Sylvette, Westersingel (Boijmans), fotografie: Jannes Linders 2011

The Sculpture

The large sculpture by Picasso, which the city of Rotterdam acquired following a seven-year process, depicts the nineteen-year-old girl Sylvette David. In a short period of time in 1954 Picasso made a large series of portraits of this young woman with her youthful classic profile and her hair in a ponytail including several sculptures. In this series Picasso attempted to capture his model’s unique characteristics in a broad range of styles that he had used throughout his career including the multiple viewpoints typical of his Cubist works. In this way he dissected his subject into small components and recomposed them from various viewpoints, combining profile with frontal view, eschewing all rules of perspective.

The concrete sculpture Sylvette is an enlargement of one of the small sculptures Picasso made in painted sheet metal. The technique used to create the large sculpture was developed with Picasso’s friend, the sculptor Carl Nesjar. The sculpture was cast in concrete with black pebbles. Nesjar copied the lines that Picasso had painted on the original metal sculpture by sandblasting the concrete to reveal the black pebbles. This technique, known as ‘concrete sgraffito’, produced lines that evoked the hand-painted character of the original model.

This technique led to the criticism (unjustly directed at Nesjar) that the sculpture too greatly resembles a folded line drawing rather than an autonomous sculpture that defines the space around it.


date construction 1970
trend Cubism
dimensions sculpture (hxwxl) in cm 750 x 500 x 200 (10 cm thick concrete slab)
material Concrete with black stone