Pablo Picasso - 20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Monday, December 7, 2020 | Phillips

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  • We are grateful to Charles Stuckey, art historian and former curator of French Painting, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and 20th Century Painting and Sculpture, Art Institute of Chicago, for his expertise and assistance with the research of this work.


    Broadly speaking Deux personnages belongs to an extensive body of black and white paintings
    made by Pablo Picasso throughout his long career, including some of his most ambitious canvases—for example, Guernica, 1937, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. In consideration of the emphasis on line and shading in them, there are important parallels between this impressive group of works and Picasso’s remarkable accomplishments as a draftsman and printmaker. Indeed, like many of Picasso’s black and white paintings, Deux personnages could be understood as a painting taking shape in terms of drawing.


    Pablo Picasso, Femme mains jointes (Marie-Thérèse), 1938. Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill Collection, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    Specifically speaking Deux personnages is the first oil on canvas from a group of eight closely interrelated works made on successive days between Thursday, September 21 and Tuesday, September 26, 1939: four works on paper rendered in ink and/or gouache; three canvases (of which Deux personnages is the earliest and the only one with a signature); and finally a slightly larger oil on canvas, now in somber colors reminiscent of works from Picasso’s early so‐called Blue Period. All eight of these works show the empty corner of a room with two female figures side by side, presumably posing, the one on the right seated and the one on the left standing, a nude in all but the first two versions. Aside from the final oil, in terms of graphic style the figures are rendered simply and somewhat crudely, perhaps referring to art made by children, with the sort of distorted faces and anatomies common in his works from the late 1930s.


    Dora Maar, Reflection of Pablo Picasso in a mirror, Royan, 1940. Image credit © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY, Artwork © 2020 Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris

    This group of works is among Picasso’s first attempts to make art after his arrival in the Atlantic
    coast town of Royan, having hastily evacuated Paris with his mistress Dora Maar—but with little
    in the way of art supplies, as soon as France declared war on Germany on September 3. With their safety in mind, Picasso had already installed Marie‐Thérèse Walter and their daughter Maya at a villa in Royan earlier that summer, far removed at the time from the threat of attack. He and Maar stayed in a hotel and he rented an extra room at the villa as a makeshift studio where he went every day.


    Since Picasso often confided, already by 1932, how he considered his artworks to be a visual diary of his life, and so dated everything that he made precisely to the day, it seems likely that the figures in these eight images of two women together in some way represent his rival lovers. Compared with Picasso’s numerous images of Maar, she can be identified as both the seated and standing figures in most of the eight two women images made by Picasso towards the end of September 1939. But the figures in Deux personnages are different than the others: with what looks a bit like a beret on her head, the seated woman in Deux personnages should probably be identified with Walter, who had often appeared seated this way in Picasso’s art throughout the 1930s. She is even accompanied by a standing nude in a drawing dated October 10, 1938. 


    [left] Pablo Picasso, La Muse, 1935. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York [right] Dora Maar, 1936. Musée national Picasso, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

    "Painting is just another way of keeping a diary."
    — Pablo Picasso

    The identity of the standing figure in Deux personnages is less apparent. Her wavy dark hair and the circular highlight on her belly are what is most distinctive about her appearance. The rather unusual round highlight may designate the woman’s special importance: Picasso especially admired colleagues like Henri Matisse, who, as he put it, carried the sun in their bellies. 


    [left] Dora Maar, The Coversation, 1937. Artwork © 2020 Dora Maar Estate/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris [right] Pablo Picasso, Nu debout et femme assise, 1939. Artwork © 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

    As a sort of pictorial wishful thinking, these women appear together in harmony in several works made in 1935, notably the large oil Muse, now at the Musée national de l’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris, showing two women, one clothed, the other nude. What if any specific individuals were on his mind when he painted Deux personnages, it seems that Picasso’s theme of juggling two lovers was not lost on Dora Maar. Soon after meeting Picasso, she made a painting of herself in a face‐off with Walter, The Conversation, 1937, which was a highlight of the retrospective of Maar’s art recently presented at Tate Modern, London. The awkward romantic situation which faced Picasso when he arrived at Royan was similar to his Paris life in the mid‐1930s as Walter vied for his attention with Olga.

    • Provenance

      Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
      Lynn Epsteen, New York
      Private Collection
      Christie's, New York, May 17, 1983, lot 79
      Jason Bloom Incorporated, New York
      Private Collection, Paris
      Private Collection (by descent from the above)
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Literature

      Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Volume X, Œuvres de 1939 et 1940, Paris, 1959, no. 120, p. 39 (illustrated)

    • 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. 

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Property from an Important American Collection

Ο ◆20

Deux personnages

signed and dated "Picasso 39" lower left; dated "22 Sept 39" on the reverse
oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 13 in. (41 x 33 cm)
Painted on September 22, 1939, this work is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Claude Ruiz Picasso.

Full Cataloguing

$1,200,000 - 1,800,000 

Sold for $2,147,500

Contact Specialist

Amanda Lo Iacono
Head of Auctions
New York
+1 212 940 1278 


20th c. & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 7 December 2020