Pablo Picasso
(Málaga, 1881-1973, Mougins)
The Italian Woman, 1917
Oil on canvas, 149 x 101.5 cm
Signed, inscribed & dated upper left: Picasso Rome 1917
Zervos, III-18
In 1954, following his strategy of embedding preferred artists in his collection in the form of major works, Emil Bührle bought The Italian Woman by Pablo Picasso. Dated 1917, this was painted during a stay in Rome, while Picasso was accompanying the Russian Ballet under Sergei Diaghilev. With this subject, the artist makes a very clear reference to the city of Rome by quoting one of the postcard illustrations of traditional Italian costume that were sold to tourists in huge quantities at the time. Here, the Cubism developed by Picasso together with Georges Braque before the First World War has become a mere decorative graphic pattern. The analytical dynamics of Cubism survive only as quotes, as when the frontal view of the face mask is combined with its profile. A simplified graphic of the dome of St. Peter's in Rome – also in postcard format – appears in the background, while an assembly of even more simplified shapes serves as an arm with a wicker basket. Emil Bührle had already bought other, smaller, works by Picasso before this one, but it was not until 1953, when the collector visited a major exhibition in Milan, that he felt finally able to appreciate the artist fully. At the time, Picasso was still the subject of controversy, not least because of his political commitment. Bührle wanted his collection to give an overview of early Classic Modernism – and this would be inconceivable without Picasso. In developing an understanding of Picasso's work, Bührle ultimately came closer to the art of his own age – a still life by Picasso from 1941, which he bought twelve years after it was painted, became the most recent painting in his collection.