The first drawing captures the whole composition of the Lunch on the Grass. Everything is there: the landscape, the still life and of course, the four characters: the swimmer, the man on the left holding out his arm (Manet's brother in law, Ferdinand Leenhoff), the naked woman (Victorine Meurent, the painter's favourite model), and the second man seated behind her (one of Manet's brothers, Eugène or Gustave).
In the second study, dated 26th June, Picasso concentrated on the positioning of the four characters. In the third, he framed the faces of Victorine and Ferdinand.
Finally, in the study of 29th June, there is a faithful, naturalistic and even affectionate return to the four protagonists.
Picasso took over Manet's work, its layout, its protagonists, and their relationship which he had already developed. He copied and interpreted at the same time, immediately moving away from the method he had used to work on Delacroix's Algerian Women in 1954, or on Velasquez's Las Meninas in 1957. After this taster, he modified the composition and took command, a little like Manet himself had done with the two works that inspired him.
The question of copying and borrowing was just as topical for Picasso as for Manet. Picasso continued to explore Manet's painting, in several episodes, right up until August 1959. There was no pain involved with these many compositions: joy, amusement, irony and sometimes showmanship. The painter still needed some time to overcome his Manet "anguish".
During August 1959, Picasso picked up Lunch on the Grass, again, and based six drawings on it.
On 27th February 1960, he produced his first painted version of the Lunch on the Grass. The landscape is lighter, the swimmer at the back insinuates herself between the two men. Victorine Meurent is blown up like a balloon. Her neighbour is slimmer.
Two days and two paintings later, the landscape is reduced to the top of a distant hill with two trees. Ferdinand, the "Conversationalist", as Douglas Cooper baptised him (Picasso. Les Déjeuners, 1962), is still holding forth before a Victorine who has lost her roundness. His neighbour now smokes a pipe.
Picasso changed the position of each of the protagonists. Victorine and the "Conversationalist" provide the main structure of the work. The two other, more incidental characters change roles. They recede or come forward, according to the version. Picasso's Victorine is no longer Manet's indecent swimmer. She no longer looks at the viewer, but is in silent conversation with the character opposite her. A new scene is set out, similar to the main theme of Picasso's work in the later years: the dialogue between painter and model, between painter and painting.