Pablo Picasso - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Video

    'La Dormeuse': Picasso's Sleeping Nude

    This season in London, we present a masterpiece from Pablo Picasso's 1932 series depicting his muse Marie-Thérèse Walter as a reclining odalisque. Curator and art historian Charles Stuckey provides an in-depth look at the painting's astonishing intimacy and power.

  • Provenance

    Collection of the Artist
    Bequeathed to his second wife Jacqueline Rocque-Picasso
    Thence by descent to her daughter, Catherine Hutin-Blay
    Pace-Wildenstein Gallery, New York
    Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner on 29 June 1995

  • Exhibited

    Paris, Galerie Louise Leiris, Picasso: 51 Peintures: 1904-1972, 17 May - 9 June 1984, no. 19, p. 27 (illustrated)
    Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Pablo Picasso: Meeting in Montreal, 21 June - 10 November 1985, no. 20, n.p. (illustrated)
    New York, Pace-Wildenstein Gallery, Picasso and Drawing, 28 April - 2 June 1995, no. 51, cover (illustrated)
    Kunstmuseum Basel, Canto d’Amore: Classicism in Modern Art and Music 1914-1935, 27 April - 11 August, 1996, no. 101, p. 31 (illustrated)
    Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry, 31 January - 2 May 1999, no. 39, p. 56 (illustrated)
    London, Tate Modern; Paris, Les Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais; New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Matisse Picasso, 11 May 2002 - 19 May 2003, no. 109, p. 217 (illustrated)
    Bern, Kunstmuseum, long-term loan, 2006 - 2012

  • Literature

    'The Art of the Deal', Vanity Fair, vol. 58, April 1995, p. 287 (illustrated)
    Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso Portraits, exh. cat. National Portrait Gallery, London, 2016, no. 124, p. 143 (illustrated)
    Picasso 1932, Année Érotique, exh. cat., Musée national Picasso, Paris, 2017, fig. 12, p. 56 (illustrated, incorrect dimensions cited)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Pablo Picasso painted La Dormeuse on 13 March 1932, during one of the most incredibly fertile periods of creativity of his entire career. This was one of a string of paintings depicting his lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, many of which are now in museum collections. These are among the most revered of all Picasso’s paintings, and indeed have recently become the subject of a dedicated exhibition entitled Picasso 1932 which opened in October 2017 at the Musée national Picasso, Paris and which will subsequently travel to Tate Modern, London. The pictures Picasso created that year, and in particular in the first weeks of March, were unfettered celebrations of his life with Marie-Thérèse.

    This is clear to see in La Dormeuse, in which the sweeping curves and undulations that comprise her body denote an experiential, almost proprietorial motion on the part of the artist himself, as Picasso moved back and forth before the canvas, creating lyrical lines and conjuring Marie-Thérèse’s voluptuous forms through layers of arabesques. La Dormeuse is both a drawing and a painting, with its cerulean patch of blue, and for this reason benefits from an added sense of spontaneity and intimacy compared to some of the finished oils from the period. Indeed, the pentimenti which are visible underneath reveal other configurations that Marie-Thérèse’s features had taken during the creation of the picture, add a sense of movement and time to La Dormeuse. It is a palimpsest, with layers of recorded appearances. La Dormeuse remained in Picasso’s own possession until his death, and was then inherited by his widow Jacqueline Roque, before passing to her daughter from a previous marriage, Catherine Hutin-Blay. Picasso would later say of the pictures that he accumulated, reflecting his unwillingness to part with many of them, 'I am the greatest collector of Picassos in the world' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Roberto Otero, Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look at His Last Years, trans. Elaine Kerrigan, New York, 1974, p. 26).

    Picasso had met Marie-Thérèse just over five years before he painted La Dormeuse, on 8 January 1927, approaching her at the Galeries Lafayette where she was shopping. Marie-Thérèse was in her late teens, decades younger than Picasso, yet her striking appearance—with her blonde hair and curvy figure—formed a contrast with his Russian ballerina wife, Olga Khokhlova. ‘I was an innocent gamine. I knew nothing - life, Picasso, nothing,’ Marie-Thérèse would later recall. ‘He simply grabbed me by the arm and said, "I'm Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together"’ (Marie-Thérèse Walter, quoted in Barry Farrell, 'Picasso: His Women: The Wonder Is that He Found So Much Time to Paint', Life, 27 December 1968, p. 74). Marie-Thérèse resembled some of the figures who had recently been appearing in Picasso’s pictures, and he would later tell their daughter: 'The day I met Marie-Thérèse I realised that I had before me what I had always been dreaming about' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Diana Widmaier-Picasso, 'The Encounter Between Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter (1927): Thoughts on a Historiographical Revision', pp. 162-69, Ingrid Mössinger, Beate Ritter & Kerstin Drechsel (ed.), Picasso et les femmes, exh. cat., Chemnitz, 2002, p. 169). This was a perfect, Surreal coup de foudre, and the pair soon embarked on a passionate affair.

    During the first years of their relationship, Marie-Thérèse tended to appear in codified form in Picasso’s works. The artist even created devices within still life compositions that included her initials, teasingly concealing her presence in plain sight. However, in the early 1930s, he began to explore her appearance more directly. This was particularly evident in the sculptures that he created in his studio in the stable block at his château, Boisgeloup, in 1931. These combined a stylised mass with Marie-Thérèse’s distinctive features, and the same profile is visible in La Dormeuse and many of the other pictures of the following year. It appears to have been at the beginning of 1932 that some form of Rubicon was crossed with Olga, which resulted in Picasso no longer hiding Marie-Thérèse in his pictures, although he still went to great pains to keep her existence secret, even from many of his close friends. Charles Stuckey has suggested that the commitment to women’s rights, and by extension, shown by the Republicans in Picasso’s native Spain may have influenced this—especially after the passing of their Divorce Law in March of that year. Certainly, it is true that the creative dam suddenly broke, with Picasso embarking upon one of the most legendary streaks of creativity of his entire career, as he spent time with his Muse, recording her features in fluid, lyrical pictures day after day, creating an almost cinematic sequence of images. La Dormeuse dates from the apogee of this surge. With Marie-Thérèse’s face shaped like a painter’s palette, this is a paean to creative freedom as well as to love.

    A number of the pictures that Picasso created of Marie-Thérèse show her asleep. A witness of the period, who had known her, was recorded by the artist’s biographer John Richardson saying, 'Never forget that Marie-Thérèse was the quintessence of dolce fa niente... and if Picasso usually portrayed her dozing or sunbathing or playing games, it was because these activities and passivities were the be-all and end-all of her easy-going nature' (quoted in John Richardson, 'Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter', in Through the Eye of Picasso 1928-1934, exh. cat., New York, 1985, n.p.). While in some of his pictures, Picasso deliberately focussed his composition on Marie-Thérèse’s face alone, in others he celebrated her entire body, as is the case in La Dormeuse. Three years after this picture was painted, Picasso would write a poem which included the line, ‘combien je l’aime maintenant qu’elle dort’ (Pablo Picasso poem from 1935, quoted in Robert Rosenblum, ‘Picasso’s Blond Muse: The Reign of Marie-Thérèse Walter’, Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, London, 1996, p. 348). It is that sentiment that is captured so intoxicatingly in the vigorous lines of La Dormeuse.

    Dated '13 March 1932' La Dormeuse is part of a string of pictures often considered to have been painted at Boisgeloup, shortly after Picasso had returned there after a stint at his Paris home, 23 rue La Boétie. Recent scholarship has suggested that he had in fact remained in the French capital for a longer period and created the pictures in his studio on the floor above his apartment there (Laurence Madeline, Picasso 1932, exh. cat., Paris, 2017, p. 56). Certainly Picasso had been in Paris a few days earlier, when he painted his Nature morte aux tulipes, which featured a bust of Marie-Thérèse, recalling both his lover and the sculptures of her that he had made the previous year. Shortly afterwards, Marie-Thérèse was depicted sprawled naked underneath a similar bust and a plant in Femme nue, feuilles et buste, now on long-term loan to Tate Modern, London, and formerly in the Frances Lasker Brody collection, which achieved a world auction record when offered at auction in 2010. This was the picture that Picasso hung in his own apartment in Paris, as recorded in a photographic portrait taken by Cecil Beaton the following year. That work was signed on 8 March; on the 9th, he painted the related Nu au fauteuil noir in the Abigail and Leslie Wexner collection. Where Marie-Thérèse’s presence was codified through the use of the bust motif and other devices in his earlier still life composition, these two pictures featured the naked horizontal body itself, depicted using similar looping lines to those in La Dormeuse.

    Here is what the art critic Leo Steinberg called ‘Drawing as if to possess’, referring to a comment that Picasso himself had made in conversation with the museum director William Rubin: ‘que je les possède’ (Leo Steinberg, quoted in, ‘The Algerian Women and Picasso at Large’, in Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, Oxford, 1972, pp. 174 and 411). In all of these paintings, these contours double as proprietorial caresses as Picasso delineated his lover’s body, observing, exploring and eulogising its forms. On the 12 March, the day before completing La Dormeuse, Picasso painted Le miroir, in which introduced the titular mirror to his depictions of his lover, allowing him to make a playful riff on the Cubist technique of depicting objects in the round—in this work, the reflection gives the artist a pretext for showing both Marie-Thérèse’s breasts and her buttocks.

    In La Dormeuse, Picasso has pushed past that motif, and past the limitations of objective representation, instead exploring the entirety of Marie-Thérèse’s voluptuous figure through a flow of lines that delineate her body as a composite, seen from various angles, with her breasts, her vagina and her rear all synchronously visible. This playfully combines references to the Cubistic way of seeing the world with a poetic chronicling of Marie-Thérèse stirring and shifting in her sleep, and ultimately rolling over. Crucially, in La Dormeuse, Picasso chose a landscape format: rather than allowing Marie-Thérèse’s body to occupy the lower portion of a painting, or to be presented upright, here he has adjusted the composition in order to allow himself to focus entirely on her. He fills the canvas with her forms, leaving room for no distracting or extraneous details. Every line is devoted to Marie-Thérèse.

    The following day, 14 March, Picasso painted what has become the most iconic of this series of paintings, Jeune fille devant un miroir, which is one of the emblematic works from the Museum of Modern Art, New York, which it entered as early as 1938—only six years after its execution. In that highly-finished work, Picasso returned to the use of the mirror as a device to portray Marie-Thérèse from a number of angles. There are crucial differences between this picture and its predecessors, though—after all, Marie-Thérèse is here presented upright and awake. In addition, the sense of fluidity that characterises this picture’s predecessors, including La Dormeuse, is countered by the various hatchings and other patterns that populate this canvas. Picasso has replicated the wallpaper of his Paris apartment, as he had in Le miroir two days earlier, leading to the conclusion that the work may have been created there, although Richardson has pointed out that he need not have necessarily been before the motif (Laurence Madeline, Picasso 1932, exh. cat., Paris, 2017, p. 31 and John Richardson, quoted in, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 468).

    In some ways, Jeune fille devant un miroir and La Dormeuse can be seen as polar opposites, the former picture crammed with detail while the latter breathes with its focus on the forms of Marie-Thérèse’s body. In it, Picasso has left much of the surface in reserve, granting it an incredible luminescence, while also highlighting the dizzying, dynamic haze of underdrawings. Intriguingly, while Jeune fille devant un miroir is often considered the culmination of this series of paintings, Richardson has pointed out that Picasso himself had said: ‘The penultimate one is almost always the strongest’ (John Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 470).

    It has been suggested by numerous authors, even within Picasso’s own lifetime, that his artistic style changed in accordance to the woman dominant in his life. Certainly this was the case with the period in which Marie-Thérèse was in the ascendant—but the poetic, celebratory, sensual works of March 1932 such as La Dormeuse came only after a period of tumult which had a style of its own. When compared with the gigantism and classicism of Picasso’s paintings during the earlier years of his marriage to Olga, the stylised swoops of Picasso’s lines in La Dormeuse appear very different indeed. There is none of the cool detachment that had marked those earlier pictures: instead, Picasso appears to have flung himself into his subject matter. The curves that form Marie-Thérèse’s body, which stretch to almost life size across the expanse of the canvas, hint at the artist’s own exploratory movements, his energy and enthusiasm as he created this image. This physical dimension to the creation of La Dormeuse may have been all the more relevant to Picasso, as only the previous year he had turned fifty years of age. Now, through his relationship with a girl in her early twenties, he appeared reinvigorated.

    Before the blooming of the sinuous depictions of Marie-Thérèse’s body seen in pictures such as La Dormeuse and Le miroir, Picasso had gone through a troubled period in which he appears to have been wracked by anxiety about his dual life—bourgeois husband and father on the one hand, and bohemian painter-lover on the other. These expressed themselves in a number of pictures that were infused with the Surrealism espoused by a number of his friends and contemporaries. In those works, body parts penetrated each other, speaking of tension rather than joy, as in Figures au bord de la mer of January 1931 (Musée Picasso, Paris). A year later, some of this tension remained, as is perceptible in some of the depictions of Marie-Thérèse, such as the Grunewald-inspired Femme au fauteuil rouge in the same museum, or in the depiction of Olga seemingly in a fit, the ironically-named Le repos in the collection of Steven and Alexandra Cohen. In that work, the dancer’s body was submitted to horrific transformations, her hair on end, her mouth wide in a silent scream that resonates through the hot red of the chair in which she sits. These tensions appear to have been exorcised within a very short space of time, as Le rêve, also in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen collection was painted only two days afterwards. Now, a new style was in the ascendant. Many of the depictions of Marie-Thérèse painted in the following years would retain a strong foothold in the colourism and cloisonnisme that had come to the fore in Le rêve, and which are evident even in the deliberately restrained palette of La Dormeuse.

    Both the colourism and the subject matter that Picasso was exploring in the string of depictions of Marie-Thérèse can be seen as a response to one of his great artistic contemporaries and rivals, Henri Matisse. Picasso and Matisse came to regard each other as friends as well as long-term rivals. 'As different as the North Pole is from the South Pole,' Matisse said of the pair of them, according to Fernande Olivier (Henri Matisse, quoted in Jack Flam, Matisse and Picasso: The Story of Their Rivalry and Friendship, Cambridge, MA, 2003). Picasso jealously admired the elegant simplicity of Matisse's line and colour, and this admiration percolates through La Dormeuse. It was only the previous year, in 1931, that Matisse had been given a retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. The show, largely organised by Matisse’s dealers, focussed on his recent Nice paintings and in particular his odalisques, rather than showing the arc of his artistic quests.

    Picasso’s attentive presence was noted at the time, as he investigated what Matisse had been doing. In some ways, La Dormeuse can be seen as a response. Picasso was creating his own odalisque. Looking at the composition of La Dormeuse, though, another influence may also be noted: Picasso’s artistic hero, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Looking at Ingres’ Odalisque with Slave, Picasso can be seen to have taken a cue from its composition in the sprawling limbs and the curves of the body. In particular, the underdrawing of La Dormeuse, with the head shown facing upwards, looks like a mirrored reinterpretation of Ingres’ original. Picasso may have known Ingres’ drawing of the subject in the Cabinet des Dessins at the Louvre, Paris, but would also doubtless have seen Ingres’ original painting in the flesh (Fogg Museum, Harvard University). After all, the year before La Dormeuse was painted, it had been lent to a charity exhibition held in the gallery of Picasso’s dealer, Paul Rosenberg, at 21 Rue La Boétie—next door to Picasso’s home.

    Picasso’s own approval of La Dormeuse was confirmed by the fact that he also created a smaller drawing on canvas echoing its finished form, while reprising the layered arabesques created by the underdrawings in the larger work. However, it was the composition visible in the lighter pemtimenti in La Dormeuse, absent in that smaller example, that Picasso would explore in a number of variations upon the theme later in 1932, showing Marie-Thérèse with her palette-like head facing upwards. In all of those works, the tentacle-like way that Picasso depicted her limbs, adding to the sense of fluidity of her body so evident in La Dormeuse, was increasingly exaggerated. Indeed, the composition increasingly came to recall that of Hokusai’s famous print, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, in which a woman is shown in a bizarre sexual encounter with two octopuses, one of them vast. Already in La Dormeuse, Picasso appears to have manipulated the bulk of Marie-Thérèse’s hips, shown from front and back, to echo the appearance of Hokusai’s octopus, with her breasts doubling as its eyes; this effect is heightened by the roving confusion of limbs.

    As demonstrated in the 2009 exhibition Secret Images: Picasso and the Japanese Erotic Print, held at the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, the artist himself kept a number of shunga images in his own collection. His knowledge of Hokusai’s famous, indeed infamous, print with the octopi appears to have been indicated by his own drawing of a woman being sexually pleasured by a cephalopod as early as 1903. In the catalogue for that exhibition, Ricard Bru forensically examined how copies of Hokusai’s print were owned by people in Picasso’s circle, and how many of them were influenced by it (R. Bru, ‘Tentacles of Love and Death: From Hokusai to Picasso’, pp. 50-65, Secret Images: Picasso and the Japanese Erotic Print, exh. cat., trans. L. Maguire, Barcelona, 2009). In La Dormeuse, then, Picasso has tapped into the wide realm of his visual erudition, fusing the visual languages of Ingres, Hokusai and Matisse with his encounters with Surrealism, channelling all these in order to create a unique, poetic and highly personalised record of his relationship with Marie-Thérèse.

    Curator and art historian Dr Charles Stuckey’s feature on La Dormeuse can be viewed at the following link:

  • 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 of a Private European Collector


La Dormeuse

dated '13 mars XXXII' on the stretcher
oil and charcoal on canvas
130.2 x 161.9 cm (51 1/4 x 63 3/4 in.)
Executed on 13 March 1932, this work is accompanied by a photo-certificate of authenticity signed by Claude Picasso.

£12,000,000 - 18,000,000 ‡ ♠

Sold for £41,859,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018