Pablo Picasso - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Two-toned: Charles Stuckey on Picasso's 'Deux Nus', 1920

    Dr. Charles Stuckey, art historian and former Curator of Modern Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. discusses Picasso's 'Deux Nus', 1920. The outlines of the figures’s bodies have been rendered with a pared-back, yet highly eloquent use of line, while their heads, necks, two hands and one arm have been painted in gouache.

  • Provenance

    Paul Rosenberg, Paris
    Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, Lausanne
    Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne
    Saidenberg Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Saidenberg Gallery, Homage to Picasso for His 90th Birthday, Exhibition for the Benefit of the American Cancer Society, October 1971, no. 25, p. 37 (illustrated)
    New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York Collects: Drawings and Watercolors, 1900-1950, May 20 - August 29, 1999, no. 22, p. 75 (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Waldemar George, Picasso: Dessins, Paris, 1926, pl. 14, n.p. (illustrated)
    Jean Cassou, Picasso, New York, 1940, p. 10 (illustrated)
    Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvre de 1900 à 1922, vol. 4, Paris, 1951, no. 63, pl. 19 (medium erroneously catalogued, illustrated)
    The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Neoclassicism I, 1920-1921, San Francisco, 1995, no. 20-222, p. 69 (medium erroneously catalogued, illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    In Pablo Picasso’s Deux nus, created on 20 May 1920, two nude figures stand together, statuesque and poised. The outlines of the figures’s bodies have been rendered with a pared-back, economic yet highly eloquent use of line, while their heads, necks, two hands and one arm have been painted in gouache – adding a textural richness to the drawing. Dating from the height of Picasso’s involvement with the ballet, the women stand with the assurance of the dancers who so intrigued him – one of whom, Olga Khokhlova, he had married two years earlier. Deux nus also reveals the increasing interest in classical culture that had been whetted by Picasso’s trip to Italy three years earlier.

    It is a tribute to the quality and importance of this drawing that it was formerly in the collection of Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, one of the greatest patrons of Cubism who owned an impressive array of Picasso’s works and would lend almost twenty paintings to the artist’s first museum exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1932. Pictures from Reber’s collection now hang in public institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid. Before Reber acquired Deux nus, it passed through the hands of the legendary Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg. It was only a few years before the picture was created that Picasso and Rosenberg had come to a formal agreement, with the dealer given first choice of the artist’s works – a mark of distinction for Deux nus. Works such as the present one highlight the high regard which Picasso’s extraordinary draughtsmanship was met. Indeed, it is telling that Picasso’s first exhibition at Rosenberg’s gallery in 1919, the year before Deux nus was executed, was notably dedicated entirely to non-Cubist drawings, gouaches and watercolors.

    Deux nus dates from the apogee of Picasso’s collaboration with the ballet – it was only five days earlier, on 15 May, that Sergei Diaghilev’s legendary company, the Ballets Russes, had had their opening night of Pulcinella at the Paris Opéra. Pulcinella itself had its origins in the culture of the Commedia dell’Arte, the comical and theatrical art form that had intrigued Picasso, Massine and Diaghilev when they were visiting Naples with the ballet in 1917. Scored by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Léonide Massine, the ballet had notably featured set design and costumes created by Picasso himself. The connection between Deux nus and the ballet is formally emphasised by the alterations to the leg positions of the two figures, with Picasso’s visible pentimenti implying that they had formerly been in a uniform pose. The oval at their feet may have been a choreographic marking on the ground.

    Deux nus speaks to a period of incredibly fertile creativity for Picasso. Indeed, even during the course of the 20 May, when Deux nus was executed, he drew another work, Trois femmes nues, now in the Museo Picasso, Malaga. The theme of the female nude, especially shown in a small group, was one that would repeatedly preoccupy Picasso – as a subject, it had been at the heart of many of the pictures from his earlier Gosol period, laying the foundations of Cubism. In his pictures from May 1920, the women are ambiguous figures: they resembled both the dancers with whom Picasso was surrounded, and also prefigured the bathers he would see when he went on his first holiday to Saint-Juan-les-Pins soon afterwards. They also resemble timeless nymphs and goddesses, a classical currency emphasized by the oval upon which the figures stand. While alluding to choreographic markings, the oval form also doubles as a base or pedestal that emphasizes the sculptural characteristics of the women. Indeed, the incredible modeling of the heads reveals Picasso’s fascination with sculpture that had been piqued by the antiquities from the Farnese collection he had seen in Naples in 1917 and which would emerge in the sculptural works he would create a decade later. The classical overtones of Deux nus – as well as any potential Sapphic dimension to the composition – are underscored in a playful way by the ghostly traces of an erased Cupid that is faintly visible between the figures.

    Throughout 1920, starting in April and leading on through to the autumn and winter months, images of two stylized women together would recur within Picasso’s oeuvre – as epitomized in the monumental painting Deux baigneuses assises that now resides in the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf. This motif served Picasso as an arena to explore a new means of representation. Whereas works such as Deux baigneuses assises often featured gigantism – echoed in the present drawing in the figures’ hands – Deux nus explores a wider range of proportional effects. Picasso’s experimentation is particularly discernible in the women’s elegantly-tapered necks and head, emphasized within the composition with delicate areas of gouache. Picasso’s sculptural modeling thereby creates a lyrical contrast to the pared-back use of line within the rest of the composition. The way in which these two styles complement each other reveal the renewed interest in form that Picasso was exploring as he transcended Cubism – with line as its foundation.

    Picasso’s own emphasis on the line was evident in a number of stylistically-similar drawings from this period, even when tackling very different subject matters as in the portrait of Igor Stravinsky, Musée Picasso, Paris, that was created only four days after Deux nus. It is widely acknowledged that Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres served as an inspiration during this period, a conclusion that appears logical when appreciating the crisp lines and light in the present work. Essentially, as noted scholar Robert Fry observed, Picasso’s late work aims to achieve “plastic balance within a strictly limited space” (Robert Fry, quoted in John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 168). It is that notion of “plastic balance” that is embodied by such masterpieces as Deux baigneuses assises and also by drawings such as the present one.

    In many ways, Picasso explores the subject matter of the nude as a pretext for his formal experimentations. Six years after this work was created, Waldemar George described Picasso as “the only living artist who has treated the nude as a pure formal theme … he has exploited the female anatomy with a disinterested constructive aim that has nothing to do with any idea of representation” (Waldemar George, quoted in Picasso’s Drawings 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition, exh. cat., The Frick Collection, New York, 2011, p. 49). Picasso’s aims during this period were not so much part of the rappel à l’ordre, which saw a new classicism emerge in artistic circles in the wake of the turmoil of the First World War. Instead, this was a logical extension of the same artistic enquiries that underpinned the Cubism that had previously dominated his output, and which retained an important presence in his pictures during even this period.

  • 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 the Estate of Mrs. Anne Marie Aberbach


Deux Nus

signed and dated "Picasso 20-5-20" lower right
gouache and pencil on paper
25 x 18 in. (63.5 x 45.7 cm.)
Executed on May 20, 1920, this work is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity signed by Claude Picasso.

$800,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for $1,215,000

Contact Specialist
Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+1 212 940 1278

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 16 November 2017