The subject of this portrait is Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884–1979), a German-born art dealer, writer, and publisher. Kahnweiler opened an art gallery in Paris in 1907 and in 1908 began representing Pablo Picasso, whom he introduced to Georges Braque. Kahnweiler was a great champion of the artists’ revolutionary experiment with Cubism and purchased the majority of their paintings between 1908 and 1915. He also wrote an important book, The Rise of Cubism, in 1920, which offered a theoretical framework for the movement.
Kahnweiler sat as many as thirty times for this portrait. No longer seeking to create the illusion of true appearances, Picasso broke down and recombined the forms he saw. He described Kahnweiler with a network of shimmering, semitransparent surfaces that merge with the atmosphere around him. Forms are fractured into various planes and faceted shapes and presented from several points of view. Despite the portrait’s highly abstract character, however, Picasso added attributes to direct the eye and focus the mind: a wave of hair, the knot of a tie, a watch chain. Out of the ﬂickering passages of brown, gray, black, and white emerges a rather traditional portrait pose of a seated man, his hands clasped in his lap.