Copying Picasso's "Sylvette"

At left:  Bill creating a master copy of Picasso's Sylvette (1954), in oil on canvas.  At right:  Picasso's original.  

At left:  Bill creating a master copy of Picasso's Sylvette (1954), in oil on canvas.  At right:  Picasso's original.  

Sylvette David was a young French woman who worked in a pottery shop near Picasso.  She agreed to pose for him and became perhaps his most well-known muse -- he painted about 40 works using her as a model.  This painting was done in 1954 when Picasso was 73 years old. He was world famous, so Sylvette the model also became world famous.  It's interesting that when Picasso was pioneering Cubism (1906 - 1915) people found the geometric shapes bizarre and inaccessible; 35 years later audiences found these "Sylvette" paintings, although highly abstract and geometric, much *more* accessible than art being produced by other artists at the time.    

This painting has a great personal meaning for me.  When I was 9 or 10 my parents gave me, as a present, the board game "Masterpiece:  The Art Auction Game" (does anyone else remember that game?) It came with about a hundred little cards with prints of real paintings by famous artists.  I kept a few of those cards, and this was my favorite.  I had it pinned to my bulletin board next to my desk all through high school, college, and still today.  You can see it here, pinned to my easel to help me produce this copy. This has always been one of my favorite paintings and in no small part inspired me to want to paint.  

Artists often make "master copies" of works that they want to learn from.  Copying a painting in all of its details, you learn so much more than you ever could just by studying it. In the photo of me with my copy in progress, above, the first layer is dry and I'm starting on the second layer.  I'm working very hard to reproduce the colors.  It's obvious that Picasso used a very limited palette on this; for the first layer I was able to reproduce all the colors fairly well using just ultramarine blue deep, viridian, transparent oxide red, and white.  (The "black" areas and the grey areas are mixtures of ultramarine blue deep and transparent oxide red).  For the second layer I worked really hard to get closer on the turquoise color that dominates the model's bottom half.  I tried cobalt blue mixed with viridian -- no improvement.  You can see from the palette I'm holding in the photo that I also tried mixing in a little yellow (cadmium lemon) -- again, no help. I don't know what colors Picasso used, but it's a moot point because in 1954 he did not have access to the pigments that we have today, and vice versa.  Pigments in tube paints have changed over time to be more lightfast (non-fading) and less toxic and for other reasons.  I could try to duplicate his color by glazing thin layers of slightly different colors overtop, but I believe Picasso did not use glazing techniques on these paintings to achieve color ... much has been written about how artists in his generation rejected that technique.  I'm trying to use, within reason, the types of techniques that Picasso most likely used.  Finally I think I came as close as possible to reproducing that turquoise in a single opaque layer by mixing Pthalo green blue, ultramarine blue deep, and white.  

Photos never do justice to an oil painting.  If you are local, stop by my house and see the painting!             

Picasso Sylvette 1954.jpg