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Trace and Metamorphosis in Picasso’s Drawings


Picasso’s drawings, encompassing a wide array of media—from pencil, charcoal, Conté crayon, chalk, and ink, to watercolor, gouache, pastel, and collage, to wire sculptures, metal constructions, and found objects—defy synthetic description or easy categorization. A child prodigy who was trained at an early age in the classical techniques of drawing and the principles of western aesthetics, Picasso quickly established himself as an enfant provocateur, whose works would contest conventional norms and stylistic idioms. If drawing remained at the core of his practice, it was because it proved open to infinite variation and reinvention; it became a mode of creative thinking through new—and sometimes inconvenient, readymade, or non-art—tools and materials.

The greatest draftsman of his age and a keen observer of all aspects of the visual world, including works of art, Picasso employed pencil, crayon, pen, and brush to convey both external stimuli and fantasized scenarios, as well as his own delight in the handling of materials. Yet he also sought ways to reduce or deskill the trace of his hand in favor of more simplified, conceptual, and imaginative approaches. These techniques included restricting the repertoire of lines to thickened straight lines and curved contours that adhere to the surface of a work, as he began to do in 1906; using only scissors as a drawing tool, as exemplified by his earliest collages of fall 1912; and twisting malleable wires of various widths into intricate figures in several small sculptures of 1928–31. Openwork welded constructions such as the models for the Monument to Apollinaire of 1928 have frequently been described as “drawings in space.” Some of Picasso’s later bent and welded metal works, as well as some of his constructions in wood, treat the planar material support as a pictorial ground, but one that exists in fully three-dimensional space; this ground can therefore be cut, folded, angled, and rotated while remaining flat from distinct, sequential points of view. Readymade and found objects such as nails, buttons, scraps of fabricated or turned wood, branches, and other objects sometimes assume the roles of line drawing, shading, or stippling. One should also see a form of drawing in those sculptural works in which a projecting object or element casts a shadow onto the ground below, thereby establishing a two-dimensional, horizontal transposition of a three-dimensional, vertical configuration.

Drawing appears everywhere in Picasso’s oeuvre—certainly in his sketchbooks and works on paper and cardboard— but also in paintings with visible palimpsests or those that make unexpected use of pencil and charcoal on large, only apparently unfinished canvases. Perhaps more surprisingly, techniques of drawing structure fundamental aspects of many of Picasso’s sculptural works, whatever their medium. The artist’s enduring interest in exploring representational codes associated with drawing and the planar representation of objects in fictive space (including linear contours, perspectival diminution, chiaroscuro, depicted shadows, and overlapping elements), in three dimensional works, seems to have been a means of calling attention to the artifice of art. It was also a way of engaging the viewer’s embodied relation to ever-changing, already mediated perspectives as the viewer moves around a sculpture and encounters ephemeral effects of light and shade. Given this enjoyment of the paradoxes and ambiguities of delineating virtual shapes upon, and with, sculptural elements in space, we should not be surprised that Picasso nearly always drew or painted on the backs of his sculptures built from cut, angled, or intersecting planes. As he remarked in 1964 to Renato Guttuso, “Sculpture is the best comment that a painter can make on painting.”1 It was less often the other way around, although the artist did introduce tactile and three-dimensional objects into his paintings and reliefs, beginning with the surface application of sand and metal shavings, as well as fragments of wallpaper, wood, string, wire, and other substances in his collages and early constructions.2 And some paintings and drawings of 1907–08 feature bold striations that function as hatching as well as refer to the marks of the chisel in his contemporary (painted) sculptures in wood.

Picasso’s curiosity about artist practices and their underlying logic extended not only to all media (including the new ones he invented), but also to an astonishing range of periods and regions of the world. Friends and fellow artists in Paris found him haunting the Louvre and other museums, as he had the Prado in Madrid. He admired and absorbed both the style and the conceptual principles of works by Michelangelo, Diego Velásquez, Francisco de Goya, El Greco, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (among others), but also ancient Iberian reliefs, African masks and sculptures, Egyptian reliefs and painted ceramics, Minoan art, Easter Island stone heads, cave paintings, and archaic Greek and Hellenistic art. These and other sources stimulated his imagination and sometimes provided an escape from western aesthetic norms that had become formulaic and stultifying; they provided a rich reservoir of visual practices and forms of representation that Picasso interpreted in a variety of ways (often without direct knowledge of their original purpose or context). Collectively, they cast doubt on the hegemony of the classical ideal that he had studied in the art academies of La Coruña, Barcelona, and Madrid, as well as on Spanish modes of realism. The works he responded to so avidly brought to life the vast, non-hierarchical and non-teleological potential of human creativity, freed of period-specific limits and constraints. Picasso’s brilliant appropriation of a diverse and expanding range of styles allowed him to reconfigure and sometimes juxtapose opposing systems of representation, in order to embrace hybridity, multiplicity, and disjunction as positive forces. Never fully abstract, Picasso’s art springs from both direct observation and the world of the imagination but is always mediated by the artist’s encounter with prior works and their modes of representation. It is directed toward the metamorphosis of these models in a play of response, exploration, contestation, and invention.

Large Image - Plate 2


Course de taureaux (Corrida) [Bullfight (Corrida)]

Barcelona, [summer] 1900

Gouache and pastel on board

18 1/2 × 27 1/2 inches (47.1 × 70 cm)

Private Collection, New York

Photo by Kent Pell.

An early gouache and pastel on board, Course de taureaux (Corrida) [Bullfight (Corrida)], 1900 [PLATE 2], exemplifies Picasso’s mastery of late-nineteenth century Symbolist modes then dominant in avant-garde circles in Barcelona and Paris. Executed in the summer of 1900, after his first one-man exhibition at Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona, this pastel addresses the observer with an intensity that belies its relatively modest size (18 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches). The image depicts a scene in Barcelona’s new Plaza de toros de Las Arenas (inaugurated on June 29, 1900), a bullring designed by Augusto Font y Carreras in the Plaza de’España to replace the older one that was deemed too small for the capital of Catalonia. With a diameter of 52 meters, this vast arena could hold nearly 15,000 spectators, some of them under a partly covered roof that provided protection from the fierce sun for a higher ticket price. Picasso emphasized the distinction between the sunlit and shaded sides of the bleachers in roughly applied, horizontal strokes of brilliant yellow and orange at the upper right against the darker blues, greys, and occasional green or peach in vertical clusters on the left.

Course de taureaux (Corrida) [Bullfight (Corrida)] captures the tense moment of anticipation just before the bull, held in the dark toril (the bullpen visible as an aperture in the distant podium wall), charges into the arena. Three slim, athletic, and elegantly dressed toreros stand on the left side of the ring, the matador de toros (killer of bulls) in his traje de luces (suit of lights) in green, peach, and white, his younger assistants in less intricately decorated costumes in yellow and white. Each torero wears a round, flat-topped, fur-covered montera (torero’s hat), with side bulbs over the ears that symbolize the bull’s horns, and assumes a traditional bullfighter’s pose, right arm akimbo. Nonetheless, Picasso enhances the dominant role of the matador by giving him a more central position and a larger cape, and by clearly defining the back view of his muscular body with repeated strokes of black.

A large space opens up between the three toreros on the left and the stockier arenero (charged with sweeping the sand), in his blue worker’s shirt and cap, seen from behind in the right foreground. (Yet Picasso links him to the three toreros through his pose, right arm bent, and the color of his cummerbund.) The proximity of the arenero, whose lower legs and broom have been cropped to suggest they extend beyond the frame, situates the viewer close to and just above the arena, directly before the toril and the bull’s path. The asymmetry and contrasts of the composition, with its abrupt scalar disjunctions between near and far, the sweeping arc of the podium wall, and the tense open space at its center, heightens the drama of the scene and implicates the spectator in its unfolding.

In another, even smaller work in this series, Scène tauromachique [Bullfighting Scene] [PLATE 1], Picasso closes in on a wounded bull who lunges toward the viewer with two banderillas (decorated, barbed darts) in his bleeding back. Here the banderillero (a torero who pierces the bull with the banderillas) appears in the background with knees bent and arms outstretched, in a pose that recalls the previous instant in which he had thrust his daggers into the bull, thus giving a hint of narrative development. Yet he is scarcely visible against the podium wall, over which a few spectators peer; the focus remains on the bull, especially the powerful, curving mass of his body and lowered head. The series as a whole reveals Picasso’s close observation of bullfights, including their setting, dramatis personae, costumes, and actions. Filtered through a tendency to eliminate detail in favor of essential shapes and broad areas of color applied with bravura, these works intensify the imageviewer encounter. Picasso conceived this series of ten small, vividly colored pastels on a distinctively Spanish theme with his late October visit to the Paris World’s Fair in mind. Through the connections of his friend Pere Mañach, he was able to show his pastels to Parisian dealers, including Berthe Weill who bought and immediately resold three of his bullfight scenes.

Large Image - Plate 1


Scène tauromachique [Bullfighting Scene]

Barcelona, [summer] 1900

Pastel on paper laid down on card

8 × 10 inches (20.3 × 25.4 cm)

Private Collection, New York

Photo by Kent Pell.

If Picasso’s youthful, late Symbolist pastels and gouaches bear echoes of the pastels and oils of Degas, Munch, and Toulouse-Lautrec, among others, without directly imitating their works, his Tête de femme [Head of a Woman] of 1902 [PLATE 3], executed in sepia ink, marks a different direction. Here, as in related drawings of heads in charcoal and Conté crayon of winter 1902, the artist returns to a more classicizing approach that renders form exclusively through line and modeling (created through hatching and washes), rather than through bright contrasting hues.3 But in Tête de femme [Head of a Woman], he also simplifies contours and distributes patches of exaggerated shading so that they partly erode the boundaries between the lower chin and neck, as well as the sides of the face and hair. The enlarged, symmetrical, sorrowful eyes suggest a source in Paul Gauguin, and perhaps in ancient Fayum funerary portraits or Minoan mural painting. Of particular note is the explicit depiction of alternative, heavily shaded profiles for the neck that propose that the figure (with a slim neck to the left) has been depicted from an angle, her head turned to face the viewer, as well as from the front (with a strangely thickened neck). Neither option is entirely plausible. The faint lines that may indicate the figure’s upper back, or perhaps a shawl, seem to float, without connecting to the neck or clarifying its position in space. Picasso had used multiplied, overlapping profiles of arms and legs to suggest movement in previous works such as the 1901 drawing of dancer Sada Yacco in pastel and ink on paper. Later, in 1905, he would depict two partly overlapping, divergent necks in the drypoint Tête de femme, de profil [Head of a Woman in Profile]. [FIG. 1]. Here too, a kind of shading, now in the form of the continuous fall of vertical lines, operates entirely independently of the profile and the underlying, modeled forms of the head, traversing the portrait from chignon to face, ear, and neck without planar change.

Large Image - Plate 3 (left)


Tête de femme [Head of a Woman]

Paris, late 1902

Sepia ink on paper

6 1/8 × 4 7/8 inches (15.5 × 12.5 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Large Image - Figure 1 (right)

FIG. 1

Tête de femme, de profil [Head of a Woman, in Profile]

from the Saltimbanques series

Paris, February 1905

Drypoint, edition of 250

Plate: 11 7/16 × 9 13/16 inches (29.1 × 25 cm)

Sheet: 18 3/16 × 12 5/8 inches (46.2 × 32.1 cm)

Photo by Béatrice Hatala. Image © RMN-Grand Palais /

Art Resource, NY.

The next few years witnessed a remarkable set of transformations in Picasso’s drawing style, as he asserted greater freedom to distort or rezone the features of the human body for expressive or conceptual purposes. We can follow the major aspects of this development by comparing Buste de femme nue [Bust of a Naked Woman] [PLATE 8], of fall or winter 1906, a work related to the painting Deux nus [Two Nudes] of late 1906 [FIG. 2], with Buste de femme [Bust of a Woman], of May or June 1907 [PLATE 10]. The first drawing reveals the artist’s impulse, during the most intense period of his interest in ancient Iberian stone heads and reliefs, to simplify and synthesize contours by endowing them with an imposed geometric (rather than anatomical) clarity. Note the overdrawn arc that traces the silhouette from the forehead to the mouth without inflection; the faint continuation of the curve of the distal profile of the upper chest as it moves inward and crosses the figure’s lower neck; or the line that descends in a single stroke to signify the right (near) eyebrow as it becomes the upper ridge of the nose (where it overrides a still visible, more nuanced contour).4 This arc partly echoes the curves of the torso, and insinuates a profile view into the figure’s visage so that it appears internally doubled. Expected articulations, such as the extension of the right and left shoulders or the presence of arms, disappear; this has the effect of flattening the body, as does the emphasis on the unmodeled linear profile of the upper torso with its single protruding breast against blank paper, even as the three-quarter view intimates a sense of depth.

Large Image - Plate 8 (left)


Buste de femme nue [Bust of a Naked Woman]

Paris, [autumn/winter] 1906

Pencil and charcoal on paper

23 5/8 × 17 5/8 inches (60 × 44.8 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Large Image - Plate 10 (right)


Buste de femme [Bust of a Woman]

Paris, [May–June] 1907

Charcoal on paper

24 5/8 × 18 7/8 inches (62.5 × 48 cm)

Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid and Almine Rech Gallery, New York

©FABA Photos: Hugard & Vanoverschelde Photography.

The masklike visage with its heavy columnar neck, downward tilted gaze, and insistent, if spatially indeterminate, left profile reappears in Two Nudes. In the nude at the left, the ambiguous profile again allows Picasso to wrench the figure’s far side forward (while shearing off the shoulder and arm), so that it adheres to the picture plane, even as the figure also presents a frontal three-quarter view. The nude’s left hand makes a sudden, unexplained appearance in order to finger the vaginal folds of the curtain (signifying imminent entry into the parlor or stage-like public space of the implied brothel beyond). In the nude on the right, a similar profile of the upper torso with a single prominent breast ostensibly represents the figure’s left, proximal side, although it also seems to stand in for her profile tout court, with no further curvature of body imaginable despite the figure’s impressive bulk and shaded back and buttocks that refuse to recede into depth.5 According to Leo Steinberg, the massive, trunk-like forms of the two nudes, arms cleaving close to their bodies, evoke “primal virginity,” a still integral and self-contained corporeal state, thereby representing the prelude to the sexual encounter about to occur on the other side of the curtain.6 Yet the figures also disturb this straightforward sexual allegory, insofar as their muscular bodies, masculine forearms, and disjunctive, partly unreadable symbolic gestures evoke precedents in Michelangelo’s male and female nudes, including allusions to Michelangelo’s David in the hand-to-shoulder position of the nude at the left and to the pointing hand of God in the Creation of Adam scene in the Sistine Chapel. Picasso’s sketches for Deux nus [Two Nudes] reveal that he tested a variety of positions for the bodies, arms, and hands of his figures, and that he only introduced these citations to the work of Michelangelo late in its conception. In their new context, of course, these well-known hand gestures take on modified meanings. They seem to signify calm self-possession and strength on the left, (as opposed to the narcissism and self-absorption that Steinberg proposed), and self-reflection on the (supposed) claims of sexuality (on the right), as the two nudes contemplate passing through the threshold marked by the curtain.7 Buste de femme nue [Bust of a Naked Woman] similarly rehearses and conjoins the polarities that would emerge more distinctly in Deux nus [Two Nudes]—the simultaneously self-contained/exposed body seen both in profile and in three-quarter view, as well as the duality of self-sealing volume and its partial dissolution.

Large Image - Figure 2

FIG. 2

Deux nus [Two Nudes]

Paris, late 1906

Oil on canvas

59 5/8 × 36 5/8 inches (151.3 × 93 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of G. David Thompson in honor of Alfred H. Barr, Jr.

Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art /

Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

The artist executed Buste de femme [Bust of a Woman] during the second campaign of work on the Les demoiselles d’Avignon after his visit to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro where he had a transformative encounter with African masks and sculptures displayed within a crowded setting. This work treats the face as a masklike palimpsest devoid of organic connection to the schematic neck below. Indeed, the mask/head appears independent of any underlying anatomical structure. A sharp, black contour delineates the almondshaped visage, within which enlarged eyes echo its shape. These eyes, unanchored to orbital cavities, verge on the external edges of the face, abrogating the expected interval between eye and ear at the right. The second, partly erased visage underneath reveals that Picasso had considered a lower placement of the eyes (with the open eye at the right surrounded by individually traced, vivid lashes), and curved contours for falling hair. The diagonal lines that descend obliquely from both sides of the nose refer simultaneously to western techniques of hatching, and to the striations found on some African masks, while also contradicting any curvature of the face. A single, sharply rising diagonal slashes across the lower tip and side of the nose, obliterating the planar break between its horizontal top edge and its slanted side (that runs counter to the descending striations). Two lines below depict a small mouth that is skewed in relation to the diagonal of the nose. In its mingling of western and African prototypes and techniques, evident in the masklike visage surmounted by a chignon, and in the use of techniques that evoke both hatching and striations, this drawing conflates woman as “other” with the so-called “primitivism” of the African mask (and presumably African bodies as well) in their mutually threatening relation to European male autonomy and desire.8 Even as it relies on codes of gendered and racial diff erence, it seems to suggest that women everywhere might be viewed as terrifying sexual aggressors. The figure’s eyes, with irises only faintly indicated as blank circles, do not return the viewer’s gaze, and the face remains depersonalized, mysterious, unknowable. The posture of the body, arms crossed tightly in front of the chest, also indicates self-enclosure and refusal.

Large Image - Plate 11


Les demoiselles d'Avignon: Nu jaune (Étude)

[Les demoiselles d'Avignon: Yellow Nude (Study)]

Paris, June–July 1907

Watercolor, gouache and India ink on paper

23 1/2 × 15 3/8 inches (59.7 × 39.6 cm)

Collection of Gretchen and John Berggruen, San Francisco

Photograph by Phocasso / J.W. White.

Courtesy Berggruen Gallery.

A related drawing, Les demoiselles d’Avignon: Nu jaune (Étude) [Les demoiselles d’Avignon: Yellow Nude (Study)], in watercolor, gouache, and India ink of June or July 1907, studies a seemingly contrasting pose: that of brazenly open sexual display and forward movement enhanced with vivid color. Black contour lines trace both a three-quarter, frontal view and a partial view of the buttocks rotated forward (note the superposition of a curved profile over the angular stomach, which completes the curves of the buttocks to suggest a side view). The bold reddish-brown and black hatching on brilliant yellow can be read either as strident shading, or as a reference to the marks of a chisel cutting into wood. Picasso had begun to experiment with wood carving, a medium associated with Polynesian tikis, Gauguin’s sculptures, and African masks, during the summer of 1906. The earliest of these roughly carved works capture the contours of a nude woman within a phallic shape.9 This suggests that the contradictory logic of (Freudian) fetishism structures the self-sealing, columnar female image of this period as signifying both male fear of castration and a compensatory phallic wholeness, fragmentation and corporeal integrity. Étude [Study] enacts these oppositions in spectacular fashion, seemingly granting the advancing demoiselle agency, but only in the matter of sexual display. As an internally riven image composed of disjunctive parts, as well as partly eff aced and intermingled layers of drawing, this demoiselle seems to forestall possession rather than to enact its possibility.10 Drawings such as this are fascinating for the way they elaborate upon the highly staged brothel scene that culminated in Les demoiselles. Numbering in the hundreds, the drawings for Les demoiselles and the closely related Nu à la draperie [Nude with Drapery], also of 1907, explore alternative narratives, including less triumphant images of a vulnerable, young, nude Picasso passing through the curtain into the brothel’s public space as if he were a demoiselle, or sitting naked in a forest or on a (brothel?) stool, legs apart but arms held protectively across his chest.11

Large Image - Figure 3

FIG. 3

Trois femmes [Three Women]

Paris, late 1907/1908

Oil on canvas

78 3/4 × 70 inches (200 × 178 cm)

The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

© Bridgeman Images.

The question of the emergence of sexual difference and of the origins of the desire as an inner psychic force appears in numerous studies for five female bathers in a forest that eventually led to Trois femmes [Three Women] of 1908 [FIG. 3].12 Nu debout (Étude pour ‘Trois femmes') [Standing Nude (Study for “Three Women”)], of 1907–08 [PLATE 14], takes up the serpentine figure on the right of several five-bather compositions. In these pictures, this bather stands apart from the other two erotically linked pairs in a shallow pool of water, twisting her body in a pose of seduction, with peaked elbows overhead. Picasso’s pencil and watercolor sketch of this figure is a tour de force. If, in drawings such as Buste de femme nue [Bust of a Naked Woman] he had intensified the figure’s contours by superimposing abstracted charcoal curves over more irregular pencil markings, here he composed the body entirely of curves from the drawing’s inception.13 The unified arc of the eyebrow/nose now defines the shaded, concave side of the masklike face that remains otherwise featureless. (Constantin Brancusi seems to have been inspired by this highly abstracted notation of the forms of a face in sculptures such as The Newborn of 1915.) Color variation contracts to the warm/cool, terra cotta/grey-blue contrast favored by Cézanne, with occasional white highlights; strokes and washes of grey-blue render both parts of the body and its surround, making figure and ground permeable to one another. The flipper-like hands fill in potential voids in the composition, so that few open intervals remain; the left hand appears over the peaked elbow of the right arm at the left, and the right one wedges itself into the space between the left side of the figure’s head and the raised left forearm. Where Picasso could not find a body part to inhabit an “empty” space, as in the span between the upper thighs, or between the right bent forearm and the raised left arm, he blurred the limits of the form so that a residual sense of “figure” spills into the reserved space. (This can be seen in the missing left contour of the figure’s right leg, and in the only fainted indicated lines of the lower part of the left forearm.) Although the principal task of the thick, dark curves is to articulate the contours of body parts as they turn in space, they sometimes overshoot their mark, as if in response to a rhythmic impulse that exceeds the task of representation. Only partly tethered to the body, arcs also disseminate into the surrounding field, where they echo the bather’s curved and rotating forms.

Large Image - Plate 14 (left)


Nu debout (Étude pour 'Trois Femmes')

[Standing Nude (Study for "Three Women")]

Paris, late 1907/early 1908

Watercolor and pencil on Ingres paper

25 × 19 inches (63.5 × 48.3 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Large Image - Plate 17 (right)


Buste de femme (Fernande Olivier)

[Bust of a Woman (Fernande Olivier)]

Paris, spring 1909

Gouache on paper

24 1/2 × 18 1/2 inches (62.5 × 47 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Picasso and Georges Braque inaugurated Cubism in 1908 with converging series of landscapes and still lifes that treat contours and modeling not only as independent systems, but more importantly, as systems working in explicit opposition to one another. This resulted in a play of volumes that intermittently emerge from, and sink back into, the pictorial support, achieving an integration of figure and ground similar to that found in Cézanne’s late works, but created primarily through line and chiaroscuro. Although Braque rarely depicted the human figure, it remained at the center of Picasso’s concerns. Buste de femme (Fernande Olivier) [Bust of a Woman (Fernande Olivier)], a gouache of 1909 [PLATE 17], exemplifies the tendency for straight lines to take the place formerly assigned to curves, and even to serve as their equivalents. The rigid, straightened edges of the forehead, diagonal crease below the eyes, and linear definition of the nose and splayed-out neck, establish a faceted surface set free from any adherence to its anatomical analogue or a consistent source of illumination. Picasso describes the curve of the forehead with a projecting pink/beige plane at the left, but it suddenly collapses into a dark grey/lighter grey fold toward the center (although with a certain mental effort, one can make this corner advance toward the viewer). As in so many of his images of heads, one blank but open eye contrasts with one that is closed, intimating a psychically divided subject who is both looking outward and turned inward, withdrawn from the observer’s gaze.

Line in Picasso’s Cubist works from 1908 frequently functions as the abstracted, straight-edged articulation of the arris between differently inclined planes.14 As a student from 1892 to 1895 at La Coruñya’s Instituto da Guarda, a school of arts and crafts, Picasso had learned the technique of analyzing the general schema of a sculptural cast by drawing its profile and the play of light and shadow on its surfaces in geometrically simplified, straight lines. Beginning at the age of eleven under the guidance of his father, a teacher at the school, he faithfully copied the lithographic plates in Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérome’s popular Drawing Course of 1868.15 It offered a multi-step method for learning to render three-dimensional form; the student began by copying Bargue’s images of sculptural casts along with his accompanying diagrammatic analyses of the images’ relations of light and shadow. (Only later would the student progress to copying the cast itself, and then a living model.) In 1892 or 1893, Picasso copied Bargue’s plate 3 that displayed, in side by side images, the profile of a bearded male head and the translation of this head into a schema that abstracted all irregularities into a pattern of mostly straight lines (see FIG. 4).

Large Image - FIgure 4 (left)

FIG. 4

Two Studies of Man’s Head; Right Profile

A Coruña, 1892-93

Charcoal on paper

9 1/2 × 12 1/4 inches (24 × 31 cm)

Private Collection

Large Image - Plate 19 (right)


Femme assise [Seated Woman]

Sorgues, mid-summer 1912

India ink on paper

9 1/4 × 4 3/4 inches (23.5 × 12 cm)

Jack Shear Collection

Photo Courtesy of the Jack Shear Collection.

Picasso adapted the principle that a straight line could best capture the essential shape of a profile, (which marks the division between figure and ground), as well as the break between diverging planes, in an unpredictable way that had far-reaching consequences. Rather than treat the schematic linear rendering of an object or image as part of a preliminary, analytic phase, he promoted the method to a means of structuring finished drawings and paintings. Often his lines began as abstracted traces of observed phenomena, but they tended to assume a life of their own, freed from anatomical precedent. Rather than use Bargue’s academic method as part of a complex process aimed at achieving the close imitation of an image or sculptural model, Picasso used it to exploit his freedom to redesign the human figure so that the work of art can only be seen as an aesthetic reconfiguration or fantasized metamorphosis of an observed reality. The notion that a straight line could represent its apparent opposite, a curved volume (sometimes by breaking the curve into a sequence of straight-edged facets), allowed the artist to treat curved and straight lines as contrasting but equivalent forms. A head could appear as a circle, an oval, and/or a box-like structure, and a guitar or table top might have a curved profile on one side and a straight-edged one on the other. This play of equivalents casts doubt on the truth value of any particular form or profile while also establishing the formal unity of a system based on these relational oppositions.

Femme assise [Seated Woman], an ink drawing of mid-summer 1912 [PLATE 19], puts some of these operations to work. Picasso presents the viewer with a diagrammatic image of a Cubist woman, humorously seated in an overstuffed bourgeois armchair with a high curved back, armrests in the shape of volutes, and cabriole decorative legs (clearly visible at the lower left). Along the right edge, below the chair’s back with its excessively multiplied curves, a frontal rectangle with an overlapping curve defines its upright side/seat and the profile of its armrest, supported by a rectangular back leg. The woman herself emerges from the interplay and layering of curved and straight lines. At the top of the drawing, an oval represents her head as seen from the front with a square eye at the right. Picasso inscribed two inverted L-shapes over this head, signifying the divergent rectangular planes of her face: as flat and frontal through a right angle at the far left (with an attached double curve for an ear), and as an angled view (or profile) just to its right. A third tilted plane, anchored by a shaded vertical, lies beneath the second one and promotes a straight-edged competitor for the frontal circle designating the head. The strongly marked vertical establishes the central, projecting arris of the nose, with a shaded slope to the right. But Picasso also negated this sudden irruption of volume by drawing an uninflected diagonal line across it: this vector connects a square eye at its upper right to an oval eye at its lower left. Another angled arris, which appears as the projecting ridge of a fold shaded on its left side (where it blends into and contradicts the shading of the vertical line), intersects the one linking the eyes to inscribe an alternative bilateral division of the face. It strings together a schematic mouth and horizontal chin line below. This linear scaffolding articulates the complex figure of a visage looking forward, down, and to the left and right in simultaneous intersection, rather than as a result of circumnavigation.

The rest of the body offers similar linkages and contradictions of shape, volume, and placement within the expected structure of a body, effecting a series of figure/ground oscillations along the way. Picasso situates two straight-edged bent arms and the left hand in relation to a tilted, partly shaded rectangular plane that suggests the finger board of a guitar. (Half-circles attached to the upper section of the arms offer alternative profiles.) A large round sound hole, with strings that converge on the horizontal bridge, appears just below. The guitar borrows hints of its curved silhouette from the displaced neighboring s-curves and volutes of the arm rests. The bent right forearm arm (on the left) disappears under the angled edge of what is probably a musical score, but the hand reappears from below to grasp this ambiguous object. (Two closely related drawings represent a seated female figure in the same chair, one holding a guitar and musical score, the other a musical score.) Stick legs (with faintly drawn, overlapping curved profiles) terminate in differently shaped feet at the lower edge of the drawing (between the front legs of the chair), where they form a cluster of flimsy supporting structures that is clearly inadequate to its task.

With the invention of collage in spring 1912, Picasso introduced greater material hybridity into his already deliberately unorthodox approach to the norms of stylistic unity. Buste d’homme au chapeau (L’Espagnol) [Bust of a Man with a Hat (The Spaniard) of 1913 [PLATE 20] comprises pasted papers and charcoal on paper in ways that multiply and confound relations of high art and popular culture, figure and ground, even as it conflates the forms of male head and guitar. The man’s head and top hat are a study in contradictions. The hat appears in flat rectangular profile at the upper left, but it sports a circular crown that surmounts a tall “stovepipe,” paradoxically shaded along its projecting center rather than towards its receding sides.

Large Image - Plate 20


Buste d'homme au chapeau (L'Espagnol)

[Bust of a Man with a Hat (The Spaniard)]

Céret, spring 1913

Charcoal, ink, and collage on paper

24 5/8 × 18 1/2 inches (62.5 × 47 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

The pasted papers include a rectangle of laid paper covered with a light grey wash, a second rectangle of laid paper painted more thickly in dark brown, and a swatch of commercially printed wallpaper featuring a flower pattern. By cutting and painting the pieces of laid paper, Picasso turns this material, which normally functions as a neutral pictorial ground for further figuration, into shaped and colored figures in their own right. Glued to the paper support, they represent the vertically bifurcated planes of the man’s face—one illuminated, the other in shadow—yet they also serve as surfaces for further articulation of that face.17 Similarly, the wallpaper stands out as figure against the larger paper support, with shading on three sides that suggests it projects forward, but its left side has been cut into a stepped profile that causes the negative shape of the paper below to emerge as positive form. Moreover, as wallpaper, this element might be taken to represent the wallpaper on the wall behind the figure, yet it is manifestly pasted to the paper surface, and literally takes up residence in the foreground. The parallel placement of the grey and brown pasted papers effects a division of the face that runs along the crest of the nose, so that one nostril appears on the light grey paper, the other on the dark brown paper. Yet, once again, a diagonal line runs across the arris defining the nose to connect the two eyes, one in the form of a black dot at the upper left, the other in the form of an almond shape with a pupil at the lower right. Vertical and horizontal lines also partly bisect the eye to the right, introducing the possibility that it straddles the edge marking the far side of the face (and that it is seen in profile at this point), while holding aloft a rectangular eyebrow with individual hairs depicted within its silhouette. As in Femme assise [Seated Woman], Picasso inscribed a tilted plane within the frontal, rectangular visage that emerges from the two adjoining pieces of laid paper. Here a slight displacement comes into view; it can be detected in the misaligned sides of the mustache and in the diagonal of the tilted plane itself as it travels across the two pieces of paper, in opposition to the angle implied by the vector linking the eyes. The double curves of the right and left ears attach variously to the figure’s visage, hanging below the tilted plane at the far right, and to the left of the light grey plane, but a larger dark double curve on the left side turns the man’s face into an analogue of a guitar. Complex works such as this engage the viewer in deciphering not only the objects Picasso represents, but also how he puts the formal means and materials of representation into mutual contradiction and play.

With the onset of the First World War, Picasso lost the social and artistic world that had supported Cubism and its highly self-reflexive and inventive codes that demanded a new kind of sustained engagement from the viewer. As a Spaniard in France, he also encountered pressure to abandon Cubism in favor of classically “French” styles and ready legibility. Beginning in the winter 1914–15, he began to draw and paint in idioms that ranged from a linear classicism that verged on caricature, as in the Portrait d'Igor Stravinsky [Portrait of Igor Stravinsky] of March-early April 1917 [PLATE 26]18 and Portrait d'Yvon Helft [Portrait of Yvon Helft] of June 22, 1920 [PLATE 30], to elegant pencil drawings in the mode of Ingres, as in La fille de la Marquise de Villarrutia [The Daughter of the Marquise de Villarrutia], 1918 [PLATE 27], to pastels, drawings, and paintings that turned classicizing themes into vehicles for corporeal distortion and the grotesque, as in Deux nus [Two Nudes] of 1920 [PLATE 32]. The latter drawing presents the viewer with flattened female torsos, strangely attached limbs, wandering body parts, and drapery that usurps the functions of frame (at the upper left), seat, and floor, while seeming to swarm around the figures rather than to fall suggestively over them. This drapery does little, for example, to disguise the sudden emergence of what appears to be a small, inverted left foot, which is displaced from the upper part of the figure’s supporting left leg. The nude at the right is seated, which makes her enormous in comparison to her companion, but this discrepancy in scale does not prevent them from sharing the non-descriptive, slightly angled line that defines the right side of the seated nude’s otherwise shapeless torso where it meets the left arm of the standing one. Whereas in earlier drawings such as Femme assise [Seated Woman] and Buste d’homme au chapeau (L’Espagnol) [Bust of a Man with a Hat (The Spaniard)], Picasso had based his intersecting and angled planes on a system of vertical plumb lines and horizontal vectors that preserved some sense of the bilateral symmetry of the face and torso (at least as a point of departure), here we encounter inflated anatomies without inner structure or formal coordinates. Yet the space they inhabit, composed of two flat bands of color, remains serene, free of disfiguring disturbances.

Large Image - Plate 32


Deux nus [Two Nudes]

Paris, autumn 1920

Pastel on paper

24 3/4 × 18 1/8 inches (62.9 × 46 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

A late version of Cubism, with flattened planes and bright areas of color, also remained an option, exemplified by the Pierrot [or Pulcinella] et arlequin [Pierrot (or Pulcinella) and Harlequin] of summer 1920 [PLATE 31]. Picasso executed this gouache while working on the costumes and set design for Serge Diaghilev’s commedia dell’arte ballet Pulcinella; the distinctive profile of this character’s dark mask with beaked nose appears within the illuminated shape of the figure’s head and top hat at left. (Picasso also designed the black mask worn by the dancer Léonide Massine in the title role of the ballet.) The intricacies of their interwoven planar forms suggest they might be made of cardboard or plywood, composed of moveable parts like stage flats. But whereas prewar Cubist works had generally respected the relative scale of depicted objects within an environment, here Picasso plays with the discrepant size and shape of the hands, and makes the figures’ legs into analogues of architectural arches and corridors opening onto fictive space.

Large Image - Plate 31


Pierrot et arlequin [Pierrot and Harlequin]

Juan-les-Pins, summer 1920

Gouache on paper mounted on board

10 5/8 × 8 1/4 inches (27 × 21 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Long interested in depicting circus performers, singers, and figures drawn from the commedia dell’arte, Picasso had the chance to design costumes and sets for several of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes during and after the war, including the infamous Parade of 1917, Le Tricorne of 1919, and Pulcinella of 1920, among others.19 His set designs reveal a sophisticated approach to the staging of illusory space according to conventionally distinct zones, including the proscenium and its often ornate frame and side curtains, the narrow stage and its mobile scenery, and the back curtain (or sometimes a mock Vitruvian set of arches giving onto trompe-l’oeil urban streets, or an image of the sea), offering an impenetrable vista into imaginary depth. Picasso imported these and other theatrical devices into many of his drawings and paintings of the late teens and early twenties, where they serve to activate the paradoxical relations of performers to stage-like spaces with interpenetrating real and fictive zones.20

Several drawings for the monumental painting La flûte de Pan [The Pipes of Pan] of 1923 [FIG. 5] reveal Picasso’s early ideas for a work that would eventually have only two classicizing male figures before a depicted backdrop of painted sea and ambiguously angled slabs of stone that look and behave like stage flats.21 In what is probably one of the earliest ink drawings, the artist portrays an amorous couple, perhaps Mars and Venus, an inquisitive cupid looking over his shoulder to the mirror Mars holds up to Venus, and a youth playing the pipes of Pan at the right. The almost blank background offers only a discontinuous floor line, along with some furniture and a strange outcropping that lifts the cupid above the other figures. In a closely related ink drawing, Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, enfant [Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Pan Flute Player, and Child] [PLATE 40], Picasso sets this figural group within an incongruous bourgeois interior that resembles his residence on the rue La Boétie in Paris. Here the cupid assumes the pose of a river god, but the nudes at the left retain their precarious perch on a chair. The female figure leans back in an unstable, diagonal posture, the male rests the foot of his bent left leg on the edge of the chair’s seat while his left arm reaches out behind his companion to grasp the back of the chair, and the pipes’ player straddles a low stool. Picasso renders the fantasized scene in pure line, tracing complex profiles with a continuous stroke, but also breaks the line occasionally to give it a light, airy quality.

Large Image - Figure 5

FIG. 5

La flûte de Pan [The Pipes of Pan]

Cap d’Antibes, late 1923

Oil on canvas

80 5/8 × 68 1/2 inches (205 × 174 cm)

Musée national Picasso, Paris

Photo Adrien Didierjean. Image © RMN-Grand Palais /

Art Resource, NY.

Large Image - Plate 40


Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, et enfant

[Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Pan Flute Player, and Child]

Cap d'Antibes, summer 1923

Pen and ink on paper

9 3/4 × 12 1/2 inches (24.8 × 41.8 cm)

Private Collection

Photo by Kent Pell.

Another drawing in this series, Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, enfant [Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Player of Pan Flute, and Child] [PLATE 38], executed in pastel on blue-gray paper, refocuses the image, tightening its spatial structure. Here Picasso clothes the mythical figures in 18th-century costumes, and brings them into greater proximity to one another by removing the musician’s stool and placing him, with both knees bent, in the foreground. The background has become quite shallow, comprising a wall with elaborate wainscoting and an open window giving onto a blue sky, but the infant remains on his rocky mound as he directs his gaze to the mirror. In a related pastel, Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, enfant [Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Pan Flute Player, and Child], 1923 [PLATE 39], Picasso abandons the bourgeois interior, but retains its furniture. Again the nude lovers appear to rest only tangentially on an upholstered chair that now also lifts the cupid with an outstretched arm above the woman’s head. Picasso gives the pipes’ player his own high backed chair, even as the backdrop shifts to a seashore that resembles a theatrical backdrop, with flat colored bands representing sand, sea, and sky. Whereas in the India ink drawings Picasso had rendered the classical figures with virtuosic purity of line, in the pastels he portrayed the scene with rough patches of color, using ochres, tans, and dabs of deep red and peach, along with saturated blues and stokes of brilliant white for highlights, to convey the warmth and light of an ancient Mediterranean setting.

Large Image - Plate 38 (left)


Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, et enfant [Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Pan Flute Player, and Child]

Paris, early 1923

Pastel on blue-gray paper

8 7/8 × 7 7/8 inches (22.5 × 20 cm)

Kravis Collection

Large Image - Plate 39 (right)


Jeune homme au miroir, nu, joueur de flûte de Pan, et enfant [Young Man with a Mirror, Nude, Pan Flute Player, and Child]

Cap d'Antibes, summer 1923

Pastel on blue-gray paper

8 7/8 × 7 7/8 inches (22.5 × 20 cm)

Kravis Collection

In the oil version of La flûte de Pan [The Pipes of Pan]—which the artist painted over one of his scenes for a “Toilette of Venus” (an alternative title for the series of sketches)—he retained only the two male figures before what is clearly a painted backdrop of the sea, whose lower terminus defines the narrow depth of the stage floor. Here the man playing the pipes sits in an ambiguous pose on (or merely before?) a fictive step painted on the backdrop. In a development that was characteristic of Picasso, the final work abandons the narrative premise and detailed settings presented in the drawings, to focus on figures who assume stilled, timeless poses against impenetrable backgrounds that declare their illusory status.22

In the later twenties and thirties, Picasso frequently turned his attention to sculpture, often treating it as a means of drawing in space, and of continuing to explore the chiasmic relations between literal and virtual modes of representation. Between 1928 and 1931, he created a series of four small sculptures by twisting, looping, bending, and knotting wires in order to project lines into three dimensions.23 Christian Zervos, on a visit to the artist at Dinard, reported that “Picasso picks up a wire lying on the floor and proceeds to twist it while chatting. Without doing anything specific, after a few minutes the wire sustained the imprint of a great sensitivity.”24 In Figure [Figure] of 1928–31 [FIG. 6], the artist twisted lengths of wire around and through an iron armature that consists of the two halves of a broken picture frame, cantilevered so that they evoke an easel while also serving as a pedestal.25 Here the frame/easel/pedestal provides literal support for lines that exceed the implied planar format of painting. Beginning in mid-air, one line at the lower right breaks free of the frame to climb up, spiral around, and then leap through it, at one point finding itself on the frame’s “back” side. Using no tools other than his hands to bend, twist and knot the cold but pliant wires, Picasso turned them into energized vectors that fly free of the planar constraints and orthogonal limits proposed by the frame. In the process, the wire lines also subvert architectonic distinctions between weight-bearing and supported elements, as they spring upward, only to hang on parts of the frame or to hook themselves over other wires that also wrap around them. The whirling lines only vaguely and intermittently allude to a figure, as in the cluster above the top of the frame that evokes a head, but without describing its contours or topology. Even as the twisting wires oscillate between figurative and objective operations, they cast shadows onto the ground below. These shadows condense and reconfigure the vertical forms of the wire and iron elements within a horizontal register, and can be read as their immediate indexical traces.26

Large Image - FIgure 6

FIG. 6

Figure [Figure]

Paris, c. 1928–31

Iron, wire

10 1/4 × 4 7/8 × 4 3/8 inches (26 × 12.5 × 11.1 cm)

Musée national Picasso, Paris

Photo: Adrien Didierjean. Image © RMN-Grand Palais /

Art Resource, NY.

We can also compare Picasso’s approach to drawing in two sanguine on paper studies of a bull, executed during the summer of 1949, with a planar construction of a bull made of wood, nails, and screws during the summer of 1958. In Le taureau [The Bull], a relatively naturalistic line drawing of June 30, 1949 [PLATE 69], the artist rendered the powerfully plastic forms of a bull in profile over lighter marks that show him with variously positioned legs, his head turned to face the viewer. The artist retained and amplified the underlying outline of the left eye so that it now becomes a displaced frontal eye seen within the head’s profile, producing a confrontational but blank stare. The reddish hue of the sanguine medium may refer to the use of charcoal and hematite (an iron ore that produces a reddish color) in prehistoric cave paintings, such as those at Altamira in Northern Spain or Lascaux in Southwestern France. Picasso is thought to have admired the images of bulls and other animals painted on the walls of the Lascaux caves, which were discovered in 1940 and opened to the public in 1948.

Large Image - Plate 69 (left)


Le taureau [The Bull]

Vallauris, June 30, 1949

Sanguine on wove paper

20 × 26 inches (51 × 66 cm)

Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte, Madrid and Almine Rech Gallery, New York

© FABA Photos: Marc Domage.

Large Image - Plate 70 (right)


Le taureau [The Bull]

Vallauris, August 5, 1949

Sanguine on wove paper

20 × 26 inches (51 × 66 cm)

Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz- Picasso para el Arte, Madrid and Almine Rech Gallery, New York

© FABA Photos: Marc Domage.

A related drawing of August 5, also titled Le taureau [The Bull] [PLATE 70], strikes a more humorous tone, with its tiny oval head turned toward the viewer, enormous body executed in schematic curves, and spindly front legs that bear some resemblance to a pitchfork. One can detect the faint traces of a sketch for Picasso’s highly abstracted sculpture, Femme enceinte [Pregnant Woman] of 1949 [FIG. 7], aligned with the front legs of the bull so that their lower forms intermingle. (As eventually cast in bronze, Femme enceinte [Pregnant Woman] would have a tiny inscribed head absorbed into the inverted v-shape formed by the two arms.) Like the series of bulls, Femme enceinte [Pregnant Woman] seems to have been inspired by Paleolithic cave paintings, in this case the stick-like renderings of human figures often drawn on walls with overlapping images of animals, sometimes in hunting scenes. This may explain its presence in a drawing that evokes the synthetic purity and vigor of line and form found in cave paintings of bulls, but with an element of caricature and humor that distances this work from its prehistoric antecedents.27 Picasso’s drawing, largely constructed of rhythmic curves, remains a planar assemblage of interlocking shapes. In his documentary of 1949, Visite à Picasso, the Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts captured the artist drawing a bull on a pane of glass with a view of Le taureau [The Bull] of August 5 on the easel in his studio in Vallauris as a point of reference.

Large Image - FIgure 7

FIG. 7

Femme enceinte [Pregnant Woman]

Vallauris, 1949

Bronze, original in plaster and wood

51 1/8 × 14 5/8 × 4 1/2 inches (130 × 37 × 11.5 cm)

Musée national Picasso, Paris

Photo: Adrien Didierjean. Image © RMN-Grand Palais /

Art Resource, NY.

Years later, in April 1958, Picasso returned to this familiar subject with Le taureau [The Bull] [FIG. 8], a sculpture made of various kinds of wood, along with nails, screws, and an eyebolt.29 An off -center, empty stretcher, nailed backwards to the cut plywood plane of the head, provides a frame for a small face (with screws for eyes, a knob for a nose, and a gouge for a mouth), thereby creating a picture within a picture. But the silhouette to which it is affixed, with horns of disparate sizes set on a fictive angle, suggests the bull is turning away and that we see his head from behind, so that front and back views arrive simultaneously. Here cutting assumes the functions of drawing, to create a shape and endow it with complex spatial implications. Lines also appear in the form of found branches with their irregular swerves, industrially cut planks, a segment of turned wood (perhaps the leg of a chair), and palm fronds, all of which Picasso nailed or wired to both the front and back of the work. These physically projecting lines serve to articulate the interior structure of the bull, much as the lines rendered in sanguine had done in the drawings of 1949. In addition, Picasso employed nails, not only to fix one element to another, but also to create effects of shading and stippling, mostly from the tips of nails that were hammered into the plywood from the back (although some nails protrude into the back side as well). This allows him to achieve a soft, atmospheric scattering of dots from hard, pointed elements. The long projecting screws that serve as eyes cast drooping shadows that look like tears, although in most photographs, they have been erased. Le taureau [The Bull] also exemplifies the use of literal overlapping as an analogue of this space-creating device in drawing. Shallow relations between overlapping planes and pieces of wood appear throughout, endowing the figure with some actual, if ambiguous depth. For example, the rectangular plane that represents the tail meets the wooden base of blockboard on the same horizontal line as the hoofs of the bull, but rises at an angle to pass behind the oval planes of the bull’s hind quarters; it thereby functions very much as an analogue to the semi-transparent virtual planes that had passed before and behind one another in Cubist works. Supported at its base, this tail seems to rise rather than fall; it also reasserts a planar profile view contradicted by the cut shapes of the rear legs, front legs, and head. The extra, advancing front leg reasserts a stabilizing profile. And color, rather than applied with a brush or crayon, appears readymade, in the cut and found planes of wood, branches, palm fronds, nails, and other materials that constitute Le taureau [The Bull].

Large Image - FIgure 8

FIG. 8

Le taureau [The Bull]

Cannes, 1958

Plywood, tree branch, nails, and screws

46 1/8 × 56 3/4 × 4 1/8 inches (117.2 × 144.1 × 10.5 cm)

The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Jacqueline Picasso in honor of the Museum’s continuous commitment to Pablo Picasso’s art

Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art /

Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY.

Over the course of his life, drawing became less a matter of manipulating certain familiar media for Picasso—although he remained a master of charcoal, pencil, pastel, gouache, watercolor, and ink—than of conceiving new ways to create lines, shapes, shading, depth, overlapping, relations of color, and shadow. Although his art remained figurative, he embraced all the possibilities of imaginative transposition and metamorphosis afforded by the paradoxes of working with and between two and three dimensions. Drawing permeated Picasso’s thinking and his always inventive practice, which engaged the pictorial world of illusion as it enters our space, and the sculptural world of material things as they turn into art.

TOP: Homme et courtisanes [Man and Courtesans] (detail), Mougins, March 8, 1968
Pencil on paper   |   19 3/8 × 29 3/4 inches (49.2 × 75.6 cm)   |   Private Collection
Photo by Kent Pell.

© 2021 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pablo Picasso in conversation with Renato Guttuso at Notre Dame de Vie, February 2, 1964; cited in Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, ed. Dore Ashton (New York: The Viking Press, 1972), 116.

For a discussion of the early application of tactile and non-art materials to the surface of paintings and collages, see: Christine Poggi, In Defiance of Painting: Cubism, Futurism, and the Invention of Collage (New Haven: Yale University Press,1992).

See, for example, the charcoal drawing Portrait d’homme [Portrait of a Man], of 1902, whereas Brigitte Léal points out, Picasso treats the “petrified” head as a rendering of an ancient sculpture, secured by the “feint of an erosion of matter, on the nose and forehead.” Brigitte Léal, “L’enfance d’un chef,” in Picasso, jeunesse et genèse: Dessins 1893–1905 (Paris: Musée Picasso, 1991), 14–15. Related classicizing drawings include Étude d’une tête regardant vers le haut [Study of a Head Looking Upwards], in Conté crayon, and Tête de garçon [Head of a Boy], in Conté crayon and charcoal, both from the winter of 1902–1903, executed while Picasso was in cramped quarters in Paris. See Marilyn McCully, “Picasso Symboliste,” in Picasso in Paris, 1900–1907 , ed. Michael Raeburn (New York: The Vendome Press, 2011), 116, plate 64, and 118, plate 65.

Picasso often employed a single line to link the eyebrow and nose on the far or scanted side of the face when shown in three-quarter view, where it also serves as a sign of distance and hints at an internal profile. For an example executed during the summer of 1906, see his charcoal with stumping on laid paper, Fernande Olivier, Gósol, in Susan Grace Galassi and Marilyn McCully, Picasso’s Drawing, 1890–1921 (New York: The Frick Collection/New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), 123.

Margaret Werth provides a nuanced reading of the diff erences between the right and left figures in Deux nus [Two Nudes]. She points out that Picasso moves the massive left arm and hand of the right figure back to allow the hand to touch the hair and to gesture both toward the curtain and her own absent visage. Picasso thereby also exposes a portion of the torso between breast and back, neck and buttocks, that constitutes a terrain vague, belonging securely neither to the side or the back. See: “Representing the Body in 1906,” in Picasso: The Early Years, 1892–1906, ed. Marilyn McCully (Washington D.C.: The National Gallery of Art, 1997), 280–82.

Leo Steinberg, “The Philosophical Brothel,” Art News 71 (September and October 1972); repr. in October 44 (spring 1988), 49. For Steinberg, in the Two Nudes, “a pair of crude, study maidens stand like carved logs—timber lately enwoman’d, ensouled. They are forms intact, their humanity sealed in integuments of solid fusion. As sculptural monoliths, they suggest matter never yet plied or breached,” (47).

The “inly awareness or self-reflection” that Steinberg reads into the pointing gesture of the nude at the right seems at odds with the notion that the two depicted women retain the signs of their state as primal matter. He connects this gesture to that of Michelangelo’s Isaiah in the Sistine Chapel, but it is closer to that of God creating Adam. He does not consider that Picasso adopted not only the pointing gesture, but the muscular forms of Michelangelo’s male figures. See ibid., 50–51.

On the inscription of the “primitive” via the African mask onto woman as other and its threat to male subjectivity, see: Hal Foster, “The ‘Primitive’ Unconscious of Modern Art, or White Skin Black Masks,” in Hal Foster, Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Polis (Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1885), 180-208.

See, for example, Buste d’une femme (Fernande) [Bust of a Woman (Fernande)], carved in wood with traces of red and strokes of black paint, of summer 1906. This work is reproduced in: Ann Temkin and Anne Umland, with Virginie Perdrisot and Luise Mahler and Nancy Lim, Picasso Sculpture (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2015), 52.

Leo Steinberg famously argued that the pervasive aim of Picasso’s art is “drawing as if to possess,” but he also acknowledged that a “withdrawal from tangibility is an essential feature of Cubist rendering.” See: “The Algerian Women and Picasso at Large,” in Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art (Oxford: O Oxford University Press, 1972), 172, 160.

For a discussion of several of these drawings, as well as the painting Les demoiselles d’Avignon: Nu à la draperie (Étude) [Les demoiselles d’Avignon: Nude with Drapery (Study)] of 1907 (Leonard A. Lauder Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), in which an image of Picasso as a nude young boy appears in profile under the currently visible female figure, whose mask-like face now overlaps his, and see: Christine Poggi, “Double Exposures: Picasso, Drawing, and the Masking of Gender, 1906–1908,” in Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, ed. Emily Braun and Rebecca Rabinow (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014),  24–35, notes 296–297.

For examples of the many images of one or more male youths seated with head lowered, arms crossed, and legs apart, see: Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, ed. Gary Tinterow and Susan Alyson Stein (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010), 122–123; Nu assis [Seated Nude] of 1908 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art); Seated Man of 1908 (Musée National Picasso, Paris); and Three Men of 1908 (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Louise and Walter C. Arensberg Collection).

See, for example, Nus dans la fôret [Nudes in a Forest] of spring 1908, a drawing executed in watercolor, gouache, and graphite on wove paper, reproduced in Galassi and McCully, Picasso’s Drawings, 1890–1921, 163. In this study, the nude at right holds her right arm up in a reaching gesture, and only slightly bends her left arm that nonetheless meets its counterpart to produce an overhead arc. In Baigneuses dans la fôret [Bathers in the Forest], a charcoal on paper of 1908, the nude bather raises both arms so that they intersect above her head. See Picasso’s Drawings, 1890–1921, 161.

Yve-Alain Bois analyzes Picasso’s reduction of line to the limited vocabulary of curves and straight-edged marks, which must then assume all the functions of describing the world of forms. He interprets this as a semiotic operation that explores the relational value of signs. See: “The Semiology of Cubism,” in Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, 2, ed. William Rubin and Lynn Zelevansky (New York: The Museum of Modern Art/Harry N. Abrams, 1992), 169–220.

For Leo Steinberg’s analysis of Picasso’s use of the arris, which as he puts it, “functions as a three-dimensional event,” see: Steinberg, “The Prague Self-Portrait and Picasso’s Intelligence,” in Cubist Picasso, ed. Anne Baldassari (Paris: Musée National Picasso, 2007), 105.

Few copies of this course are extent. It has been republished with a historical commentary by Gerald M. Ackerman as: Charles Bargue and Jean-Léon Gérôme, Drawing Course (Courbevoie (Paris): ACR Edition Internationale, 2003). The first section includes many examples of plates with side by side schemata, showing a shaded rendering of a cast and its linear analysis for ready comparison. Sometimes the same object or form is shown from the front and back, or from different angles. Indications of a plumb line and horizontal axis appear in many of the diagrammatic views.

See: The Picasso Museum Paris: Drawings, Watercolors, Gouaches and Pastels, ed. Michèle Richet, trans. Augusta Audubert (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1988), 120, figs. 280 and 281, dated spring 1912.

Susan Galassi calls attention to the way the tonal contrast of the grey pasted rectangles in this collage functions as shorthand for chiaroscuro, signifying the divergent fall of light on a rounded surface, even as their planarity as paper affixed to a paper support contradicts any sense of volume. See: Picasso’s Drawings 1890–1921, 214–216. 

This is one of three pencil drawings Picasso made of Igor Stravinsky. What may appear as a monocle is the lens of a broken pair of glasses, which contributes to the hint of caricature in this work. For further discussion, see: Olivier Berggruen, “Stravinsky and Picasso: Elective Affinities,” in Picasso: Between Cubism and Classicism 1915–1925, ed. Olivier Berggruen with Anunciata von Liechtenstein (Rome: Scuderie del Quirinale, 2017), 60–71. See also, Douglas Cooper, Picasso Théâtre (Paris: Éditions Cercle d’Art, 1967).

For historical accounts of Picasso’s work for the theater, see: Cooper, Picasso Théâtre and Picasso and the Theater, ed. Olivier Berggruen and Max Hollein (Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 2007).

For an analysis of Picasso’s theatrical staging of mythical and imaginary scenes, which draw on and complicate pictorial distinctions between spatial zones, see: Christine Poggi, “Stage at the Edge of the Sea: Picasso’s Scenographic Imagination,” The Art Bulletin, no.  1 (March 2019), 90–118

For a discussion of the genesis of La flûte de Pan [The Pipes of Pan] that analyzes several of its drawings, including the first one discussed here (90), see: Silvia Loreti, “Diving Deep into a Mediterranean Affair: The Pipes of Pan, Nature and Culture,” in Picasso: Between Cubism and Classicism 1915–1925, ed. Olivier Berggruen with Anunciata von Liechtenstein (Rome: Scuderie del Quirinale, 2017), 88–97. 

For further discussion of La flûte de Pan [The Pipes of Pan], see Poggi, “Stage at the Edge of the Sea,” 107.

These works are reproduced in Werner Spies, Sculpture by Picasso, trans. J. Maxwell Brownjohn (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1971), as (Figurine) 88, cat. no. 84 (iron and iron wire), and (Figurines) 275, cat. no. 83 (twisted wire rising from a spool), and cat. nos. 84–85 (selfsupporting figures made of twisted wires).

Christian Zervos, “Picasso à Dinard, été 1928,” Cahiers d’art 4, no. 1 (1929), 5–6.

This figure is reproduced in Zervos, ibid., cat. no. 84, and in Temkin and Umland, Picasso Sculpture, as Figure, c. 1931, 117, cat. no. 33. Unfortunately, existing photographs erase the prominent shadows the wires cast on the ground. This sculpture tends to be displayed in the permanent collection of the Musée national Picasso-Paris in a vitrine where it does not catch the light, and where it cannot be seen in the round.

For further discussion of this work, see: Christine Poggi, “The Paradox of the Pictorial in Picasso’s Late Sculpture,” Colloque Picasso Sculptures, Musée Picasso, Paris (March  25, 2016), 3-5.

Pepe Karmel proposes a link between the essentially flat, sign-like quality of Pregnant Woman and a possible source in the illustrations of prehistoric sign-images published by Hugo Obermaier in El hombre fósil (Madrid: Museo Nacional de ciencias naturales, 1916; a second, amplified edition was published in Spanish in 1925). Karmel emphasizes the uncanny translation of a flat sign into a solid object in this work. See: “La matérialité du signe,” Colloque Picasso Sculptures, Musée Picasso, Paris (March 26, 2016);

A still of Visite à Picasso with Le taureau [The Bull] in the background is reproduced in: John Richardson, curator, Picasso Minotaurs and Matadors (London: Gagosian, 2017), 234.

For reproductions of the front and back of Le taureau [The Bull], see Temkin and Umland, 268–269, cat. no. 136. They reveal that Picasso explored how to combine the various plywood shapes for the bull’s forms in six study sheets dated April 27, 1958. The sheet they reproduce shows two drawings of a bull’s symmetrical profile from behind and several ambiguously pictured as either seen from the front or rear, along with one in profile (255). Interestingly, all of the front/back drawings conceive the bull in terms of bilateral shapes, defined by a central vertical line. In its final form, the artist rejected this symmetry for a construction based on angled planes and lines that allow a greater play of real and virtual depth. For further discussion, see: Poggi, ibid., 6–7.