May 15, 2010 1
This extraordinary painting, now on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of their massive Picasso exhibition, stands apart from the rest of his work for several reasons. The first reason is color: composed almost entirely in blue and white (with just the barest hint of yellow) it emerges as a minimalist piece, precisely because it lacks the riotous lightning bolts of color that characterize the Picasso we know so well. The second reason has to do with the composition: unlike most of his work, this painting has a clear figure/ground relationship: the nude is distinct and freestanding against a background of sea and sky. This is structurally different from most Picassos in which the environment and the figure merge into a single plane of dimensional disarray, shattering our concept of space forever.
Why is this painting so remarkably different from the rest of Picasso’s output at the time? Because this is a painting of a sculpture that never was. Picasso once had the idea of placing these monumental sculptures along La Croisette, the sea front at Cannes, but they never came into being. “I have to paint them,” he said “because nobody’s ready to commission one from me.” Wouldn’t it be incredible if someone could commission them today, to be a part of the backdrop at the Cannes Film Festival? Along with all of the celebrities, we’d have this uncanny and monstrous creature to add just the right amount of unreality to the proceedings, like a nude from outer space. Picasso, I think, would approve.