Picasso or not, Etreinte is a geniunely bad painting
Date: 22 Apr 2008 | | Views: 6044
If the Dorset Picasso is genuine, it shows that until 1899 he could neither draw nor paint
Source: The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk), by Germaine Greer
Etreinte (Embrace). Photograph: PA
Within seconds of the announcement that a rare Picasso watercolour had been found in a bedroom in the West country, the picture was described by the world media as nothing less than a portrait of the 20-year-old artist as a young ram, in the act of covering one of his many girlfriends. The normally sedate Daily Telegraph frothed that it was "worth millions". Some clever person had given the work the name Etreinte (Embrace), thus linking it with the well-known series of fabulously priapic engravings and drawings of the same name that Picasso made in the 1960s.
The Dorset Etreinte is sketched with a brush on a sheet from a sketch book, 12cm by 19cm. Someone has authenticated it by scrawling a big "Oui" across the back in pencil, signing it "Picasso", and adding a date, 15 February 1969. The picture is also signed on the front, with Picasso's best-known signature - which is not one he was using at the beginning of his career. One or other, or all those someones could have been Picasso, and Picasso could have been the original artist, but nothing could make the Dorset Etreinte anything but a thoroughly undistinguished piece of work. Picasso was not averse to signing inferior work if it added three noughts or so to its value. The earlier the putative work, the dodgier the attribution.
For years, the art expert Rómulo-Antonio Ténes has been struggling to call Picasso's heirs to account on a charge of spoliation. He argues that they have knowingly misrepresented the oeuvre of Picasso's father, José Ruiz Blasco, as juvenile works by Picasso. Ténes is by now well on the way to a final verdict, one that will require the Picasso industry to restore Blasco's stolen oeuvre. The only result so far has been that some galleries have silently deleted works by Blasco from their Picasso shows, and some sale rooms have withdrawn suspect lots from sale. Ténes has now announced the imminent publication of a catalogue raisonné of the work of Blasco, in which he identifies all the works he claims have been fraudulently attributed to Picasso by an unholy alliance of the Picasso heirs, the Picasso Administration SA, the Museo Picasso of Barcelona and the Musée National Picasso in Paris. He has also extended the date range of false Picasso attributions to 1902.
If the Dorset Etreinte is genuine, its obvious ineptitude actually reinforces Ténes's case, which is that until 1899 Picasso, by his own admission, could neither draw nor paint. So tentative and discontinuous is the fiddly drawing of the body outlines in the Dorset Etreinte, the figures could be fillets of smoked haddock lying on a fishmonger's slab. The right arm and right leg of the presumed female are boneless and withered, her torso a blank. The upper figure is collapsed on her, possibly asleep. It is as if a caller, pushing open the studio door and finding painter and model snoring post-coitally, had grabbed a dirty brush and attempted a vignette to leave as a teasing carte de visite. If the holder of the brush was Picasso, then the upper figure on the bed cannot be him, and vice versa. No man ever saw himself from such an angle. To parlay the suggestion of an armpit and the back of a head into a self-portrait of the nude artist tupping his muse is hardly honest. Someone, either at the time or later, sketched in a vague outline of a bed to fill the space, and washed it loosely with dilute Prussian Blue; but this will not suffice to turn a doodle into a composition.
Misleading, too, was the impression conveyed by the spokesman of Duke's auction house in Dorchester, that the work had somehow been lost. In fact, it was sold for £72,000 at Sotheby's as recently as June 24 2003, with notes that were reproduced in the Duke's sale catalogue. These notes cite the late Picasso expert Christian Zervos, who identifies the source as Carnet 324, dating from the artist's third visit to Paris in October 1902.
Picasso was quite capable of making erotic drawings from his own fantasy, and of placing images of himself in them. It is the lack of erotic charge in the Dorset Etreinte that suggests a work about the master, rather than by him. If this is so, the latest buyer of the Dorset Etreinte at £68,000 paid far too much. But if it is all Picasso's work, now that early Picassos have become rarer than ever before, the price was far too low. Taste has nothing to do with it.