Picasso / Manet: Le déjeuner sur l'herbe

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1961: the nude

Pablo PicassoLe déjeuner sur l'herbe after Manet, July 13, 1961© Succession picasso 2008 - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Picasso) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
Picasso returned to Manet in 1961. Unlike in the last painting of the first series, he seemed to have great fun with the two versions dated 19th April. Victorine is once more a balloon, whereas the swimmer in the background seems to be paddling around in an inflatable pool, and the "Conversationalist", dressed all in red, resembles a Father Christmas or garden gnome.

In June, Picasso took a serious approach once more. Each takes up his role again in the variation dated the 17th. At the beginning of July, he engraved several plates with the "Conversationalist" duly clothed. But then, Picasso revolutionised this little world by undressing everyone. In this way, Picasso offers a response to the strangeness of Manet's painting, to the confrontation of a naked woman and clothed men. He seems also to have looked at Cézanne's view of Manet
Having interpreted Manet's painting, Cézanne undertook many experiments where naked men and women bathed together. The second man, whom Picasso paints, stretched out on the grass with a book in his hand, is truly Cézannian. The naturist and Cézannian interlude ended on 16th July 1961, with a painting in which Victorine, immoderately stretched out, huge in size, is leaning towards the big "Conversationalist" like a praying mantis.

Pablo PicassoLe déjeuner sur l'herbe after Manet, July 27, 1961© Succession picasso 2008 - RMN-Grand Palais (Musée Picasso) / Jean-Gilles Berizzi
On 27 July, Picasso again transformed Lunch on the Grass. This time he removed the character next to Victorine, and all the accessories. The "Conversationalist" has lost his hair, has clearly aged, and without a doubt resembles the painter himself. Picasso enters the painting to talk directly with a Victorine who could be said to resemble his wife, Jacqueline.

Picasso had never pushed Manet so far as to take his place. He reproduced this new layout five times. Sometimes Victorine-Jacqueline is quite small, submissive before the learned gesture of the "Conversationalist". Sometimes she is his equal. In a later composition, painted 19 August 1961, Victorine-Jacqueline crushes the "Conversationalist", now a puppet, with her enormous size, whilst the swimmer in the background paddles about in a bath. Irony is back.


1962: the plein air issue

Pablo PicassoLe déjeuner sur l'herbe : sitted woman, August 26, 1962© Succession Picasso 2008 - RMN-Grand Palais / Béatrice Hatala
Several works, engravings, drawings and even a ceramic plate are evidence of Picasso's persistence with the theme of Lunch on the Grass in 1962. However, one aspect of the work remained to be dealt with; that of the outdoor setting.

Although he took little interest in the landscape, it had not escaped Picasso's notice that, when it came to the great natural setting that Zola had seen in Manet's painting, Manet had in fact painted only a theatre set. And, as if wanting to take Manet's aborted intentions to their conclusion, Picasso takes the characters back into the true nature. Between 26th and 31st August 1962, Picasso produced a series of models of the characters in Lunch on the Grass.

The cardboard figures were designed and folded, and Picasso could place and move each one of them Lunch on the Grass is a game for swingers, it is a relaxed, happy "foursome". The models were photographed in the order that Manet had chosen. Picasso placed a postcard of Manet's painting alongside them as a reminder of the origin of his composition. To emphasise the natural setting, he made pencil drawings of the trees which would surround the concrete swimmers. It was Carl Nesjar who produced these models, which in 1966 were placed in the grounds of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

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