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Portrait de femme endormie. III
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000
sold for $9,315,000
Millon & Robert, Paris, March 25, 1994, lot 54
Galerie Hervé Odermatt, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1997
Portrait de femme endormie. III is an incredibly intimate and rare portrait by Pablo Picasso of his partner Françoise Gilot sleeping. Picasso, who seldom depicted Françoise asleep, has vividly conveyed the appearance of his lover through a mass of highly-finished red and blue lines. Repeated strands of blue and red hair sinuously meld together, while the gentle highlights of white give a sense of volume to her nose and cheeks. This sensual picture was dated the last day of October and it has been suggested that the work was perhaps drawn from life during the course of that night. A simple line drawing, Z XIV 237, drawn on a slightly smaller sheet that same night, appears to have served as the template for this work. Standing as a finished work in its own right, Portrait de femme endormie. III is distinct for the sheer brilliance of its electric blue and red color that contours Françoise’s form and courses through the strands of hair and the subtle shading of her cheek. Virtually unseen to the public for two decades, the work is further distinguished by its formidable provenance, having been previously in the collection of Bernard Picasso.
Françoise Gilot, a young artist, was decades Picasso’s junior. Françoise’s love of art and independence fascinated Picasso, resulting in a complex relationship that revitalized and inspired him. As Roland Penrose explained, Picasso “had met [Françoise] through other painters in Paris. Her youth and vivacity, the chestnut colour of her luminous eyes, and her intelligent and authoritative approach, gave her a presence which was both Arcadian and very much of this earth. Another quality which attracted Picasso was her interest in painting, for which she already showed considerable talent” (Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, New York & London, 1973, p. 368). Executed during Picasso’s sojourn in Antibes, Portrait de femme endormie. III hints at the charmed world of the Mediterranean with which Picasso was once again falling in love. It also provides a general insight into his state of mind at this time. Not only was this a period of immense relief and celebration at the end of the Second World War, it was also the first time Picasso was living publicly with Françoise. There appeared to be few threats to his happiness. By the time that Portrait de femme endormie. III was created, the couple were notably also aware that they were expecting their first child, Claude.
With its subject matter, and the strong, flowing lines that arc and turn through the composition in a stained-glass-like manner, Portrait de femme endormie. III appears to directly reference Picasso’s sensuous portraits of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter from a decade and a half earlier. Picasso had kept his relationship with the younger Marie-Thérèse a secret from his wife and many of his friends, meaning that there was a sense of shelter and privacy in the portraits of her sleeping, such as in Le repos, 1932. Widely considered a lyrical pinnacle in Picasso’s oeuvre, the portraits of Marie-Thérèse sleeping speak to a sense of release at no longer having to lead a double life, a characteristic shared by Portrait de femme endormie. III. Capturing a tender and incredibly intimate moment, this portrait of Françoise is a testament to the way in which Picasso watched admiringly while his tired muse slept.
The period during which Picasso executed Portrait de femme endormie. III was a particularly fruitful one. Picasso and Françoise had gone to Antibes in the south of France earlier that year to visit art patron and collector Marie Cuttoli – initially staying in a Golfe-Juan hotel and later renting out the upper half of the house of Paul Fort. Jules César Romauld Dor de la Souchère, the enterprising director of the local museum Château Grimaldi, notably asked Picasso if he wished to avail himself of the cavernous spaces there. Picasso became intoxicated by this freedom, especially after the constraints imposed upon both supplies and freedoms during the recent Occupation. Filled with a passion for the Mediterranean, for Françoise and for these exciting new pastures, he plunged into a lyrical world of mythological creatures. Looking at Picasso’s work during this time, his enthusiasm appears as a force of nature. During the course of time during which he had worked on Portrait de femme endormie. III, Picasso created an impressive array of drawings – mainly showing whimsical scenes of fauns, nymphs and centaurs. Picasso himself appears to have linked the composition of Portrait de femme endormie. III to this classical world, as he also drew an image of a faun sitting next to a sleeping nymph with undulating tresses of hair that recall those of Françoise as immortalized in the present work. Towards the end of 1946, this culminated in the masterpiece La joie de vivre that depicts a Françoise-like figure alongside a faun. This work remained in the collection of the Château Grimaldi, which later became the first museum dedicated to the artist’s works and is now known as the Musée Picasso.
While Picasso had created a number of images of Françoise by the time he created this portrait, few show her thus: instead, she is often shown staring out of the picture plane with her hair flowing rhythmically from her head, or rendered as a plant with her hair transformed into petals. This latter motif of the femme-fleur was one of the most recognized images of Françoise – transforming her into an image of fecundity, of life, of potential. The flowing tresses in Portrait de femme endormie. III evoke the femme-fleur, a motif that had in part come about as a reaction to the compliments that Pablo Picasso had seen Henri Matisse pay to Françoise that year. In this work, the bold use of vivid color may have been a riposte to Matisse who, in this case, was all the more a threat to Picasso as he, not Picasso, had been Françoise’s artistic idol. To win Françoise, Picasso had notably begun portraying her in the style of Matisse. Spurred by his rival’s admiration for Françoise, Picasso painted his lover again and again – a possessive act that hinted at his passion for his lover and muse. With Portrait de femme endormie. III, this has resulted in one of the most ambitious and fullest portraits of Françoise known in Picasso’s oeuvre.
Spanish • 1881 - 1973
One of the most dominant and influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was a master of endless reinvention. While significantly contributing to the movements of Surrealism, Neoclassicism and Expressionism, he is best known for pioneering the groundbreaking movement of Cubism alongside fellow artist Georges Braque in the 1910s. In his practice, he drew on African and Iberian visual culture as well as the developments in the fast-changing world around him.
Throughout his long and prolific career, the Spanish-born artist consistently pushed the boundaries of art to new extremes. Picasso's oeuvre is famously characterized by a radical diversity of styles, ranging from his early forays in Cubism to his Classical Period and his later more gestural expressionist work, and a diverse array of media including printmaking, drawing, ceramics and sculpture as well as theater sets and costumes designs.
Portrait de femme endormie. III
$1,000,000 - 1,500,000
sold for $9,315,000
New York Auction 16 November 2017