PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Sylvette (A.R. 267)
dated '31.3.55.' (in reverse; lower centre); stamped 'Madoura / Empreinte Originale de Picasso' (underneath)
terracotta bowl with black engobe and glaze
Diameter: 634 in. (17.3 cm.)
Conceived on 31 March 1955 and executed in an edition of 100
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Lot Essay

Sylvette David, now Lydia Corbett, was the muse for a landmark series of works that Pablo Picasso made in the spring and summer of 1954. Instantly recognisable within his œuvre for her long, blonde ponytail, she is also notably one of the few muses with whom the artist was not romantically involved.

Born in Paris, David grew up on the French Riviera, leaving France briefly as a teenager to attend the famous Summerhill boarding school in England. Upon her return to Vallauris, she encountered Picasso by chance whilst delivering a chair the great artist had commissioned from her fiancé, the English furniture maker Tobias Jellinek. Describing herself as very shy and reserved during this initial encounter, she immediately caught Picasso’s attention, and saw him again unexpectedly a few weeks later: ‘It was March, nice sunshine, and we drank and smoked, drank coffee... So Picasso saw us there and came over the wall with this paper, or was it a little canvas, with a very simple image of a girl with a ponytail. We realised that it was me and off we went to see him. He opened the door and he was so happy… He embraced me; he was so happy to see me: “I want to paint you, paint Sylvette!”’ (quoted in Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette: Picasso and the Model, exh. cat., Kunsthalle Bremen, 2014, New York, 1964, p. 119).

The artist was intrigued by her silhouette, and invited her and Jellinek to his home in La Galloise. From this moment onwards, Picasso would go on to depict Sylvette in every medium conceivable in a series of around sixty works: paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, prints. These portraits of Sylvette were to become important cultural icons of the 1950s, elevating the new generation of post-war teenagers into high art. Klaus Gallwitz wrote of the series “What makes the Sylvette portraits remarkable is that through Picasso's paintings, this young girl came to typify a whole generation. Young people recognized themselves in these portraits when they saw them in exhibitions or reproductions. The ponytail (which was not an invention of Picasso's) and Sylvette's high carriage of the head became fashionable styles à la Picasso. For the first time since the war one of Picasso's portraits had become the idol of a rising generation" (K. Gallwitz, Picasso at 90: The Late Work, New York, 1971, p. 90).

Corbett has been a practicing artist since the 1970s, and lists Picasso and Chagall as some of the inspirations behind her creative practice. She signs her works with two names: Sylvette David, her birthname and the name under which Picasso knew her; and Lydia Corbett, her current name – having been rebaptised as ‘Lydia’ after becoming a member of ‘Subud’ in the 1960s.

Christie’s is delighted to be offering a selection of works from the private collection of Sylvette David, now Lydia Corbett, as well as two original paintings

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