- Pablo Picasso
- Buste de femme nue
- signed Picasso (lower left) and dated 11.1.21. (upper left)
- watercolour on paper
- 16 by 10.5cm.
- 6 1/4 by 4 1/8 in.
Saidenberg Gallery, New York
Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Zurich
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988
Zurich, Thomas Ammann Fine Art, Picasso: Drawings, Watercolors, Pastels, 1988, no. 10, illustrated in colour in the catalogue (titled Femme assise and as dating from 1920)
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, supplément aux années 1920-1922, Paris, 1975, vol. 30, no. 131, illustrated pl. 50
Executed in January 1921, Picasso’s Buste de femme nue
is an elegant example of the artist’s experiments with the Neo-Classical idiom that he adopted in the years immediately following the First World War. Combining a remarkable play of light and shadow with the warm, Mediterranean colouration that is common to works of this period, the composition is imbued with a timeless monumentality. It appears to relate closely to a series of drawings and paintings begun in the Autumn of 1920 which show a woman seated, sometimes reading, but always with one arm raised to her face in a gesture of quiet contemplation. Josep Palau i Fabre specifically relates these figures to Olga who was at this time expecting Picasso’s first child – the composition would later morph into a group of works on the theme of maternity. Picasso would develop this theme over the coming years to its full potential in masterpieces such as Trois femmes à la fontaine
(The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Deux femmes nues assises
(Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf).
The artist’s return to a classical style was part of a larger rappel à l’ordre that dominated the avant-garde following the First World War, fuelled by a desire for stability, introspection and contemplation after the shock and destruction of the war. Always ahead of the curve, Picasso seems to have pre-empted this shift; his earliest works in this style date from 1917 following a trip to Italy. In fact, during these years he alternated between the flattened planes and abstractions of cubism and a distinctively voluptuous and sculptural form of classicism. In many cases, and particularly with the present work, his classicism appears tempered by the later influences of artists like Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Picasso’s allusions to the art of antiquity are less a submission to a specific style than a demonstration of his continuous desire for reinvention and the drive for new means of expression that was the touchstone of his genius.