Bacchanal (page from) Carnet 1046, Cannes, March 17 – June 18, 1956 © FABA Photo © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bacchanal (page from) Carnet 1046, Cannes, March 17 – June 18, 1956 © FABA Photo © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Pace Publications

Uncovering Picasso’s Masterpieces in His Sketchbooks

Published Thursday, November 9, 2023

Our presentation of Picasso: 14 Sketchbooks, on view at our New York gallery from November 10 to December 22, marks the 50th anniversary of the artist’s death. Organized in collaboration with the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Madrid (FABA), this exhibition offers a unique and intimate view of the ways in which Picasso worked, tracing the evolution of the observations and ideas in his sketchbooks into plans for compositions across his whole artistic output.

The sketchbooks in the show—exhibited alongside related drawings, paintings, ceramics, photographs, and archival materials—shed light on Picasso’s approach to works such as the iconic Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Dora Maar in an Armchair (1939), in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and his large-scale War and Peace murals, completed in Vallauris in the South of France in 1952.

The texts that follow are excerpted from Pace Publishing’s new book, Picasso: 14 Sketchbooks, produced on the occasion of the exhibition and available to purchase online and on-site at the gallery. The following paragraphs—written by Picasso experts and 14 Sketchbooks curatorial advisors Marilyn McCully and Michael Raeburn, with support from Géraldine Mercier of FABA—trace the connections between the artist’s sketches and some of his most celebrated works.

demoiselles by Picasso

Standing nudes (page from) Carnet 1101, Paris, end of June - beginning of July 1907 © FABA Photo © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Demoiselles Sketchbook

Picasso worked with great intensity in 1907, producing many drawings and paintings leading up to his breakthrough composition Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Although he normally used his Montmartre apartment in the Bateau-Lavoir as his studio, Gertrude Stein provided him with money for a second space in the same building so that he could work uninterrupted on the large canvas. Over the period of months that he wrestled with the composition, he also used sixteen different sketchbooks, principally focusing on figures. Both ink and pencil studies in the present sketchbook, which was worked on in the summer, suggest that he may have had a model for at least some of the time.

The postures of the nudes, especially those with their arms raised over their head, are typical of professional models. The two women facing forward (one with a single arm over her head, the other with both arms raised) are close to how they appeared in the center of the final painting. However, the extreme backward bending of some of the figures (this attitude is repeated in other sketchbooks) was not in the end included. The back cover of the sketchbook has a contour ink drawing of a pottery jug, an ordinary vessel that Picasso likely had in his studio. It is one of a number of jugs and bowls that he drew in his Demoiselles sketchbooks, possibly thinking about the objects he might include in the foreground of the painting. In the end, he opted simply for an arrangement of fruits.


Studies for musical instrument (page from) Carnet 26, Paris, 1913 (drawings) © FABA Photo © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Cubist Sketchbook — On Loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Picasso did not always begin drawing in sketchbooks in the same way: sometimes he worked on the pages vertically rather than horizontally, and sometimes he started on a random page rather than at the front. In the case of this sketchbook, he started at the back, filling the pages with Cubist heads and musical instruments in pencil, with a few drawings in ink. The reductive, Cubist approach to figures and objects and the break-up of space in these sketches relate closely to the drawings and paintings, papiers collés, and plans for constructions that he had done in the Pyrenean village of Céret, where he and his companion Eva Gouel had spent the spring and summer of 1913.

Picasso most likely began this little sketchbook on his return to Paris from Céret in the autumn, around the time the couple moved to an apartment in Montparnasse. Clues to Eva Gouel’s presence in the studio occur in several ink drawings, where the otherwise geometric heads are surrounded by the wavy hair that was so typical of her. In addition, a full-length figure drawing also seems to represent a preliminary idea for a composition featuring a female nude seated in a chair. Picasso would famously paint Eva that autumn as Woman in an Armchair (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Sketchbooks were also used by the artist for miscellaneous notes and addresses, and in this little notebook he made several pages of annotations of sales of paintings and drawings, as well as records of bank deposits. These date from October 1913 to January 1916, which suggests that the sketchbook was at hand throughout that period in Picasso’s Montparnasse studio.


Studies of birds (page from) Carnet 206, Paris, April 28-May 1, 1952 © FABA Photo © 2023 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

War and Peace Sketchbook

Picasso worked on this sketchbook in Paris in the spring of 1952, at a time when he was alternating residence between the French capital and the villa La Galloise in Vallauris. After his eviction the previous summer from his rue La Boétie apartment, which he was using for storage, he had acquired two floors in a building located at 9 rue Gay-Lussac, near the Luxembourg gardens. In addition to much-needed storage space, the spacious apartment comfortably accommodated his partner Françoise Gilot and their two small children Claude (b. 1947) and Paloma (b. 1949), when they were in Paris. When Françoise left Picasso in the following year, she moved with the children to the rue Gay-Lussac apartment.

Picasso’s principal artistic preoccupation that spring was the decoration of a deconsecrated, medieval chapel in Vallauris, which was intended to be turned into a temple of peace. His plan was to paint two panels to cover the curved walls: one with images of war, the other with peace. This is the first of at least three sketchbooks, as well as individual drawings, that he worked on in connection with the project. His initial idea here, beginning on the first page (dated April 28, 1952), focused on the image of an owl as a bird of ill omen. His bold ink and wash drawings of the full-length owl in flight dramatically depict the creature holding a basket and spreading seeds of death. Studies of its angry face fill the rest of the page. In subsequent drawings, the bird resembles an eagle, while in others, its legs are transformed into those of a man. On later pages, a warrior defends a group of innocents from the bird’s attack.

Although the owl/eagle does not appear in the War panel in the chapel, other drawings in this sketchbook provide some of the imagery that was included in the Peace panel. There are several studies of girls reaching up to break off a bloom from a flowering tree or dancing in a circle. These are transformed into playful, dancing figures on the left of the composition. A tiny owl, which resembles Picasso’s pet owl Ubu and is quite unlike the angry birds in the sketchbook, appears over the head of a child acrobat, above the dancers on the left. A sequence of intertwining, linear pencil drawings in the sketchbook of a mother suckling a baby provides the inspiration for her inclusion in the Peace panel, where they are shown reclining under a golden apple tree at the right. The sketchbook ends with a series of ink drawings of children dancing around a tree-cum-maypole, with a girl reaching up to a flower on a branch at the top. Suitably, this composition was done on the 1st of May.

  • Essays — Uncovering Picasso’s Masterpieces in His Sketchbooks, Nov 9, 2023