for him to absorb the best of the avant-garde. His Parisian compositions were essentially mementos of his visit, and provided him with fresh images that he could later contemplate when he returned to Barcelona. Many of these paintings and drawings focused on café life and scenes from brothels, but Picasso also went out of his way to explore lesser-known dimensions of the city. According to Palau i Fabre, the theme of maternity was something that the artist was inspired to paint after a visit to the women's prison of Saint-Lazare. It was there that he saw the female inmates, many of them prostitutes, nursing their children who had been born during incarceration.
The present work is one of Picasso's first considerations of the theme of maternity. While images of mothers and children featured frequently in Picasso's paintings after he became a father in the 1920s, this subject held no personal significance for him in 1901. He would have most likely associated the theme with traditional depictions of the Virgin and Child, and indeed, this picture has been titled as such in the past. But the opportunity to reinterpret the subject must have been tempting for the precocious young artist, and the irony of using a prostitute and her baby as models would not have been lost on him. The figure's loose garments and headscarf, which were regulation prison attire for women, could easily be mistaken for the timeless cloaks that draped the figures of Christian iconography. Such a picture could have been an emblem of Paris's secular transformation at the dawning of the 20th century.
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