Nude on a Red Background

Nu sur fond rouge

A later painting from the gestation phase of Cubism than Femme au peigne [Woman with a Comb] in the Walter-Guillaume collection is Picasso’s Nude on a Red Background, dating from the end of 1906. This female nude with long hair stands out against a plain red background. Her head is tilted slightly forward, and she is holding a lock of her hair. This graceful pose is counterbalanced by the radical treatment, the geometric simplification of the shapes of the body, at times tending towards distortion, as in the exaggerated fold of the figure’s right elbow. The facial features are enhanced with curved lines, while the eyes are merely indicated by two black expressionless slits, which give the face the appearance of a mask. It seems that in this period, ancient Iberian art played a decisive role in the way Picasso chose to represent the human figure. Perhaps he was already acquainted with art outside the European tradition, even though this is not evident. Produced a few months before Picasso started work on his major painting, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [The Young Ladies of Avignon] (said to be the work that tipped the balance towards Cubism), the Nude on a Red Background in the Musée de l’Orangerie contains the seeds of many of the elements of this revolution. The gallery owner Paul Guillaume acquired this bold painting in 1929.

Provenance: Ambroise Vollard, Paris; Paul Guillaume (1929); Domenica Walter