Picasso’s Sketches of Manet’s Le Déjeuner

In the entry on Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe I demonstrate how Manet’s painting which he called The Bath is really an image of two artists and a model sitting on a studio floor with a painting called The Bath in the background. What seems like a mysterious composition becomes strikingly and unexpectedly logical. Though I am the first to explain this in writing, I am by no means  the first to notice it. Many artists have understood its construction, some much better than I do. Picasso, for instance, saw Manet’s masterpiece in 1900 and used it as a source in many of his works for the rest of his life. 

The nude in this 1908 drawing reclines in a wooded landscape resembling Le Déjeuner with a drawing of a boat “pinned up” on the background, her hand gesturing towards it. Her "drawing" is a detail from Manet’s Fishing, thus suggesting that she, a reclining nude dreaming like an artist, is Picasso’s depiction of Manet. "Manet" is nude because, in poetic art as in Manet's painting, the model always represents the artist. Artist and model are one.

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Picasso, Bathers (1908)

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In this sketch, from nearly half a century later, the scene more closely resembles Manet’s masterpiece. Yet note how Picasso drew straight lines like a picture frame around the bather in the background to indicate that she is (or is in) “a painting.” He also identified the nude at left by......

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Picasso, Je suis le Cahier Sketchbook 131, p.1

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...shaping her figure into the bent form of a letter P for Picasso. In Manet's original the model is "Manet"; now she is "Picasso". Yet Picasso indicated that the entire scene originated in Manet's mind by drawing an endless series of M's for Manet in the leaves of the tree, the grass, even up and down the three trunk. Manet had used a similar series of M's when he depicted himself as "Monet" in Monet on His Studio Boat.

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On another occasion, to illustrate a novel by Balzac about a painter Picasso did another twist on Manet's masterpiece. The lounging figure has been transformed into an artist sitting on the floor; The nude's features are in the bust on the right. On the left a nude man, said by scholars to resemble Manet1, looks over his shoulder. Picasso thus included two artists, just as Manet did. This doubling also recalls Picasso’s habitual remark that when he painted he imagined all the great masters looking over his shoulder. Manet certainly did.

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Picasso, Painter at Work from Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu

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Notes:

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 12 Nov 2010. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.