A decade later, while still exploring the Cubist idiom he and Georges Braque had invented, Picasso produced his most ambitious portrait in the Ingres manner. The subject was Vollard, one of his main dealers. "It gave me a lot of trouble," Picasso confessed to a Swedish journalist after completing the portrait. Now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the portrait offers a three-quarter view of the stout, bearded Vollard. He is seated, with legs crossed, in a chair in Picasso's Parisian studio, one hand resting on the other at his hip.
At first glance, one might think Picasso had outdone his rival. Not content to rely mainly on the linear treatment of the figure while more fully modelling the head in light and shade as well as line — Ingres's standard approach in pencil portraits such as his superb likeness of Guillaume Guillon-Lethière (1815), director of the French Academy in Rome — Picasso gave Vollard an intensely detailed treatment from head to foot, along with a rudimentary architectural setting. As a tonal study the Vollard portrait reflects the impressive grasp of graphic technique Picasso had acquired through his academic training. But as a study of the human form it would have Ingres raising his eyebrow.
For starters, Vollard just isn't put together quite right. Most problematically, he appears to be missing a goodly portion of his jawbone. His face reads like a rather shallow, U-shaped mask. As a result the structure of the side of his head and its engagement with the neck is badly resolved. Apart from the head, Picasso lavished the most care on the other unclothed portion of Vollard's anatomy: the hands. Surely he recalled Ingres's countless masterful hand studies from his Montauban visit. Vollard's fingers in particular are modeled with excruciating care — a far cry from the familiar Picasso bravura. Even so the back of the outer hand, like the wrist of the partly covered hand, is a lumpen mass and not the articulated anatomical form it should be.
Picasso also failed to draw Vollard's rump properly. He treated it, along with the better part of his upper left leg, as one big, flat receding plane, with the delineated folds in the trousers of his suit contributing nothing to its modelling. Shading lines continue straight back from the rump's outline into the space between it and the back of the chair. This is a violation of one of the most elementary canons of classical draftsmanship: that lines should "follow the form" and in doing so indicate its depth. In this case those shading lines should have curved at the rump's end so as to communicate its three-dimensionality. But Picasso followed the shade and not the form.
The familiar "subversion of academic conventions" apologia for Picasso's idiosyncracies will not wash in the Vollard portrait's case. Though working from a photograph, Picasso was doing this one straight, eager to convince himself and others that he could draw like an Old Master. Impressive as the results undeniably are, he couldn't match Ingres's draughtsmanship no matter how hard he tried. For economy of artistic means combined with flawless technique, his rival's Guillon-Lethière leaves Picasso's Vollard in the dust.