The Lost Picasso Drawing:
Tenacity, Hope and Subversive Art

by Barry Campbell, Toronto

Dad insisted he had a Picasso drawing. “Le Coq” he said it was called, but he couldn’t find it anywhere. We had our doubts. He was a collector, but he was also meticulous in keeping track of things. In his last years, Dad was almost fixated on “Le Coq”. “It’s in a book,” he’d say, “I know I have it here somewhere”. It exasperated him that he couldn’t find it. 

Dad died at 98 years old in 2018. With Mother still alive (she would live two more years), clearing out and closing up the large apartment where they lived was almost impossible. Confined to bed, Mother was isolated in the master bedroom in the company of her helpers and her memories. The rest of the grand apartment remained in suspended animation—the beautiful trappings of their large and vibrant life gathering dust. After Mother passed, the task of unraveling their life began. 

We found rows of books behind books, enough art books to fill a small shop—high art mixed in with low art, antique furniture from the 1700s (now derisively referred to as ‘brown furniture” ), and reproductions. There was set upon set of “fine china”, as it used to be called, and flatware and serving pieces in silver and porcelain appropriate to another time and another world. There were over one hundred teapots! We were overwhelmed as the beautiful things that had been given meaning by my parents during their life and as seen and used by them in that life, became transformed into just so much “stuff”. We were desperate to be done with it all.

And then, almost overlooked on the floor of a closet in the study and buried under empty cartons and miscellany, we found a large beat-up grey book sleeve and decided to have a look. The sleeve was stamped “BUFFON” in gold. The title page told us that the book was: PICASSO Eaux-Fortes Originales Pour Des Textes De Buffon. The date of publication 1942. This copy, no. 172 of 226. We pulled the book from the sleeve. 

 

The delicate pages of the large book were hard to turn. Every few pages there was a page covered in fraying tissue protecting an exquisite print, (thirty-one in all), of birds and animals described in Buffon’s writings. There was a print titled: “le Coq”, but this squat rooster was among the least impressive of all the birds and animals depicted. We were disappointed but thought this must be the Picasso sketch that Dad had gone on and on about all those years. It certainly matched what had come up when we had googled “Picasso” and “le Coq”. We started to close the book. But when we flipped back through to the front (we had missed the title page because the pages were hard to separate), there it was, a glorious and exuberant ink and wash drawing of a proud rooster, "Le Coq". We’d found it.

Filling the title page and flowing onto the adjoining page, this rooster did not disappoint. There is a handwritten dedication by Picasso: "Pour Jean-Louis Barrault" signed "Picasso" and dated by him, "Paris 30 Decembre 1942". 

What a strange time to be drawing whimsical animals and who was Jean-Louis Barrault? 

In December 1942, Picasso was holed up in his studio on the rue des Grands Augustins. He had chosen to stay in occupied Paris when others had fled abroad. He remained at some risk. As a foreigner (a Spaniard), he could have been deported at any time. His work was considered “degenerate” by the Nazis and his “Guernica”, was already a famous indictment of fascism. Perhaps, he counted on the fact that he was too famous to harm. He was productive, but could not sell anything and he crafted a quiet existence as neither hero nor collaborator. Picasso’s presence reassured others and the Nazis tolerated him as a way of suggesting that a brutal occupation was in fact benign. He was doing what everyone else was doing that December, trying to stay warm and queuing for food. 

It was a grim winter. The Nazi's grip on Paris was tightening. For artists and writers who had chosen to stay or not fled in time, the German occupation was a daily humiliation. It was a soul-destroying time. How to work, cope and stay true to themselves were the central questions.

The artist had moved into the Hotel de Savoie in 1936. It was only a year later in this studio, which came to be known as the “Grenier Picasso” or “Picasso’s Attic”, that Picasso had painted his searing, monumental, anti-fascist, Guernica. The previous tenant, Jean-Louis Barrault, theatre director and friend of photographer (and Picasso muse) Dora Maar, had used the studio for theater rehearsals. He recommended the place to his friend Picasso. Barrault and Picasso not only traveled in the same intellectual circles, they were Communist “fellow travelers”. They stayed friends their whole lives and in the darkest days of the war, as we shall come to see, that friendship helped sustain them.

The building where the studio was located had a storied if fictional past. In The Unknown Masterpiece published in 1847, Balzac had set the action in the rooms of this vast studio. In Balzac’s novella, an impoverished, aspiring artist named, “Poussin” (a small chicken is a literal translation, but historically the name of a real 17th-century French painter) visits the great artist “Master Porbus” (the French version of the name of the 17th-century Flemmish painter Pourbus) in the artist’s grand studio. Another painter, a rival to Probus, by the name “Frenhofer”, also figures prominently. In 1936, when he moved into the studio, whether Picasso saw himself as the impoverished artist or the master artist (most likely the latter), we will never know, but Picasso undoubtedly knew the story well.

Hotel de Savoie, aka Grenier des Grands Augustins, where Picasso had a studio from 1937–1955; Jean-Louis Barrault

In 1931, art dealer Ambroise Vollard had suggested to Picasso that he illustrate “Histoire Naturelle” by Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-88), a vast, if dated, treatise on the animal world. The lively style of Buffon’s writing delighted readers and Picasso, who adored drawing animals, agreed. The project stalled until 1936 when Picasso started to spend a lot of time at the print studio of Roger Lacouriere, turning his attention to prints and animals as a relief perhaps from his many emotional upheavals. Picasso worked away, on and off, on his animal drawings; however, when Vollard died in 1939, the Buffon book with illustrations was still not published. 

Martin Fabiani, another dealer, took over the book project and asked Lacouriere to print the book in 1942. A benign natural history text would be of no interest to the German censors. And so, the project was revived. The images of the thirty-two animals depicted are considered to be “among the highest level of achievement in sugar-lift aquatint technique in the history of printmaking”. The depictions of animals delighted many looking for a diversion from the grim reality of that winter. The print run was small, just 226 books. A few went as gifts to friends, each of these with a different and unique drawing.

This drawing of “Le Coq” and the dedication by Picasso hadn't been seen since the 1990s when Dad purchased the book. In 1942, this particular drawing dedicated to this particular man was likely no accident. It was not strange that in occupied Paris of 1942, Picasso was choosing to do illustrations for a historic natural history book from the 1700s. He couldn't very well paint another anti-fascist Guernica. But were these illustrations or this ancient text somehow subversive? Somewhere in Buffon’s dense natural history text had Picasso found words that gave him comfort or perhaps had he inserted words of his own into the elaborate text? Maybe simply depicting the natural world in his drawings allowed him to transcend the moment and find solace in those dark days.

But it was the drawing of this “Le Coq” and the dedication of this sketch and book to his friend Jean-Louis Barrault that was the defiant act. This “Le Coq” is not an illustration of a simple rooster which the reader can find later in the Buffon book. This “Le Coq” is the proud Chantecler of ancient France, the symbol of perseverance and tenacity revived in the French Revolution. The dedication was not just to the friend who had found Picasso his beloved studio. This friend was a Communist, at a time when that was a dangerous political affiliation. The Germans were stalled in Russia and Stalingrad was going through the worst. Picasso drew this for his “comrade” (they would later both be prominent in the post-war French Communist movement) as if to say: “We must be brave my friend. France will rise again”. They were and it did. 

Picasso died in 1973. His friend, Jean-Louis Barrault had an illustrious career after the War as an actor and theatre director. He died in 1994.

Resources

Benkemoun, Brigitte. Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2020.

Friga, Ben. Galleri K. Oslo

Poirier, Agnès. Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris. New York: Henfy Holt & Co., 2018.

Rosbottom, Ronald. When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.

Spotts, Frederic. The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived The Nazi Occupation. New Haven; Yale University Press, 2008.

Szoke, John. Faux-Fortes Originals Pour Les Texts De Buffonwww.johnszoke.com/news/16-eaux-fortes-originals-pour-les-texts-de-buffon-bloch

Szylinger, Irene. Art Strategies Inc., Toronto.

David & Vivian Campbell

20th Century Collectors and Philanthropists

David and Vivian Campbell were prominent philanthropists of the arts in Canada and collectors of early modern masters. Over the course of half a century, David and Vivian built a collection around intimate and dazzling works by giants of early 20th century art—Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Gauguin, Munch and Rodin among them—as well as later 20th century artists such as Will Barnet, Saul Steinberg and David Hockney, who grew out of the traditions of earlier masters, with a reverence for landscape and portraiture.

The scope of the century, along with the Campbells' distinct tastes within its vastness, are presented in the selection offered here; a landscape study of Le Pont Neuf by Paul Signac from 1895, the earliest work in the sale, shares the same musicality of color as Andy Warhol's screenprint of Beethoven from nearly one hundred years later. Portraits by Matisse and Hockney, done forty years apart, both present subjects that are quirky and grounded, executed with an economy and confidence of line. Irving Penn photographs Igor Stravinsky with the same adulatory nod seen in a portrait by André Kertész of his predecessor, Brassaï. An exuberant collage by Picasso celebrates the birth of his son, while Old Man's Afternoon by Will Barnet meditates on loss and aging. A thread evident throughout the selection is the ability for the art that we love to reflect the life that we live.

David and Vivian Campbell in their home in Toronto, 1997,
with Picasso's Jacqueline tricottant. Image: Jeff Goode.

Pablo Picasso 1881–1973

There is no artist of the 20th century equal in scope, innovation, mutability, egotism or passion to the great innovator Pablo Picasso. His output encompasses over 20,000 paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, theater sets and costumes. His styles surpass realism, abstraction, Cubism, Neoclassicism, Surrealism, and Expressionism. His art was an instrument for intellectual, political, social, and carnal messages. There was only one Pablo Picasso, but he contained artistic multitudes.

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881 in Málaga, Spain. His mother proudly asserted that his first word was ‘piz’, a shortened version of the Spanish word ‘lapiz’, meaning ‘pencil’.

When seven years old - an age when most children would still be etching out crude crayon renderings of smiling suns and stick figures - Picasso was instructed in figure drawing and oil painting by his father, a naturalist painter by trade.

Enthralled by the arts alone, Picasso’s skills increased as his other studies suffered. Picasso’s father and uncle entered the 16-year-old into Madrid's Royal Academy of San Fernando, the premier art school in Spain, in 1897. The young artist disliked the school’s strict formal instruction and rarely attended class, choosing instead to spend his year in Madrid making art and visiting the work of Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, Francisco Zurbarán and El Greco at the Prado Museum. He left for Barcelona in 1899, where he kept company with a group of modernist artists and writers.

In 1900, Picasso moved between Barcelona and Paris with Carlos Casagemas, a friend and fellow art student from Barcelona. In the epicenter of the artistic universe for Americans and Europeans, teeming with aspiring writers, painters, actors and dancers, Picasso was poor and without recognition for his work. He was greatly affected by the 1901 suicide of Casagemas. The art he is created at this time and through 1904 is referred to as his Blue Period, characterized by gaunt and lonely figures realized in somber hues of blue and black, exemplified by The Blind Man’s Meal from 1903.

Beginning in 1905, Picasso abandoned blues for reds and beggars for performers and clowns, a style referred to as his Rose Period. He found champions in the American siblings Gertrude and Leo Stein, whose Saturday evening salon in their home at 27, rue des Fleurus was called the “School of Paris” for its role as an incubator for artistic and intellectual thought. His 1907 masterwork, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, evidences new artistic explorations in pre-Roman, African and Oceanic art and signals the coming of Cubism.

Cubism, a refracted vision of three-dimensional reality painted on a two-dimensional canvas was developed by Picasso and the French artist Georges Braque (1882–1963). It was not the only seismic shift in art making that occurred in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century; Henri Matisse and Marcel Duchamp, among others, were likewise expanding the definition of painting, sculpture, ceramics and printmaking, but it was the seminal revolution of early 20th century art.

Picasso worked in and played with this style through World War I. In the early 1920s, with the birth of his son Paulo, he began what is referred to as his Neoclassical Period, a variant on Italian classicism in which he painted images of motherhood and mythology. This morphed to the use of Surrealist imagery and techniques by 1929. By the early 1930s, he turned to bold, harmonious colors and sensuous, sinuous contours exemplified by his paintings of muse and mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter in works such as Girl Reading at a Table from 1934.

He was greatly afflicted by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. He reacted with a series of pictures that culminated in the enormous mural Guernica in 1937, a work (perhaps his most famous) that explodes with the horror of war and his loathing for the fascist coup led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco.

Picasso’s creative energy never waned and he continued to shape-shift throughout his long and storied life. Living in the south of France from the late 1940s through the ’60s, he painted, made ceramics, and experimented with printmaking. His international fame increased. Museums and private collectors in America, Europe, and Japan vied to acquire his works. He reaped the financial benefits of success. Even into his eighties and nineties, he produced an enormous number of superb works, culminating with the extraordinary self-portraits of age.

He died in 1973 leaving an artistic canon of unsurpassed breadth, depth and effect. Perhaps no other artist save Shakespeare has resonated as strongly with so many or engendered as much critical examination from generation to generation.