Painted on 20 April 1961, Picasso's Femme et fillettes shows his great late Muse, Jacqueline Roque, enthroned, in state, with her followers standing behind her. This picture dates from the month following his marriage to Jacqueline, who dominated both Picasso's life and his art during the fantastic flourish of his late period. This period has been celebrated more and more in recent years for the incredible vitality of this master was on clear display in the bold paintings that lined the walls, and it is that same energy and drive, that thirst for innovation and invention, that is visible in Femme et fillettes, be it in the palette, with the bleuâtre and vivid red creating an intense contrast, or the range of techniques with which he has presented this scene through processes of both addition and removal. The composition deliberately echoes portraits from the Old Masters or images of the Holy Family, yet Picasso has used those conventions precisely as a springboard for this gestural adventure in new techniques, this joyously vivid, romantic image of an imagined scene in an imagined noble household.
Femme et fillettes was painted during the period when Picasso spent much of this time in the castle that he bought in 1958, the Château de Vauvenargues. He had been disturbed by the encroaching development around his former home in the South of France, the Villa La Californie, and thus sought a new seat. It was at the suggestion of Douglas Cooper and John Richardson that the Spanish artist bought the vast and airy fortalice, which lay in the vicinity of the Mont Sainte-Victoire so immortalised by one of Picasso's greatest artistic heroes, Paul Cézanne. Because it was large and draughty, Jacqueline eventually seems to have prevailed on Picasso to choose more comfortable lodgings, eventually settling in the villa of Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins, the artist's final home. However, during the brief window when he lived at Vauvenargues, he revelled in the grandeur of the place. He painted the antique chairs in the red and gold of Castille, and introduced a similar device into his paintings: Richardson has explained that the viridian and carmine palette present in Femme et fillettes and other paintings from the period served as a form of heraldic device (J. Richardson, "L'Epoque Jacqueline," pp. 17-48, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh.cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 20). In that vein, he created a portrait of "Jacqueline de Vauvenargues," captured in profile in the role of châtelaine. And it is in that guise that she appears, with her ladies-in-waiting, in antique costume in this stately portrait for the Twentieth Century.
As well as buying a home within the almost mythological landscape of Cézanne, Picasso during this period was looking at his artistic precedents. It was during this time that he created his famous variations on the theme of Edouard Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe. As is clear from the costume in Femme et fillettes, he was also looking further into the past. Picasso once explained that, "Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt" (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, p. 51). He constantly wrestled with and paid homage to the legacies of those artists whose shadows were cast so long across the history of art in previous eras. In a sense, his adoption of their motifs revealed not only his reverence for their work, but also the degree to which he felt he had merited a place within the ranks of that cultural pantheon.
In terms of composition, Femme et fillettes recalls the group portraits from a range of eras, be it the central grouping in Goya's family of King Charles IV or even his Majas on a balcony, the Holy Family by El Greco in Toledo, Raphael's image of Pope Leo X sitting in a grand chair with two cardinals in attendance or Velasquez' Las Meninas, a picture which Picasso himself would grant one of his transformative reincarnations. In the paeans to Jacqueline that he created from the mid-1950s onwards, Picasso often looked to the past, to the world of swashbuckling cavaliers and legendary painters for inspiration. During his time in Vauvenargues, this artistic atavism was especially tuned into Picasso's own fiercely Spanish identity: the castle, its surroundings and its proximity to the bullfights he so adored all resulted in what Richardson has perceived as a markedly Spanish quality to his paintings of the period, embodied in the distinctive red and green so in evidence in Femme et fillettes. The Spanish quality that had been so in evidence in his chairs and home was now being emblazoned once more in his paintings.
Picasso had married Jacqueline on the 2 March of the same year, meaning that this picture dates from mere weeks into their marriage, although they had long lived together. This is a record, and indeed a celebration, of Picasso's marriage and of his changing family status, a notion that implies that the fillettes shown may well represent Picasso's and Jacqueline's own daughters from their former relationships, Paloma Picasso and Catherine Hutin-Blay. Indeed, the picture was painted the day after Paloma's twelfth birthday and is closely linked to another similar composition, Femme et enfants (Z XIX 464) which had been painted the previous day and is now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
For some time during Picasso's relationship with Jacqueline, as was witnessed in David Douglas Duncan's book Goodbye Picasso, Picasso's children from his relationship with Franôise Gilot and Cathy, Jacqueline's daughter, were inseparable during their holidays spent together. It may, then, be a telling indication of their possible presence in this picture that its composition relates to another painting of the same title that Picasso created during the holiday season, on 19-20 August the previous year (Z XIX 385). He followed it with another similar composition, begun on 20 August but completed when he revisited the canvas more than half a year later on 19 April 1961 (Z XIX 463), the same day that the Philadelphia picture was painted and the day before Femme et fillettes was painted, implying that this rediscovery acted as a spur to his creativity, re-engaging him with this motif.
Looking at these pictures, painted at each end of an eight month gap, it is fascinating to note the features that have been retained or abandoned as they evolved. For instance, in the two paintings begun in 1960, Picasso presented the right-hand figure in a checked skirt, captured through the use of some playful hatching reminiscent. Similarly, in both works, the left-hand figure wears a striped top, yet both these details are absent in Femme et fillettes and Femme et enfants. Perhaps the most intriguing trait, though, is the deliberate obscuring of faces in all but one of these paintings, implying that the blurred features of the right-hand figure in Femme et fillettes are the result of a very deliberate action. In the first of the four paintings, both of the "supporters" had their faces covered or obscured; similarly, in Femme et enfants, the right-hand figure's head has been largely covered in grey and green oils, the ear and neck remaining perceptible, just as the hair is still visible in Femme et fillettes. It is only in the picture that Picasso began in 1960 and resumed in 1961 that all three's features remain intact, another factor that aids in the supposition that the right-hand figure represents Cathy, as her profile can there be seen to echo the form of Jacqueline's, while the left-hand fillette has been rendered in a manner that recalls Picasso's earlier portraits of Paloma.
Looking at the deliberate campaign of erasures evidenced in the faces of three out of the four related pictures, one cannot help but wonder to what extent this reflects Picasso's own feelings. After all, as he once said, "I paint the same way some people write their autobiography" (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, op. cit., 1988, p. 28). On the other hand, this use of turpentine and paint to alter the facial features of the subjects in these works reveals an artist still able to respond to the avant-garde developments of his time. In a sense, this manoeuvre can be seen as a response to the prisoners of Jean Fautrier, or to Informel. Indeed, the range of painterly techniques at play in Femme et fillettes shows Picasso playing with the entire notion of painting. He has deconstructed the oil on canvas, leaving areas of the canvas in reserve while others are covered with a thick impasto which bears testimony to the Action Painting-like energy that the artist was expending, defiant of his age as he created a picture that stands as a vigorous proof of life. Meanwhile, the face of the left-hand figure has been rendered in a manner that is almost anti-painting: he has covered the area of the face with dark paint, then laid lighter oils on top of that and scraped them away while still wet, articulating her features through a series of removals rather than additions. Picasso was ever superstitious and, during the later portion of his formidable career, appears to have contemplated his own mortality with increasing concern; however, his paintings from those years are filled with such a palpable, electric sense of substance, motion and innovation that they stand as incredible tributes to his unceasing desire to create, and to create something new.
Femme et fillettes
Oil on canvas
WORKS FROM THE COLLECTION OF MICHAEL CRICHTON
Signed 'Picasso' (upper left); dated '20.4.61.' (on the reverse)
Pablo Picasso , 20th Century, Paintings, Spain, Modern
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Children in Art, May-June 1965.
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., Picasso: A Loan Exhibition For the Benefit of Cancer Care, Inc., The National Cancer Foundation, April-May 1975, n.p. (illustrated).
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Picasso from the Collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, June-August 1981.
Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, Picasso's World of Children, March-June 2000, pp. 101 and 214-215, no. 148 (illustrated in color).
POST-WAR & CONTEMPORARY ART
63 7/8 x 51¼ in. (162.2 x 130.2 cm.)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 19, Paris, 1968, p. 151, no. 467 (illustrated).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885-1973: The Sixties I 1960-1963, San Francisco, 2002, p. 131, no. 61-055 (illustrated).
Sam Kootz Gallery, New York
Mrs. Herbert Cameron Morris, Philadelphia
Philadelphia Museum of Art (gift from the above)
Pace Wildenstein Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner