Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)
Pastel on tan paper board
20 3/8 x 14 1/4 in. (51.8 x 36.2 cm)
Purchase, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Loeb Gift, 1961 (61.85)
© 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Picasso posed his unknown model for this pastel drawing in profile, elegantly attired and seated on a couch, with her hands resting on her lap. He varied his technique throughout the composition, applying the pastel most densely to emphasize the stark contrast of the woman's white face and black hair, and shifting from the scribble-like strokes of her white fur wrap to the looser lines that suggest the full skirt of her light blue-green dress. The subject of this drawing resembles the sharp-featured, heavily made-up women dressed in fashionable clothing who populate paintings of the same years in Picasso's work, such as Le Moulin de Galette, a Paris night scene (1900, Guggenheim Museum, New York) and Lady in Blue, painted in Madrid (1901, Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia, Madrid).
Picasso had only recently moved from Barcelona to Paris, in 1900. There he made contact with other Catalan artists who were already living in the bohemian quarter of Montmartre and enjoying the stimulating night life of cabarets and dance halls, theaters and brothels. While heartily taking part in the city's amusements, Picasso also gained representation with the art dealers Pere Mañach and Berthe Weill. The year 1901, when he executed this drawing, would be both emotionally demanding and professionally rewarding. During a visit to Spain in early 1901, he learned of the suicide of his close friend and fellow Catalan painter Carlos Casagemas, with whom he shared a studio in Paris. Later in the year, having returned to Paris, he saw an exhibition of his own paintings and drawings mounted at the Galerie Vollard. It received favorable reviews from the Paris critics and was Picasso's first financial success as an artist. That autumn, still grieving for Casagemas, he began working in his Blue Period, employing somber blue harmonies and depicting subjects from the circus, including the pensive harlequin who would become a constant motif in his work.