Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Las Meninas (group)
Dated 17.8.57. on the back
Oil on canvas
194 x 260 cm
Donated by the artist, 1968
MPB 70.433

The Work

Chronologically, this work is the first in the series where Picasso produced a personal interpretation of the whole of Velázquez’s work.
The same characters as in Velázquez’s work appear here, although, with an aesthetically different form, with variations in certain elements of the composition.

On the one hand, the vertical format is substituted for the horizontal. On the other, where in Velázquez's work the figure around whom the entire composition revolves is the Infanta Margarita, in Picasso's work, the Infanta still has an essential role but so does the figure of the painter who, shown in disproportionate size and holding two palettes, takes a major role, reinforcing in this way the idea that the most important thing in the entire creation of art is the artist himself. In this way, moving towards the right of the composition, the form simplifies and the figures to the right contrast with the more elaborate figures of Velázquez and the first 'menina'.

Another major variant is the treatment of light and colour. This variation has a direct effect on the painting’s luminosity with the opening of large windows to the right which, in Velázquez’s work, remain closed. The lack of colour contrasts with this luminosity. Blacks and whites dominate the composition, whether on purpose since Picasso had used this resource before or due to the only reference he had being a large photographic blow-up in black and white. The colour would appear in the subsequent interpretations.

The dog also appears, although the mastiff of Velázquez is substituted by Lump, the basset Picasso had at La Californie.


Room 12

Las Meninas Series

(MPB 70.433 a 70.489)

Rooms 12-14

In just five months of intense work, between 17th August and 30th December 1957, Picasso carried out an exhaustive analysis, reinterpretation and recreation of Las Meninas by Velázquez. The Suite of 58 works Picasso donated to the Museu Picasso in 1968 comprises
- 44 interpretations inspired on Velázquez’s painting – studies of heads, detached figures, groups of characters and different interpretations of the ensemble
- 9 interpretations of Pigeons, centring on the representations of the view of doves of all types and colours he could see from his studio at La Californie Villa in Cannes where he painted the entire series
- 3 landscapes
- 2 free interpretations, The Piano and Portrait of Jacqueline.

To establish the bases of analysis for this series, we may go to the artist's own words, recollected by Sabartés in the book L'atelier de Picasso published in 1952: 'If anyone were to try and copy Las Meninas in complete good faith, and for example got to a certain point – and if I were the copier – would say to myelf, "and if I just put this a little more to the right or left?". I would try to do it in my own way, forgetting about Velázquez. The challenge would surely make me modify or change the light, due to having changed the position of a character. In this way, little by little, I would paint Meninas who would seem detestable to a pure copyist – they would not be what he thought he saw on Velázquez’s canvas, but they would be my Meninas.’

His interpretation of this painting comprises an exhaustive study of rhythm, colour, movement and a constant play of imagination where the personalities of different components of the work are transformed. Nonetheless, faithfulness and respect for the atmosphere in Velázquez’s work are evident in all the compositions. The treatment of the light, volume, space and perspective developed by the Seville-born artist is kept in all Picasso’s studies of the ensemble, although in doing so he turns to very different procedures.

Although from the Second World War on Picasso created many interpretations of works by the grand masters in art history (such as, Les Femmes d’Alger by Delacroix, Le Déjêuner sur l’herbe by Manet and works by Cranach, Courbet, Rembrandt and Poussin), the Las Meninas series comprises an exceptional ensemble, not only for its artistic quality but also for the chance visitors have to see it in Barcelona in its entirety at the Museu Picasso. Picasso made the donation in 1968, in memory of his friend and secretary Jaume Sabartés who died that year.

Las Meninas by Velázquez

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Seville 1599 – Madrid 1660), painter to the King from 1623, painted Las Meninas in 1656. The work had different titles, including La familia del Rey Felipe IV (The Family of King Philip IV), appearing on the Court inventory in 1666. The painting was saved from 1734 fire in the Alcázar, where Velázquez lived and worked, although it had to be restored. Ferdinand VII gave it to the Prado Museum where it appeared on the first catalogue in 1819.

It was not until 1843, though, where it appeared with its current name for the first time in the catalogue drafted by Pedro de Madrazo. The Portuguese term ‘menina’ meaning small child was used to name the young noble women chosen as ladies-in-waiting in the service of the royal family.

The characters appearing are: Velázquez himself looking at his model; Maria Agustina Sarmiento (‘menina’ to the infanta); the five year-old Infanta Margarita, the monarchs' daughter; Isabel de Velasco, another ‘menina’; the dwarf Maribárbola; the jester Nicolasito Pertusato, entertaining himself with resting dog; in the middle are: Marcela de Ulloa, head of the queen’s lady-in-waiting service; a “ladies’ guard” identified as Diego Ruiz de Azcona; the monarchs King Philip IV and his wife Marianna of Austria, shown in the mirror at the back; and at the door in the background, either entering or leaving, is the chamberlain of the palace, José Nieto. The two visible paintings on the room walls represent copies of the mythological theme canvases by Rubens and Jordaens, made by Velázquez’s son-in-law Juan Bautista del Mazo.

From his first trip to Madrid and visit to the Prado in 1895, Picasso had the chance of direct contact with Velázquez’s work. During his 1897-1898 stay, where he preferred to be a copyist at the Prado rather than take classes at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Art, he was able to study it in depth. The copy Picasso made of Velázquez’s portrait of Philip IV also dates to this time and may be seen at the Museu Picasso.

Referring to the work, Picasso stated to his dealer Kahnweiler: ‘What a painting Las Meninas is! What reality! Velázquez is the true painter of reality. Whether his other paintings are good or bad, this one, in any case, is admirably, perfectly a success.’ (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler “Gespräche mit Picasso” (Conversations with Picasso) in Jahresring 59-60, Stuttgart 1959.)


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