Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
Charcoal on paper
19 x 12 3/8 in. (48.3 x 31.4 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.34)
© 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In March 1911, Alfred Stieglitz's small gallery in New York, 291, opened a large exhibition of forty-nine drawings and watercolors by Pablo Picasso, the artist's first showing anywhere in America. Among the highlights in the show, which surveyed the development of his art up to Analytic Cubism (190611), was this highly abstract charcoal drawing of a standing female nude, one of several studies on this theme he produced in the spring of 1910. It was, no doubt, one of the most radical drawings in the show and its linear, lattice-like construction prompted the press to derogatively call it "the fire escape." Although reduced to a series of lines and semicircles, without any semblance of three-dimensional form (despite areas of considerable shading), the essential parts of a human bodyhead, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, breasts, legs, and kneecapsare all there. The controversy caused by this drawing was incitement enough for Stieglitz to purchase the work for his collection as a representation of the new direction of modern art. In 1913, he lent it to the large international exhibition of modern art in New York known as the Armory Show, where it was overshadowed by the uproar surrounding Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase.