ProvenanceEstate of the artist
Pace Gallery, New York
James Goodman Gallery, New York (until March 1989)
Fabian Carlsson, London
Private Collection, New York
James Goodman Gallery, New York
Private Collection, acquired from the above in 2003
LiteratureJosep Palau i Fabre, Picasso: from the Ballets to Drama (1917-1926), Barcelona, 1999, no. 373, illustrated p. 128
1988. [NY.88c*]. Paintings, Watercolors & Drawings by Dubuffet, Léger & Picasso (James Goodman Gallery, New York, September - October...More..., 1988). New York. NY.88c*:14
Picasso, Peintures, 1901-1971 (Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris, juin, 1980). Paris. PA.80a*:5
An exemplary work from Picasso’s Neo-Classical period, La communiante avec missel belongs to a rare series. Picasso revisited the theme of children receiving communion a few times and in a few styles, from this solemn classic version to the dynamic fragmentation of Cubism. A Neo-Classical example comparable to this piece is in the collection of the Musée Picasso in Paris.
While this time period after World War I saw many artists looking to tradition, a return to order as a reaction against the destruction of war, Picasso’s Neo-classicism was not so much a refuge, but a vehicle by which he could explore new themes and ideas. In La communiante avec missel, we see certain hallmarks of Picasso: the visual weight that the girl carries and the statuesque features of her face. These elements are softened by the curved lines the artist has used for her body and dress. In Picasso’s hands, the painting is a meditation of youth and religion marking the rites of passage.
One of the titans of 20th century art, Pablo Picasso pushed our conception of what art could and should look like. Most associated with Cubism, Picasso was also adept in many different styles including the neo-classical form as seen in La communiante avec missel. How does this painting fit within Picasso’s wider body of work and art history in general?
Painted in 1919, the work appears at a crossroads in Picasso’s career and world history. A year after the end of World War I, Picasso began to shift from Cubism into a more classical style. He was not alone in this change. Other artists, including his friend and fellow inventor of Cubism Georges Braque and even the leader of the wild Fauvists André Derain, seemingly abandoned the avant-garde. In reality, this was a larger trend following the devastation of The Great War. Termed retour à l’ordre or return to order, the movement looked to tradition in dealing with the terrible effects of war – some of which were spurred on by different art movements including Futurism.
But what is neo-classicism or even classicism? Classicism refers to the style found in ancient Greco-Roman art; the term could also refer to the early periods of art that looked to antiquity. One of the most renowned of these later Classicists was Nicolas Poussin, a French artist who spent most of his career in Rome. Neo-classicism refers then to later revivals of classical art, both ancient and from the 16th century. One of the most important of the first wave of neo-classical artists was Jacques-Louis David. In both the works of Poussin and David, it is clear the influence classical art had in terms of style and composition.
Picasso belonged to a later revival of neo-classical art. In the sobering light after WWI, many sought refuge in “traditional” art that prioritized order and stability. Innovation and change for the sake of change seemed inappropriate in light of destruction. Thus, artists like Picasso worked in a clear lineage back to the earlier artists like David and Poussin and even antiquity.
However, if Picasso were only mimicking these early traditions, these paintings would not have the same power or potency that speaks to us today. Picasso is not interested in faithful representation. His forms have heft and visual weight translating classical art through aesthetics, vision, and psychology.
Neo-classicism was not so much a refuge for the artist, but a vehicle by which he could explore new themes and ideas. We see in this painting, La communiante avec missel, those same hallmarks of Picasso’s neo-classical style, the visual weight that the girl carries and the statuesque features of her face. In his hands, the painting is a meditation of youth and religion marking the rites of passage.
The painting speaks to the time of its creation as many returned to traditional forms which included Picasso, yet it transcends such easy categorization as he continually pushed the possibilities of the style to investigate the visual plane and psychological depths.
Pablo Picasso, “Deux Femmes courant sur la plage (La course)”, 1922, gouache on plywood, 12 7/8 x 16 3/16 in., Musée Picasso, Paris
Georges Braque, “Bather”, 1925, oil on board 26 3/8 x 21 3/8 in., Tate Collection, London
André Derain, “Madame Derain in a White Shawl”, c. 1919-20, 77 15/16 in. x 38 3/8 in., Tate Collection, London
Arch of Constantine, round reliefs and frieze, 315 AD, Rome
Nicolas Poussin, “A Bacchanalian Revel before a Term”, 1632-33, oil on canvas, 38 ½ x 56 ½ in., National Gallery London
Jacques-Louis David, “The Oath of the Horatii”, 1784, oil on canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris
PICASSO: CUBISM AND NEO-CLASSICISM
The cubist Les Communiants and the neo-classical La communiante avec missel, both on view at Heather James Fine Art, showcase the range of Picasso’s ability and his artistic vision. These two works present a unique opportunity to understand the two styles that Picasso explored during a transitory time in his career and within world history. Moreover, the singular focus on the same scene, albeit from slightly different perspectives, illuminates some of the common themes that Picasso was exploring, including the nature of time and of perception. He is less concerned with pictorial reality, concentrating on the search for essential truth and metaphysical reality.
However, it is the differences which showcase the strength and spectacular vision of Picasso. In the cubist painting, Picasso has added a dynamic background and the figures become less children and more studies into time and space – a two-dimensional representation of beings that exist in three dimensions, four including time. In the neo-classical painting, the girl occupies a visual weight that is softened by the curved lines Picasso has used for her body and dress. In doing so, the painting asks us to meditate on youth and rites of passage.
In the two works, Picasso gives differing visions of the same scene and yet, we still observe his control of the human figure. As close friend and renowned writer Gertrude Stein said, “Picasso knows, really knows the faces, the heads, the bodies of human beings, he knows them as they have existed since the existence of the human race… why use words when one can express everything by drawings and colors.”
- Fueled by an insatiable demand for top tier works, the Picasso market has achieved an impressive upward trajectory in recent years. In 2015 the record-setting sale of Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”), 1955, for $180 Million set a new apex for the Picasso market.
- It is important to note that the finite supply of Picasso paintings available is further limited because over half of the works are already in museum collections. The Picasso Museum in Paris alone was gifted half of the artist’s estate after a deal made with the French Government and the Picasso family. These paintings will rarely come to market, along with thousands of works already in public collections worldwide.
- As evident in the graph by Art Market Research, one can see that Picasso’s market appreciation has sustained a healthy return of 710.1% since 1976, or an annualized compound rate of return of 4.7%.
Top Results at Auction
Comparable Paintings Sold at Auction
- Identical in size to La communiante avec missel but in the high neoclassical style Picasso went on to develop
- Similar scene of female sitter but a more finished painting, hence the high result in 2005
- Smaller than La communiante avec missel, but later style and a well-developed work with color
- Recent result of almost $8 million shows an appetite for this style of painting
- Smaller than La communiante avec missel
- Strong result from 2001 and Picasso’s market has improved greatly since
- Unfinished painting on panel, not as desirous as canvas
- Smaller than La communiante avec missel by more than 1/2
- A powerful result from 2005 and the Picasso market continues to appreciate
Paintings in Museum Collections
The definitive authority on the authenticity of paintings by Van Gogh, the Van Gogh Museum inspected this painting in January 2020 and provided this letter of authenticity. During that inspection, X-ray revealed a second painting under the surface – a portrait of a man.