1908 by Pablo Picasso
The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Dryads are tree nymphs from Greek mythology and what is so interesting about this painting, is how Picasso has taken a subject that has preoccupied painters for centuries and completely applied to it his Modernist style. Flowery nymphs, delicate creatures feared and famed for their beauty, are radically transformed with Picasso’s Cubism. Slender limbs become angular articulations of muscle; pale milky skin is warmed with the deepness of orange and brown, textured colour that speaks of the earth in bold unblended brush strokes. For Picasso the texture of painted skin plays to the lines of the body, rather than the surface of flesh. The poised body is full of movement; the right arm curving to follow the fingers that cup open, the legs bent, angled outwards, supported on large but beautiful feet. It is a simple depiction of the body, honest and open in nudity that is unobtrusive and un-provoking. This openness is encouraged by the face, expressively angled in only a number of lines. Mouthless, everything is in the eyes that look without looking; so simply articulated, they are barely a shadow, mirroring the looming shapes in the background. Like the body, the background is subtle in its construction; shapes that simply build the presence of forest behind. The natural hues of the dryad’s skin is reflected in the warmth and darkness of the wood that surrounds her, while the trees’ green shadow gathers across the contours of her body: an exchange and unification of the nymph and her forest. Picasso depicts what many have done before him, but utterly uniquely, depending not on our classic expectation, but on medium and literal articulation of line, creating a figure truly entwined with her surroundings.