One of the greatest joys of my professional life was when we learned from the Daily Telegraph of 1 May 1984 about the will of the late Lord Amulree. Basil William Sholto Mackenzie, 2nd Baron Amulree, KBE, FRCP (1900-1983), a leading specialist in geriatrics and chronic illness, President of the Society for the Study of Medial Ethics and Liberal Peer and Whip in the House of Lords from 1955 until 1977, had bequeathed a painting by Matisse to the Tate Gallery, a Monet at the National Gallery of Scotland, a Braque to the Israel Museum in Jersusalem and Picasso’s The Offering to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. It was the English art historian and collector Douglas Cooper (1915-1985) who informed the Museum of Lord Amulree’s wonderful donation and put us in touch with the executors.
Once the legal and tax details had been dealt with, The Offering was shipped to the Museum and presented on 19 November 1985. We on the staff experienced the usual combination of initial surprise and an almost euphoric gratitude felt by any museum receiving a donation, but magnified in this case by our complete lack of personal knowledge of our generous benefactor, the entirely unexpected nature of the legacy and the importance of the work, because the series of drawings and paintings devoted to the subject of the offering is vital to any understanding of the path that led Picasso to the invention of Cubism. This gouache, small in size but very big in significance, and one of the Museum’s most emblematic works, is a paradigm of how Picasso gathered so much from the past and then dynamited it sky high to create his own language.
Pablo Picasso. The Offering. Paris 1980. Guache on cardboard paper with white
primer. 30,8 x 31,1 cm. Donated by Lord Amulree, 1985. MPB 112.716
The discovery of African art and the inclusion of Cézanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuses (1899-1906) in the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1907 had an immediate impact on the work of young artists looking for new forms of expression. Like Georges Braque and André Derain, Picasso began making paintings with deliberately schematic, primitive figures, a reflection and synthesis of the compositions of the master from Aix-en-Provence and the formal simplification of African carvings. Friendship, Three Women, Women in the Wood and The offering constituted Picasso’s response to Cézanne’s latest work.
Museu Picasso de Barcelona. The label with the sketch for The Offering (Musée Picasso, Paris)
The Offering celebrates the artist’s reconciliation with his lover Fernande and pays tribute to Cézanne’s few erotic paintings. The first preparatory drawing, on a leaf of a sketchbook dated 1907-1908, shows a reclining woman receiving a bouquet of flowers from a male figure under the watchful eye of an angel. The winged figure has disappeared in the second sketch, and a handwritten annotation in Spanish describing the scene: ‘She is lying on a bed and he / uncovers her lifting the sheet behind the hangings of the / couch and the room, he has / a bouquet of flowers in his / hand’.