Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in FieldCollectionItemEntity->fetchHostDetails() (line 313 of /var/www/dytnwmuseopicassomalaga/sites/all/modules/field_collection/
Main content

1922-1923 Modern Classicism

Married to Olga Khokhlova, a beautiful Russian ballerina and father of their child, Paulo, Picasso borrowed from Etruscan engravings and French Mannerism to create a slimmed-down, modern version of the classical figure. Anticipating Andy Warhol by four decades, he transformed family photographs into haunting compositions of decisive lines floating over a coloured haze.

“Academic training in beauty is a sham. We have been deceived, but so well deceived that we can scarcely get back even a shadow of the truth. The beauties of the Parthenon, Venuses, Nymphs, Narcissuses, are so many lies. Art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon.”

[Christian Zervos. “Statement by Picasso” in Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, 1946, p. 273]

  • Las tres Gracias

    Three Graces

    Paris, 1923. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 200 × 150 cm. Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Madrid. On temporary loan to the Museo Picasso Málaga. © FABA Photo: Marc Domage © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2020

  • Imagen sala

Read more

Within the remarkable corpus of bathers that Picasso created during the 1920s three full-length interlaced figures stand out. The theme of the Three Graces reminds us of the painter’s predilection for tripartite compositions and his taste for the grand subjects of classical mythology. In 1923, while sojourning in Antibes, an ancient Greek town once known as Antipolis, Picasso became totally immersed in Hellenism and granted this subject matter unprecedented scale: painting his motif in grisaille on a large-format canvas, the artist adopted the ancient device of the three goddesses of Beauty, alternately presented frontally and from the back, naked and veiled. He delved into the antique citation via a subtle play of drapery which echoed the fashion of the day: that, for example, of Madeleine Vionnet, which the chic, cosmopolitan population of Cap d’Antibes took to wearing. In the company of the American painter Gerald Murphy and his wife Sara, the Picassos partook of the neo-Greek lifestyle, as the amateur snapshots taken on the unspoilt beach of La Garoupe show.

The absence of perspective and the wavy line which makes the bodies swell more than the faces is a reminder of the technique of trompe-l’œil: vacationing in the town of Fontainebleau two summers before, Picasso probably retained the memory of the Three Graces painted by Primaticcio in the ballroom of the chateau, as well as some adjoining paintings in grisaille. According to John Richardson, Picasso’s painting would have been initially conceived to decorate the music room of Count Étienne de Beaumont, present with his wife at Cap d’Antibes that same summer. In the spirit of the Three Graces transposed in blue ink onto the walls of La Mimoseraie in 1918, the commission, if indeed it took place, was appropriated by the artist and turned into the subject of a magisterial, autonomous development. Announced by a set of pen-and-ink drawings, and accompanied by engravings on copper or zinc in which the figures observe one another and dance on the sheet of paper, the painting fixes them in a static pose: the dialogue between the figures seems to have been interrupted, their attitudes are serious.

A thick charcoal line isolates the shapes, which stand out on a canvas primed in grey: the neutral, uniform background, heightened with thin layers of white paint, dramatises the scene, which has the appearance of a ‘nocturnal theatre’; a Baudelairean concept at the origins of modern poetry, located somewhere between real and imaginary. Although we might recognise Olga’s features in the face of the central figure and, for her confederates, those, perhaps, of Sara Murphy and the Countess of Beaumont, the trio is but little individualised and provides Picasso with the opportunity to inflect the anatomies on the basis of one and the same figure. The Ingresque naturalism of the bodies breaks with the synthetic outline of the feet which punctuate the bottom part of the composition and above all of the hands which clasp each other: heavy with meaning, the hands are a symbol, here, of gentleness and protection, formal elements in which the emotion of the painting is concentrated and indices of a future stylistic change: that of the early metamorphoses. As Picasso told Marius de Zayas in 1923: ‘Repeatedly I am asked to explain how any painting evolved. To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot always live in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was.’ A comment that a view of the studio published in the June 1926 issue of Cahiers d’art, in which the Three Graces majestically dominates over the artist’s production of the last three years, sheds ample light on.

Text: Cécile Godefroy “Three Graces”. In Catalogue Pablo Picasso. New Collection 2017-2020, pp. 168-169

Listen here for more information about this work.

Read Transcription

We must not forget that, since time immemorial, beauty, as well as ugliness, has been of interest to a wide range of cultures, and that painters have attempted on countless occasions to give shape to a desire to express the notion of perfect harmony.

The portrayal of the Three Graces goes a long way back in art history, dating back to Classical Greece and Rome. Mythological tradition informs us that these three goddesses were daughters of Zeus, the god of gods and men, and Eurinome. They were associated with beauty, love, fertility and sexuality, as well as with generosity, friendship and the bestowal of gifts.

In 1917, Picasso travelled to Italy for the first time. There, he was dazzled by Olga Khokhlova. He saw the monumental classical marble sculptures at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, and was infused with the warmth and movement of the frescoes at the ancient ruins of Pompeii.  In both these places, he discovered magnificent depictions of the Three Graces and, after his vivid cultural experience in Italy, it was to be the main subject of this stunning canvas, painted in 1923 in “grisaille”, using only black and white. For the flemish artist, Rubens, whom Picasso admired, the Three Graces were an excuse to paint the exuberant and sensual forms of his models. In this version by Picasso, the fresh nudity, transparent veils and elegantly mysterious feminine gazes contribute to the evanescent vibrancy that radiates from these slim, stylized figures. The painting, and its exceptional format, is one of the more fortunate results of the Mannerist style Picasso used in his work at this point, following his voyage of initiation to the Classical Mediterranean. It could be interpreted as the artist’s personal protest against academic imposition and compulsory loyalty to a single style.