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Three Musicians

1921
Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, Spanish, 1881 - 1973

Pablo Picasso had a large ambition for this monumental canvas: to look back at and say farewell to a key period in his own career, when he pioneered the transformative style known as Cubism. The composition is pieced together from paper-thin and angular planes that fit together only inconsistently to generate eye-fooling ambiguities. It is forcefully modern in style.


The subject, however, looks to the past. A three-man band sits at a table in a shallow, stage-like interior. The violinist wears the costume of the trickster Harlequin, and the figure in white with a clarinet or recorder is the melancholy Pierrot—both from the tradition of popular, improvisational theater in Europe. The third figure wears the costume of a monk and plays the accordion. These figures relate to costume designs made by Picasso for the Ballets Russes dance company’s 1920 production of Pulcinella, a modern ballet based on a scenario from an Italian manuscript of 1700.

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Object Details
Consigned by the artist to Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris, January 21, 1925 [1]; with Rosenberg until c. 1927 (exchanged it and other paintings with Reber for a Cézanne); Dr. Gottlieb Friedrich Reber (1880-1959), Lausanne, 1927-1936 (possibly in the possession of a creditor 1934-1936) [2]; with Zwemmer Gallery, London; sold to A. E. Gallatin and George L. K. Morris, NY, September 18, 1936 [3]; bequest of A. E. Gallatin to PMA, 1952. 1. Elizabeth Hutton Turner, Duncan Phillips Collects: Paris Between the Wars, Washington, DC, 1991, p. 43-45 and n. 92, citing Paul Rosenberg Papers, Pierpont Morgan Library. 2. Reber underwent financial difficulties as a result of the Depression: Alfred H. Barr wrote to MOMA trustee Stephen C. Clark on July 13, 1934, that the painting 'formerly in the Reber Collection, is now apparently in the possession of a bank following Reber's recent collapse on the Paris bourse'; see Dorothy Kosinski, "G. F. Reber: Collector of Cubism," Burlington Magazine, v. 133, August 1991, p. 526.3. The Zwemmer Gallery ledger records the sale to Gallatin on September 18, 1936, with a note that the work was being sent to New York directly from Lausanne; see Nigel Vaux Halliday, More Than a Bookshop: Zwemmer's and Art in the 20th Century, London, 1991, p. 183. In addition, a letter of Alfred Barr (who was campaigning to acquire the painting for MOMA at the time) dated July 31, 1936, notes that Zwemmer was offering the painting.The Mayor Gallery in London may also have been involved in the sale: Morris' painted receipt (Gallatin Papers, New York Historical Society) for his half of the payment for the painting refers to the Mayor Gallery and not to Zwemmer; repro. in Susan Larsen, "Albert Gallatin: the 'Park Avenue Cubist' Who Went Downtown," Art News, December 1978, p. 80. The Mayor Gallery, however, has no record of this transaction, as indicated to Gail Stavitsky by Andrew Murray, Director, letter of April 21, 1989, and by Dorothy Kosinski, curator of the Douglas Cooper Collection; see Gail Stavitsky, The Development, Institutionalization, and Impact of the A.E. Gallatin Collection of Modern Art [Ph. D. dissertation, New York University], 1990, v. 9, p. 240, and letter from Stavitsky dated 19 October 1989 in curatorial file. Nevertheless the Mayor Gallery's connection with Reber is well documented; Douglas Cooper, who was one of the gallery's directors from 1933 to 1937 or 1938, bought fifteen works from Reber in the 1930's (see Dorothy Kosinski, Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger: Douglas Cooper Collecting Cubism, Houston, 1990, p. 22).
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