[On some sites called Fillette nue au panier de fleurs (Le panier fleuri)]
Gertrude Stein was angry when Leo, her brother, bought Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (Young Girl With a Flower Basket) in 1905. The Steins were shown the painting by Clovis Sagot, the former circus clown who had become Picasso’s dealer in Montmartre. The painting is of a pubescent girl, naked and pale against a chalky blue ground. Her side-on silhouette seems borrowed from an Egyptian frieze, but there is nothing stylized in the awkward way she clutches a self-consciously symbolic punnet of blowsy, blood-red blooms. The girl’s stare is a troubling “what are you looking at?” admonition; there is a double string of pearls around her neck, and a line of crimson on her lips. A vague sense of duress challenges the viewer, through the painter’s eyes.
Gertrude Stein was mostly put off by the young woman’s proportions. She thought Picasso’s girl had too-long legs and found her clumsy-looking feet “repulsive”. But her brother prevailed. Picasso was then 23 years old and this was the first significant purchase of his work the Steins had made. The painting was hung in their house at 27 rue de Fleurus, where Picasso became a regular visitor. It grew on Gertrude. She held on to it when she and Leo fell out; he had the Cezannes.
For the next couple of weeks, Picasso’s discomfiting portrait will be briefly in London, coolly staring down her viewers. The painting was acquired by the late David Rockefeller and it is among the multiple headline acts in the sale of 1,600 of his artworks, which the auctioneer Christie’s believes will be a record-breaking charity sale in New York in May.
After Stein’s death in 1946, the Picasso was passed along with the rest of the collection to her partner Alice B. Toklas and, on her death in 1967, Rockefeller created a consortium of friends to buy the paintings. Having put in a million dollars each they drew lots from a felt hat to determine who had first pick. David Rockefeller drew number one, and chose the girl with her basket (he also chose Picasso’s singular Pomme, the angular apple painted for Stein to fill the Cezanne-shaped hole in her life). Up until David Rockefeller’s death, at 101, last year, the flower girl was on the wall of the Rockefellers’ Upper East Side mansion in New York. Again, the painting was not a favorite of Rockefeller’s wife, Peggy; he had it facing his desk in his library....
The piece with the highest price tag was a 1905 portrait by Pablo Picasso titled "Fillette a la corbeille fleurie." The painting sold for $115 million - but also has kicked up controversy over the artist's sexualized depiction of a young girl in the current "MeToo" atmosphere.
The Picasso canvas dates back to the artist's "Rose" period, a stretch of time when Picasso was still relatively unknown and dirt poor, scratching out a meager bohemian living in Paris's Montmartre. The painting features a nude prepubescent girl holding flowers before a blue background. According to an essay in the Christie's catalogue, "as it would have been clearly understood at that time - the flowers were a come-on, she was actually a prostitute."
Picasso biographer John Richardson says the painting's subject was a girl named Linda who "sold her body as well as her roses outside the Moulin Rouge." She also posed for artists, including Amedeo Modigliani and Picasso.
The painting also was the artist's gateway into one of the most pivotal relationships in Picasso's early career. Not long after the canvas was completed, it was purchased by Leo and Gertrude Stein, the American brother and sister who would become leading patrons of the modernist movement. "[I]t was very cheap," Gertrude Stein recalled in her autobiography. "The picture was the now well-known painting of a nude girl with a basket of red flowers."
Picasso met the Steins shortly after they purchased the painting, and he would become a fixture at the family's salon, a hot spot for modernist writers, artists, and thinkers.
With $115 million, the winning bidder for Fillette a la Corbeille Fleurie (Young Girl With Basket of Flowers) at Christie’s on Tuesday night took ownership of one of the most expensive Picassos ever sold.
...Fillette à la corbeille fleurie is an especially “charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing...” as Gertrude Stein described Picasso’s early work.... Accompanying this picture are stories that have contributed to its esteemed and celebrated status down through the decades, commencing from the time Picasso painted the canvas and extending through the tenures of the two famous families that have owned it—first the Steins, and thereafter Peggy and David Rockefeller.
HuffPost’s Priscilla Frank said, “Linda’s is a paradoxical position many women deemed ‘muses' occupy, their images iconic and their identities irrelevant.”
“For centuries, women like Linda, who pose for and collaborate with powerful male artists, have been seen but not heard, objectified rather than humanized.”