“It takes a very long time to become young.” – Pablo Picasso
Picasso painted this portrait of a Parisian boy wearing a wreath of flowers and holding a pipe in 1905, at the age of 25, during his so-called Rose period. Although the style of the present painting is not instantly associated with Pablo Picasso, most commonly linked to his early adaptations to Cubism, Garçon a la Pipe, is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece depicting adolescent beauty. Cheerful ochre and pink palette of the background and the flowers in combination with the boy’s contemplative expression miraculously express both femininity and masculinity of a teenage model.
A number of studies for the present painting depict the same boy in all types of poses: standing, sitting and leaning against the wall. The artist also experimented with the model’s interaction with the pipe: lightning it or just holding. After repositioning the boy numerous times, Picasso decided to go with the boy sitting down and, feeling that he had studied his subject fairly well, he completed the work without the model.
At the time Picasso was working on Garcon a la Pipe, he lived at the Beateau Lavoir, the artists’ residence in Monmartre. Picasso’s models were local people who often made a living in the entertainment industry: clowns, acrobats, jugglers and harlequins working at the much loved by artists (particularly by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec) Cirque Medrano. However, little is known about the boy, and it remains unclear whether he belonged to a troupe of circus performers or simply lived in the neighborhood.
Painted only two years before the groundbreaking Cubist work Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Garcon a la Pipe already shows early signs of Picasso’s aspiration to step away from the literary depiction and towards more abstract stylization using flat surfaces.
Garçon a la Pipe became the most expensive work of art sold at auction at the time when it sold for $104 million at Sotheby’s in 2004.
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