Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Portrait of Señora Canals
Signed Picasso in the upper right-hand corner
Paris, 1905
Oil and charcoal on canvas
88 x 68 cm
Plandiura acquisition, 1932
MPB 4.266

The Work

The Portrait of Señora Canals is a portrait of a woman with a mantilla and a flower in her hair, with classic features and evenness in the outline and colouring.

The artist centres attention on the model’s face with its standout white cheek colouring with a slight amount of rouge framed by a black mantilla. The delicate defined features of the face and neck highlight her beauty with her slightly reddish hair bunched on the back of her head and half-hidden under the mantilla, also drawing the spectator’s gaze to the face. Pink and ochre tones are subtly present in several parts and details on the canvas such as the mauve-coloured flower decorating the comb, on the cheeks and the backdrop defined by large otherworldly brushstrokes. The diverse chromatic contrasts – the black of the mantilla, the extensive soft ochre and pink palette, and the range of greens in the dress – alongside a marked classicism lend the work profound serenity and balance.

The figure is immersed in an otherworldly atmosphere bathed in pink and glistening tones of the new Rose period he had started that lacked the monochrome of the previous Blue period.

Rose Period

Picasso met Fernande Olivier in 1904 (with whom he shared his life until 1912). From this moment, pink colours predominate in his works giving rise to it being referred to as the Rose period, although the colour is ever more varied based on subtle delicate combinations. The colours are the tones of flesh and sensuality.

The change from blue to pink is seen not only in the predominant canvas colour but also in the themes themselves – Picasso is mostly inspired here by characters and circus scenes such as harlequins and acrobats.

As characters, women become protagonists, either in groups or on their own, being the centre of composition for many drawings and oils in the period, dominated by glistening pink colours. The characters have lost the psychological loads bearing down on them and appear almost as if on stage. Their bodies seem freer and more delicate albeit erect and immobile.

The Portrait of Señora Canals is a magnificent example from the period and the only Rose period work the museum possesses.

The Model

The work was painted in Paris in the studio at 13 Rue Ravignan, known as Bateau-Lavoir. The model was the Italian, Benedetta Bianco Coletta (Cervaro, 1870 – Barcelona, 1958) who had already posed for Degas and Bartholomé and was, at the time, the Catalan painter and engraver Ricard Canals’s partner – a great friend of Picasso. She married Canals in 1906.

Picasso was present when Canals painted the canvas A Box at the Bullring (Paris, 1904) which Benedetta Bianco and Fernande Olivier sat for. Benedetta’s grace in sitting so impressed the artist that he decided to paint this portrait – an intimately personal interpretation summing up the recollection of Canals’s work with the idea of presenting Benedetta in the traditional ‘Spanish’ style of painting, features of Canals’s and other artists’ work at the time which were well received by the French public at the time.

History of the Painting

The portrait was part of the Plandiura Collection, acquired by the Museums Board in 1932. The first owner of the work was Ricard Canals.

Based on the present documentation, it is impossible to determine which year Canals’s great friend Plandiura bought it, but it situates the date in an indeterminate period between May-June 1919 – months when the work was presented at the Barcelona Art Exhibition, with Ricard Canals signing as owner – and 1930, the year Eugeni d’Ors’s book on Picasso was published, where it was listed as belonging to the Plandiura Collection.

Ricard Canals

The painter, photographer and engraver Ricard Canals (Barcelona, 1876-1931) was, alongside his painter friends Nonell, Mir, Pichot and Juli Vallmitjana, part of the artistic group Colla de Safrà, the name chosen because of the saffron colour used in their works.
He was a great friend of Picasso’s, who he met at the time of the Quatre Gats tavern, a popular artistic meeting point in Barcelona, and with whom he coincided in Paris at the Bateau-Lavoir where their friendship became much deeper. As Picasso’s partner Fernande Olivier wrote, ‘At this time, Picasso and Canals were always together'. The portrait Picasso painted of his wife is a great testimony to Canals and Picasso's friendship.

Canals taught Picasso metal engraving techniques back in Barcelona in 1899 with his first engraving, El Zurdo or Left-handed man, and helped him later to create The Frugal Meal, an etching from 1904 created at Canals’s studio and which starts the Barcelona Picasso Museum engraving collection.

Works by Canals can be viewed in Barcelona at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.


Room 9