Although this small gouache by Pablo Picasso has often been held to be a study for his most innovative work, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it is in fact a preparatory drawing for Nude with Drapery, a canvas painted shortly afterwards. In addition, although some authors bring forward the date of the Study to the winter of 1906‒7, it is more likely to have been executed in Paris in the summer of 1907, when the painter was working on the canvas. Nude with Drapery is a separate depiction of the second female figure of Les Demoiselles which develops the theme of the dance of the veils. While the geometrised composition of Les Demoiselles can be regarded as Picasso’s “reaction” to Derain’s Bathers, which deeply moved him at the Salon des Indépendants in March 1907, in the present Nude, the painter “defies” the rhythms of Matisse’s Blue Nude on display at the same exhibition. The nude dancer moves like a medium, under the spell of some mysterious music, in a gesture of self-abandonment with closed eyes. Her movements reveal more than the eye can see and, as Pierre Daix states, Picasso succeeds in creating “true depth with her rhythms alone.” With this innovative formula, the artist not only solves the problem of painting in three dimensions, but embarks on his unstoppable journey towards the Cubist language.
As in the canvas, in the present Study belonging to the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection — which is perhaps the closest to the final work — the influence of African sculpture is evident in the radical abstraction of the forms and in the geometrised and elongated facial features that recall primitive masks. The contours are delimited by a thick black line and volume is created by parallel hatching in different directions.
Both Nude with Drapery and the series of preparatory studies (among them that in the collection) were acquired by Leo Stein (1872‒1947) and his sister Gertrude (1874‒1946) in autumn 1907. The large canvas was sold shortly afterwards to the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin and was not shown until its brief presentation in Paris in 1954. In 1971, The Museum of Modern Art in New York again brought together the canvas and the set of studies in an exhibition devoted to the Steins. The catalogue included a photograph of Leo and Gertrude Stein’s studio at number 27 rue de Fleurus taken about 1913, showing this small gouache hanging next to the Portrait of Gertrude Stein, the first image in which the painter had replaced the subject’s face with a primitive mask with abstract features, and other works by Picasso, Matisse, Manguin and Daumier. Another photograph dated two years later shows the work in the writer’s studio beside the Portrait of Madame Cézanne in an Armchair, next to which it also hung in her home at number 5 rue Christiné. It is not known for certain if this work belonged to the writer’s collection at her death, or if it was part of her Estate in the care of Alice B. Toklas.