Lot 51
  • 51

Pablo Picasso

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
965,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • Personnages
  • signed Picasso and dated 29 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas


Alphonse Kann, St. Germain-en-Laye

Looted from the above by the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in June 1940

Transferred to the Jeu de Paume, Paris (inv. no. KA 1078, titled 3 Akrobaten)

Scheduled for transfer to Nikolsburg, Austria on 1st August 1944, but the shipment never left Paris

Restituted to Alphonse Kann on 11th July 1947

M. Boucheron, Paris (sold: Palais Galliera, Paris, 12th December 1962, lot 58)

Berggruen & Cie., Paris (purchased at the above sale)

Galleria Levi, Milan

Galleria Gissi, Turin

Private Collection, Milan

Private Collection, USA

Acquired by the present owner in 2009


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, œuvres de 1926 à 1932, Paris, 1955, vol. VII, no. 277, illustrated pl. 112

The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Toward Surrealism, 1925-1929, San Francisco, 1996, no. 29-039, illustrated p. 202 (titled Groupe de personnages)

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso: from the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 183, illustrated p. 71

Catalogue Note

Executed in 1929, Personnages belongs to a group of works Picasso painted in April and May of that year, depicting highly stylised figures, often against a background that suggests an outdoor setting. In the present work, two simple lines running near the bottom and top of the composition provide a subtle reference to a beach and a horizon line separating the sea and the sky. A companion painting Baigneuses à la cabine, executed on the same day (fig. 2), provides slightly more explicit clues to the narrative that preoccupied Picasso at the time: two female figures cross paths in front of a beach cabin, one of them echoing the pose of the figure depicted on the right of the present work.


During 1929 Picasso’s private life was dominated by more than one woman: he was becoming increasingly involved with his young mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom he had met in Paris in 1927 and was still married to Olga Khokhlova, with whom he had a son Paolo. Picasso spent the summer of 1928 at Dinard in Brittany with Olga and Paolo, and was secretly meeting with Marie-Thérèse, whom he had installed in a nearby pension de jeunes filles. His depictions of the beach at Dinard often contain references to both women, exorcising the tension of his increasingly distressing relationship with Olga while at the same time reflecting the compelling new inspiration and energy that Marie-Thérèse brought into his life.


Writing about the artist’s summer days at Dinard, John Richardson recounted: ‘Whenever possible, Picasso would escape from his wife’s sulks and the stifling atmosphere of their ugly rented house […] 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’ (J. Richardson, ‘Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter’, in Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934 (exhibition catalogue), William Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1985, n.p.).


Although in the present work Picasso painted the figures in the highly abstracted manner that characterised his Surrealist production, the figure on the right, with arms lifted and arched above her head, is portrayed in a recognisable ballet pose seen repeatedly during this period. As John Richardson has argued: ‘The uplifted arms […] do not stand for Olga; they stand for Marie-Thérèse. Picasso evidently wanted to see how his beautiful, trim young mistress would be enhanced by the position that he usually used to travesty his former ballerina wife’ (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, London, 2007, vol. III, p. 366).  


Personnages, together with other paintings Picasso produced at this time, reflects a variety of influences, most notably the work of Surrealist artists who were at the forefront of the European avant-garde, as well as Picasso’s own sculptures, some of which he produced in close collaboration with Julio González. During 1928 and 1929 Picasso visited the sculptor at his Paris studio, where he learned González’s techniques of metal constructions, and the two artists worked together on wire sculpture and assemblages including the now famous Monument d’Apollinaire and La Femme au jardin (fig. 4).


An important source of inspiration was provided by his fellow Surrealists, whose stylistic ideas equipped Picasso with a highly abstracted vocabulary he used as a means of disguising the image of his mistress, whose existence he would keep secret until 1932. Discussing the works Picasso executed in April and May 1929, Palau i Fabre observes that ‘the [pictorial] language constantly changes and adapts itself to the inner design of the artist. That artist is Picasso, the man of constant contradiction, the man of incessant dialectics. So much was he so that at that very moment he was executing paintings in which the human beings or the human figuration are reduced to almost vermicular schemes [fig. 2 and the present work], which culminate in the famous figure with stretched limbs of May 5 [fig. 3]. I do not think that Dalí’s soft watches had been commenced; I should rather say that Picasso anticipated them’ (J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., p. 70).