This plaque depicts Édouard Manet’s classic image Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
, 1862-1863, a painting which was to have a profound effect on Picasso.
In 1932, on the back of an envelope from the Simon Gallery, Picasso wrote “When I see Manet’sLunch on the Grass
I tell myself there is pain
ahead.” This ambiguous statement, and rare written commentary on other painters, reveals the fascination Picasso had with Manet’s controversial image.
Picasso was to re-visit the work of many great masters for his “variations,” such as Cranach, Velásquez, Rembrandt, and Delacroix, but his experiments with
Manet’s famed painting was, without doubt, the most profound and complex of them all. Drawn to its modernity and subversion, where oddly paired nude and
clothed figures, inhabit this strange Arcadian, almost theatrical scene, Picasso began to work on a series of his own versions, at first starting with
sketches in 1954 and soon progressing to a series of paintings, of which he did twenty-seven between the period of 1959-1961. This practice of copying and
borrowing to explore one’s own style was just as typical for Picasso as it was for Manet, with Picasso constantly manipulating the composition, figurative
positioning and emotional resonance of the original to reach his own ends. In the present work Picasso simplifies the scene, using the two-tone color
scheme and employment of engraving to grant a sense of energy and dynamism to the piece through the rhythm of line and mark-making. The women’s nudity is
overtly enhanced as are the characters of the men, with Ferdinand Leenhoff resembling a caricature, while Manet’s brother Eugène or Gustave is comically
reduced to a pipe protruding from a disc-like face that sits upon two stick-legs. In this plaque Picasso displays his versatility and his mastery of the
two-dimensional plane, bringing the iconic scene to life beyond these parameters, in a humorous and highly unique manner.