Yes, Virginia, there is a Picasso
It's doubtful Virginia attorney general Kenneth T. Cuccinelli will be at Christie's New York auction house tonight, when Pablo Picasso's 1932 "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" will be hammered down to what everyone, everywhere seems to assume will be a stratospheric price. (The Christie's estimate is unpublished, but it has been reported at between $70 million and $90 million.)
Cuccinelli caused coast-to-coast eye-rolls the other day when he distributed lapel-pins featuring the Virginia state seal to his staff. The seal has been around for more than 200 years, but suddenly the bare-breasts of a classical Roman female figure of Virtue were apparently deemed too randy: On the pin they were covered up.
“I cannot believe that joking with my staff about Virtue being a little more ‘virtuous’ in this antique version has become news," Cuccinelli said in a statement Monday. "This is simply a media-made issue that has become distracting to the work of my office. I am going to end this distraction by discontinuing future use of the pin."
The Picasso, meanwhile, is from the artist's great Dirty Old Man period -- which is to say, most everything he made after the age of about 19.
"Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," which had been hanging near the piano in the Holmby Hills estate of the late Sidney and Frances L. Brody since 1951, shows Picasso's mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, writhing naked beneath a classical bust that also represents her. Behind the bust is a looming profile of Picasso, his lips touching a bulbous leaf that crosses a male sex organ with a female one. Another sign of sexual intercourse is glimpsed in Marie-Therese's stiff thumb and open ear; they're artfully placed above a plate of apples that recalls Cezanne, father of Modern art, and Eve, mother of sexual desire.
As for the green plant, it appears to be growing from Marie-Therese's side. She's transformed into the ancient Greek nymph Daphne, who morphed into a laurel tree in order to escape the grasping clutches of Apollo. And that, of course, leaves the artist in the grandiose role of Olympian god of truth, light and art.
Meanwhile, back in Virginia, things are a bit gloomier: Cuccinelli is being compared to Bush Administration Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose office infamously covered the naked bosom of an art deco statue of the "Spirit of Justice" a few months after 9/11.
--Christopher KnightFollow Times art critic Christopher Knight on Twitter: @KnightLAT
Photo: Pablo Picasso, "Nude, Green Leaves and Bust," 1932; Credit: Christies