Trois nus féminins signed, inscribed, and dated 'Picasso Antibes 1923' (lower right) pencil, charcoal, and Sanguine on paper 14 x 10 3/8in. (35.5 x 26.5cm) Drawn in July 1923
PROVENANCE The Zwemmer Gallery, London. Gerald Barry, Esq., London. Sir Hugh Seymour Walpole, London and Brackenburn, Cumbria. Saidenberg Galleries, New York. Private Collection, Edmonton, Alberta, acquired from the above, circa 1955. By descent from the above to the present owner, 2011.
EXHIBITED London, The Leceister Galleries, The Collection of the late Sir Hugh Walpole II, May 1945, no. 150, titled The Three Graces.
LITERATURE C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1954, vol. V, no. 098. The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Neoclassicism II, San Francisco, 2003, p. 169, no. 23-191 (illustrated).
In July 1923 Picasso and Olga Kokhlova, his wife of five years, embarked on a holiday at the resort of Hôtel du Cap d'Antibes very near Juan les Pines in the Côte d'Azur with Sara and Gerald Murphy, the American patrons and collectors. The Murphys made special arrangements for the resort to be available to their family and guests that summer, a time of year when very few French would have taken holiday there. For the fashionable couple, it would be an opportunity to take a holiday and extend the social calendar that had started in the spring in Paris with an assortment of artistic friends. The Murphys and Picasso had been acquainted since 1922, but it would be the first time both families were together. Also joining the summer holiday was the couple's son, Paulo, as well as Señora Ruiz, Picasso's mother.
The Picassos were also surrounded by a new circle of friends close to the Murphys and familiar to them from the numerous parties and balls they attended in Paris throughout the early 1920s in Kokhlova's effort to elevate her husband to the haute bourgeoise. The circle from Paris included the artists Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Marcel Duchamp, as well as composers Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky and Cole Porter along with his wife Linda Lee Thomas. Even fashion designer Coco Chanel and Serge Diaghilev were a part of the summer gathering as well as Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, whom Picasso personally invited. Photographs from François Biondo during this year, also capture a costume party at the beach given by the Comte and Comtesse de Beaumont, great hosts of this beau monde set. This group of artists and patrons connected Picasso to a world beyond the Bateau Lavoir circle of Paris and would be extremely influential in the works created during the 1920s and well into the middle years of his artistic output.
For Picasso, being in the Mediterranean afforded time outdoors particularly long days at the beach at La Garoupe. From the archives and photographs of the Murphy family during this summer, it is apparent how active Gerald Murphy was with his brood of three children, Baoth, Honoria and Patrick. The Murphys are captured in their bathing costumes engaging in gymnastics, yoga, and stretching and can be seen in numerous other snapshots frolicking by the water. From these images, there are also documents of Picasso in a fedora hat and bathing costume playfully dancing on the beach and cavorting with Paolo and the Murphy children.
The present drawing is a fine example of Picasso's Neoclassical period. Unlike the voluminous pastel drawings of Olga done in 1921 in Fountainbleau, these drawings show a greater sense of restraint and economy. No longer looking to Ingres or artists of the past, Picasso was distilling a greater sense of synthesis with his unique process.
The pose and composition of the three figures in Trois nus feminines can be seen in a suite of almost twenty drawings. Each drawing shows two figures in profile (the figures at left and far right), which flank the central figure drawn with finer details and face established in full view looking directly at the viewer.
To locate the origin of the composition in Trois nus feminines, one can look to a series of family photographs of Sara Murphy taken in July 1923 with her close friends, Rue and Ginny Carpenter, the wife and daughter of John Alden Carpenter, as well as a series of sketches Picasso returned to in the late summer of 1923. Like Gerald Murphy, Carpenter was an active member of the glee club at Harvard and emerged as a contemporary composer and the only American collaborator to work with Ballet Russes.
A few months after the stay at Cap d'Antibes, Picasso made several drawings in a sketchbook of three women in contemporary dress as well as three nus femmes. Eventually, the works would appear as designs for the ballet Mercure, which included a piece entitled "Dance of the Three Graces." This title remains with some of the later sketches inlcuding the drawing done on Hôtel du Cap d'Antibes stationary.
Another point of inspiration from this period can be seen in a sketch on a newspaper (see accompanying image and caption). Beginning with a photograph reproduced on "23 juillet 1923" on the front page of the daily French newspaper Excelsior, Picasso sketched a drawing of two female classical faces over an existing image. The figures mirrors the pose of the central and right figures in Trois nu feminins. Using the ghost lines of the newspaper image as a foundation, the artist essentially worked out the nuance of the pose. Picasso a few versions of the three female figures as nude.
Much has been written about how much or how little Picasso was taken with Sara Murphy as a subject during this time. As Deborah Rothschild points out that "the figures in Picasso's work that have been identified by art historians as Sara do not have her physiognomy, but they do seem to have something of her - a tenderness, calm, and self-possession that images of Picasso's wife and the classical types prior to 1923 do in general share". (Making New: The Art and Style of Sara & Gerald Murphy)
The present drawing was formerly owner by two noteable collectors of the twentieth century Gerald Barry and Sir Hugh Walpole. Along with Douglas Cooper, Barry was an important early supporter of Picasso and was part of a group of empassioned collectors and citizens responsible for the tour of Picasso's exhibition of Guernica to London. It took place at Burlington Gardens from October 4-28, 1938 and included sixty prepatory sketches and works in addition monumental masterwork. The highly publicized exhibition brought Picasso's later works to the general public and also foreshadowed the dark years preceeding the second world war.
Sir Hugh Walpole, the novelist and dratatist from Cumbria, also owned Trois nus feminins within his collection of works by Paul Gauguin, Edouard Manet and other Picasso paintings. The majority of his collection would be gifted to the nation in 1941 at his time of death.
Images 9 & 10. Rue Carpenter, Sara and Rue's daughter, Ginny, from front and back. La Garoupe beach, Antibes, July 1923. BOTH PHOTOS GERALD AND SARA MURPHY PAPER. BEINECKE LIBRARY, YALE
Image 11. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) The Three Graces India ink on paper with Hôtel du Cap d'Antibes letterhead 10 5/8 x 8 5/8in. (27 x 21.9cm) Executed in 1923 MARINA PICASSO COLLECTION: COURTESY GALERIE JAN KRUGIER & CIE, GENEVA
Image 12. 23-182 Nu assis et études de visages India ink in sketchbook, 35 x 27cm M.P. 1990-102 (31R); Glimcher 82 Musée Picasso, Paris The Picasso Project, Alan Wofsky Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1996, Picasso's, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculptures, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885-1973(p. 166).
Image 13. 23-183 Personnages à l'antigue de profil Ink on a page from the excelsior newspaper, 33.9 x 35.5cm M.P. 984 Musée Picasso, Paris The Picasso Project, Alan Wofsky Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1996, Picasso's, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculptures, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885-1973(p. 166).