The kiss was one of several erotic motifs – including the embrace and the couple – that occupied Pablo Picasso during the last years of his life, and this graphite on paper drawing depicts a bearded man kissing a young woman. The unbroken lines that make up many elements of the composition – the ear of the woman and the hairline of the man, for instance – perhaps suggest the playful experiments of an experienced draughtsman, while their fluid rhythms might be seen to complement the sensuality of the subject matter.
According to the art historian Jean Leymarie, such qualities – an increased focus on ‘love themes’, and the ‘freedom and unpredictability of his line’ – were characteristic of Picasso’s works on paper at this time (Jean Leymarie, Picasso: The Artist of the Century, New York 1972, p.281). For the writer Michel Leiris, they were also present in drawings executed earlier that year, containing couples ‘with love in mind: about to make it, in the act of making it, or just having made it’ (Michel Leiris, Picasso, Dessins 1966-67, Paris 1968, p.3). Viewed as a variation on a particular motif, however, The Kiss is harder to place. It originates from a sequence of similar studies made on 7 October 1967, but Picasso would not revisit and elaborate upon the motif for a full year (the resulting oil paintings and sketches generating such scandal over their explicit nature that they had to be hung in the highest part of the Palace of the Popes, Avignon, when they were shown there in 1970).
Picasso often sourced images from previous works kept in his studio, leading his friend and biographer Roland Penrose to observe that ‘when he draws, Picasso is surrounded by a multitude of figures that have been familiars for years’ (Penrose 1981, p.268). This may provide one way of situating The Kiss within Picasso’s pictorial development. The couple in this work appear to be closely related to the titular figures of the Artist and his Model series, comprised of 180 drawings executed by Picasso in 1954–5 (and which he also revisited with Suite 347, a series of 347 prints begun in March 1968). The couple share the same basic features as the bearded sculptor and his muse in the Artist and his Model, but they might perhaps be viewed as archetypes rather than direct quotations. In The Kiss, they are tightly framed, allowing Picasso to focus on details, such as their overlapping tongues, that draw out the energy and physicality of an intimate moment. These nuances may also provoke questions about the nature of their embrace, with the narrowed eyes of the man and tilted angle of the woman’s head possibly carrying the suggestion of sexual violence.
This work was bequeathed to Tate upon the death of its owner, Joanna Drew (1929–2003), and the artist’s inscriptions – visible in the upper-right corner of the drawing – provide clues as to its provenance. Following Picasso’s customary system, the drawing is specified as the fourth work completed on 7 October 1967. Underneath, it is inscribed in pencil to Drew and dated 22 January 1968.
Drew was employed by the Arts Council of Great Britain from 1952, and had served as an exhibition organiser for Picasso retrospectives directed by Roland Penrose and held at the Tate Gallery in 1960 and 1967. Picasso, however, did not attend either exhibition, and it was not until January 1968 that Drew would meet him. As the Arts Council’s official courier, she accompanied Penrose and his wife Lee Miller to Picasso’s home in Mougins in the south of France to supervise the unpacking of works he lent to Hommage à Picasso (the Paris exhibition organised to coincide with his eighty-fifth birthday in 1966, and which travelled to New York later that year). In her commentary on Penrose’s notebooks and letters, art historian Elizabeth Cowling explains that both he and Miller were given drawings contemporary with The Kiss – and bearing near-identical inscriptions – on 22 January. Cowling also quotes Drew’s account of Picasso’s wife Jacqueline offering the artist’s ‘favourite Tintin book’ when asked to find something he could inscribe to Drew (quoted in Elizabeth Cowling, Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose, London 2006, p.313). It is likely that it was at this time that Picasso selected the finished work from his studio, and gifted Drew The Kiss.
Yvonne Zervos, Pablo Picasso, 1969–70, Paris 1970.
Roland Penrose, ‘Some Recent Drawings by Picasso’, in Marilyn McCully (ed.), A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton 1981, pp.268–70.
Marie-Laure Bernadac, ‘Picasso 1953–1972: Painting as Model’, in Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953–1972, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.49–94.
Supported by Christie’s.