Pablo Picasso - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | Phillips

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  • "The day I met Marie-Thérèse, I realized that I had before me what I had always been dreaming about."
    —Pablo Picasso

    Painted on April 4, 1932, Pablo Picasso’s Figures et plante is a vibrant gem of the artist’s portraits of his reigning muse, Marie-Thérèse. Among Picasso’s finest painterly achievements, the works of this seminal year mark Picasso’s annus mirabilis or “year of wonders,” as described by the artist’s biographer John Richardson, when Marie-Thérèse had claimed her exceptional presence in his art. Having resided in private hands for the last 20 years, Figures et plante reveals an expanded scene of Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant) which the artist had painted just three days earlier. In the present work, Picasso unveils the stage from left to right: Marie-Thérèse writing at a table in the Château de Boisgeloup near Gisors, which the artist had purchased in the summer of 1930 and where the lovers often met in secret. Beside her, he renders a second seated figure overarched by foliage sprouting from a vase that reflects the bright light streaming into the room. 


    Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme de profil (Marie-Thérèse), April 1, 1932. Private Collection, formerly the Evelyn Sharp Collection. Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Picasso met Marie-Thérèse in front of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris in January 1927, when he was still married to Olga Khokhlova. “I was an innocent young girl. I knew nothing—either of life or of Picasso,” Walter recalled years later. “He simply grabbed me by the arm and said, ‘I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together.’”i This coup de foudre soon blossomed into a rapturous affair and would shape the course of Picasso’s art by the turn of the decade. By the time Picasso created Figures et plante, her distinctive image had proliferated through every medium of his work. As Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s final lover, later observed, “With her, Pablo could throw off his intellectual life and follow his instinct...I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other.”ii


    Flip book photographs of Marie-Thérèse Walter, 1930. Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    "All of [my paintings] are researches. I search incessantly and there is a logical sequence in all this research…It’s an experiment in time."
    —Pablo Picasso

    While some have interpreted the figure on the left as Marie-Thérèse’s sister (presumably in light of Picasso’s later 1934 series of the two women reading at a table), it can also be read as a double portrait of Marie-Thérèse. For the left figure, Picasso incorporates the signifying Marie-Thérèse motifs he had explored in the months leading up to Figures et plante: the philodendron seen in Femme nue, feuilles et buste (Marie-Thérèse), the lavender-yellow pairing he iconically ascribed to Marie-Thérèse, and the mirror—here suggestively doubling as the circular vase. In the present work, he frames the fronds directly over the secondary figure and also shines the yellow light from the window upon her, completing the chromatic symbolism that defines Marie-Thérèse in some of his most renowned works from the period.


    Pablo Picasso, Femme nue, feuilles et buste (Marie-Thérèse), March 8, 1932. Private Collection, on long-term loan to Tate, London. Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    More cogently, it appears that Picasso treated the additional figure in Figures et plante similarly to that of Marie-Thérèse’s mirrored reflection in his renowned Jeune fille devant au miroir (Marie-Thérèse), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, created less than a month before: the same green, blue, and black of her sinuous hair, her body marked with the same bold red accent. It is therefore not unlikely that Picasso may have been aiming to fuse his investigations in Jeune fille devant au miroir, and Buste de femme de profil in the present work—after all, Picasso “preferred [Jeune fille devant au miroir ] to any of the others in the long series he had completed that spring,” as Alfred Barr noted.iii


    [left] Pablo Picasso, Jeune fille devant au miroir (Marie-Thérèse), March 14, 1932. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Image: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY, Artwork: © 2022 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
    [right] Detail of the present work

    Picasso’s employment of the window to frame his figures and his use of contrasting colors to model light nods to the work of Henri Matisse, who had first embraced these devices in his Fauvist years. Indeed, their now well-known symbiotic rivalry was at a peak during this period, as Picasso was preparing for his historic June 1932 retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit, where Matisse had his own retrospective just the year before. Yet, as John Elderfield observed, “Picasso’s Matissean paintings of the early 1930s are even more unusual in that they resemble not only earlier paintings by Matisse but, especially, the paintings that Matisse would make in response to them.”iv The present work formidably manifests this reflexive dialogue, particularly with Matisse’s canvases of 1938, such as The Conservatory, when the French artist would first explore the philodendron motif that first held Picasso’s interest in the 1932 paintings.


    Henri Matisse, The Conservatory, 1938. Collection of Joseph and Emily Pulitzer, St. Louis. Image: Archives Henri Matisse, all rights reserved, Artwork: © 2022 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Conjuring the place of its very creation, Figures et plante is imbued with the space and light Picasso found in Boisgeloup, literally and metaphorically. It was the perfect sanctuary not only for the artist and his muse, but also for his artistic investigations that resulted in some of the most celebrated works of his oeuvre. The freedom he found there translated into his painterly sensibility as he opened up his handling and palette, and explored new themes towards a more Surrealist expression embodied in the present work. Indeed with all its allusions and complexities, Figures et plante ultimately captures Picasso’s telling words. “The work one does is a way of keeping one's diary.”v 


    i Marie-Thérèse Walter, quoted in Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, trans. Olivia Emmet, New York, 1993, p. 202.
    ii Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 235, 241.
    iii Alfred Barr, Picasso: Forty Years of His Art, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, no. 246, p. 156.
    iv John Elderfield, in Matisse Picasso, exh. cat., Tate, London, 2002, p. 233.
    v Pablo Picasso, in Tériade, “En causant avec Picasso,” L’Intransigeant, June 15, 1932, p. 1.

    • Provenance

      James W. Wise, Geneva, New York & Nice
      Christie, Manson & Woods, Ltd., London, June 19, 1964, lot 44
      Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
      Yayoi Gallery, Tokyo (acquired by 1982)
      Private Collection
      Sotheby's, London, December 7, 1998, lot 34
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      New York, Perls Galleries, Four Masters: Rouault, Picasso, Utrillo, Raoul Dufy, November 1–November 29, 1941, no. 8, p. 2 (illustrated on the front cover; titled as Intérieur à Boisgeloup)
      Geneva, Musée de l’Athénée, Picasso, July 11–September 21, 1963, no. 27, n.p.

    • Literature

      Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso. Œuvres de 1926 à 1932, Paris, 1955, vol. 7, no. 404, p. 192 (illustrated, p. 179; erroneously described and dated as huile sur toile 4 août 1932)
      Robert Wraight, "Record season in the London salerooms," Studio International, vol. 168, no. 858, October 1964, p. 159
      Fred. A. Van Braam and A.B. Ter Haar Romeny, eds., World Collectors Annuary: Volume XVI, January 1st – December 31st 1964, Voorburg, 1964, p. 321
      The Evelyn Sharp Collection, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1978, p. 76
      Picasso 1932. Année érotique, exh. cat., Musée national Picasso-Paris, Paris, 2017, p. 141 (erroneously described and dated as huile sur toile 4 août XXXII)

    • Artist Biography

      Pablo Picasso

      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. 

      View More Works

Property from a Private Collection


Figures et plante

dated "4 Avril XXXII" upper left; inscribed "Boisgeloup" upper right
oil on panel
7 1/4 x 9 3/8 in. (18.4 x 23.8 cm)
Painted on April 4, 1932.

Full Cataloguing

$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for $10,267,000

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Global Managing Director and Specialist, Head of Evening Sale, New York
+1 212 940 1278

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+1 212 940 1206

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 18 May 2022