Erotic Scene (known as “La Douleur”)

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France )

1902 or 1903
Oil on canvas
27 5/8 x 21 7/8 in. (70.2 x 55.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Scofield Thayer, 1982
Accession Number:
Rights and Reproduction:
© 2014 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
  • Description

    While the subject of this canvas is unique in his painted oeuvre, Picasso made dozens of explicitly sexual watercolors and drawings in his early years, especially between 1902 and 1903. As a young man he did not hide his promiscuity and he frequently depicted himself in the company of showgirls and prostitutes. This painting, however, remains unusual for its patent lack of erotic intensity, which is surprising coming from a young man of such extensive sexual experience. Even Picasso himself-for that is indeed the artist on the bed-does not look at the woman; instead he lifts his head with both hands to see himself reflected in a mirror across the room, adopting the pose of Goya's paintings of majas at the Museo del Prado, Madrid.
    When shown a photograph of this painting in the 1960s, Picasso denied that he had made it and dismissed it as a "bad joke by friends." Recent research has shown, to the contrary, that it was one of two paintings purchased in Barcelona in 1912 by Picasso's dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, from Benet Soler, whose clothing shop Picasso frequented. Hence it is quite likely that Picasso had exchanged the painting for clothes about 1903. After it was sold in the 1923 Kahnweiler auction in Paris, it was purchased by the American publisher and collector Scofield Thayer for his collection of erotica.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Inscribed on verso in blue crayon on the stretcher (in another hand): 360

  • Provenance

    Benet Soler, Barcelona (until 1912; sold ca. September, through Galeries Dalmau, Barcelona, for 350 francs, to Kahnweiler); [Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris, 1912–14; sequestered Kahnweiler stock, 1914–23; sale, "Vente de biens allemands ayant fait l'objet d'une mesure de Séquestre de Guerre: Collection Henri Kahnweiler [sic]: Tableaux modernes, quatrième et dernière vente," Hôtel Drouot, Paris, May 7–8, 1923, no. 360, as "Nature morte' and "Scène galante," for 5,000 francs to Guillaume]; [Paul Guillaume, Paris, 1923; sold to Thayer]; Scofield Thayer, Vienna and New York (ca. 1923–d. 1982; in storage, ca. 1931–82; his bequest to MMA, 1982)

  • Exhibition History

    Barcelona. Galeries Dalmau. "Exposició Picasso," February–March 1912, no catalogue [possibly this picture; perhaps shown upon request].

    Paris. Museé Picasso. "Paris 1901–1909: Chefs d'oeuvre du Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," October 21, 1998–January 25, 1999, unnumbered cat. (fig. 41).

    Paris. Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume. "Picasso érotique," February 19–May 20, 2001, unnumbered cat. (pl. 40).

    Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Picasso érotique," June 14–September 16, 2001, unnumbered cat.

    London. Barbican Art Gallery. "Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now," October 11, 2007–January 27, 2008, unnumbered cat. (p. 173).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," April 27–August 1, 2010, no. 20.

  • References

    Robert Desnos. "La Dernière Vente Kahnweiler." Paris Journal (May 1923).

    "Chronique des ventes: Hotel Drouot, Séquestre Kahnweiler." Gazette de l'Hðtel Drouot 32 (May 17, 1923), no. 360.

    "Chronique des ventes: Hotel Drouot, Séquestre Kahnweiler." Gazette de l'Hðtel Drouot 32 (May 10, 1923), p. 1, no. 360.

    Ove Brusendorff and Poul Henningsen. Love's Picture Book: The History of Pleasure and Moral Indignation. Vol. 2, From the French Revolution to the Present Time. New York, 1969, p. 112, ill.

    Robert Rosenblum. "Picasso and the Anatomy of Eroticism." Studies in Erotic Art. Ed. Theodore Bowie Cornelia V. Christenson. New York, 1970, p. 337 n.1.

    Isabelle Monod Fontaine and Claude Laugier, eds. Daniel Henry Kahnweiler: Marchand, éditeur, écrivain. Exh. cat., Centre Pompidou. Paris, 1984, p. 138.

    John Richardson. "Rediscovering an Early Modern Vision: The Dial Collection Recalls the Life and Times of Scofield Thayer." House and Garden 159 (February 1987), p. 160.

    John Richardson with the collaboration of Marilyn McCully. A Life of Picasso. Vol. 1, 1881–1906. New York, 1991, p. 258, ill.

    Norman Mailer. Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man: An Interpretive Biography. New York, 1995, p. 74, ill.

    Lee Rosenbaum. "Visual Reality." Artnet. December 20, 1996, www.artnet.com.

    Richard Johnson. "Secret of Met's X Rated Picasso." New York Post (March 10, 1997), p. 8.

    Stefano Trincia. "Che scandalo: Il Metropolitan censura un Picasso 'a luci rosse'." Il Messagero (March 11, 1997), p. 20.

    Octavi Marti. "Paris exhibe los inquietos Picassos de la juventud viajera del pintor." El País (November 2, 1998), p. 39.

    Dominique Dupuis Labbé. "Sous le signe d'Éros." Connaissance des artes 160 (February 2001), p. 25.

    "Erotic Picasso in Montreal." Maverick Arts. September 3, 2001, http://www.maverick arts.com/cgi bin/MAVERICK?action=article&issue=031.

    John Richardson. Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters: Beaton, Capote, Dali, Picasso, Freud, Warhol and More. New York, 2001, pp. 18, 23, ill.

    Alan Riding. "Picasso's Carnal Carnival." New York Times (March 22, 2001), p. E2.

    Pippa Hurd. Icons of Erotic Art. Munich, London and New York, 2004, p. 102, ill.

    Peter Marks. "'Picasso's Closet': An Artist with No Place to Hide." Washington Post (June 27, 2006).

    Nancy Durrant. "Under the Fig Leaf." Times (September 29, 2007), ill.

    Andrew M. Goldstein. "Met's Secret, Sexy Picasso Is Bared in London." New York Magazine (November 26, 2007), pp. 29–30, ill.

    Charlotte Higgins. "The Best Hung Show in London." Sydney Morning Herald (February 23, 2007).

    Charlotte Higgins. "Removing the Fig Leaf: Barbican's Scholarly Sex Show, for over 18s Only." The Guardian (February 22, 2007).

    Ben Hoyle. "The Art of Seduction Spanning 2,000 Years." The Times Online (February 22, 2007).

    Huw Lewis Jones. "Sex Sells Erotic Art in London: The Barbican's 'Seduced' Exhibition Wrenches the Fig leaf off Works of Art from Ancient Rome to the Present Day." Apollo 166 (December 2007).

    Nigel Reynolds. "Under 18s Are Banned from X Rated Exhibition." Telegraph (February 22, 2007).

    Frances Wilson. "Reader, She ****** Him!." Times Literary Supplement (October 24, 2007).

  • See also