National Gallery of Australia (Canberra, Australia): Matisse and Picasso
A major painting from the 1950s, Studio depicts the studio of ‘La Californie’, the villa near Cannes where Picasso and his partner Jacqueline Roque had moved in the summer of 1955. A large nineteenth-century villa at the foot of the Sainte Victoire mountain, La Californie was built in Art Nouveau style and had extensive views towards the coast. Picasso used the large main salon on the ground floor as his studio as well as the place where he received and entertained friends and dealers.
Between 23 and 31 October 1955 Picasso depicted views of his studio eleven times, returning to the same subject on 12 November for a twelfth canvas. With the exception of the twelfth work, all the Studio paintings are in portrait format, but vary in size, from 730 x 540 mm to 1950 x 1300 mm. This work was painted over two days, 30 and 31 October (on 30 October Picasso also completed two other Studios). Picasso applied the paint directly on the canvas with a brush and a palette knife, using the end of the brush to scrape the paint and reveal the ground in several places. In some background areas, particularly the window, the paint was applied thinly and the ground was occasionally left visible, while in others, such as the sculpted head, Picasso used a thick impasto. The image represents particular aspects of the studio – the ornate Art Nouveau window, certain tools and even a guitar hanging on the wall – elements which were repeated in all twelve studio canvases.
Although Picasso returned to the theme of the artist in the studio countless times, this series is unusual because here the studio itself becomes the main protagonist of the painting. The studio is empty but Picasso’s presence is strongly felt in the tools and the sculpted head on a modelling stand. The studio had been a favourite subject for his friend and rival Henri Matisse and it has been suggested that Picasso adopted it at this time as a direct response to the artist’s death the previous year. Art historian Michael FitzGerald has written that this series ‘is steeped in Matisse’s approach – the central window that establishes the contrast between a brilliant natural exterior and a sombre interior, and even the profusion of linear patterns scratched into the walls and floors with the butt of a brush, making the room as visually dynamic as the blazing yellows and greens outside.’ (FitzGerald, Hartford 2001, p.148). The sheer decorativeness of the window and the exotic palms it frames also recall the opulent decoration of Matisse’s Odalisque paintings.
The twelve Studio canvases were first shown at the Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, in the spring of 1957. In the introduction to the catalogue the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler rendered homage to his old friend: ‘For Picasso only the present instant exists; that is the secret of his constant “availability”. I have had the privilege of mixing with him, of being his friend, for fifty years. This friendship has enriched my life. I thank him for that.’ (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, ‘Pour saluer Pablo Picasso’, Picasso: Peintures 1955-1956, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris 1957, [p.6].)
Michael FitzGerald, Picasso: The Artist’s Studio, exhibition catalogue, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford 2001, reproduced p.149 in colour
Giorgia Bottinelli, ‘Pablo Picasso’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.88-90, 98, reproduced p.99 in colour
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Technique and condition
The painting was executed in oil paint on a single piece of fine, light-weight, plain-weave linen canvas attached to the original expandable stretcher. The linen is commercially prepared and is likely to have been first sized with a clear proteinaceous layer before the application of a white oil-based primer. This priming layer is visible from the front of the painting in many areas, especially in the centre of the composition around the trees and the sculpted head and therefore plays an important visual role in the final image.
The paint has been applied in a vigorous manner, mainly by brush, but also by palette knife in a few areas (e.g. the white passage along the left edge). The handle of a paintbrush has also been used extensively to scrape through the paint when it was still wet back to the ground. Although generally dry and matt in appearance, the paint thickness varies considerably from very thin and transparent washes, for example the greens and blacks used to block in areas of colour, to very thickly applied impasto, especially the details executed in white paint. The painting is signed in gray paint in the bottom left corner and is also dated in black paint on the reverse of the linen fabric. The painting is unvarnished.
The paint is slightly soiled, and some of the thicker areas of white paint appear to have yellowed slightly. Despite this, the overall condition of the painting is excellent, with no apparent cracks or paint losses on the painting's surface (there are a few minor cracks around the tacking edges not visible from the front). The frame is probably original and is gilded with a canvas insert. This was modified slightly to allow for the incorporation of glazing and a backboard, both of which will improve significantly the overall protection offered to the painting.