In the early days of January 1965, Picasso executed a series of large canvases on the theme of a seated female nude. The present work is one of the first from this series completed at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, the home that he shared with Jacqueline in Mougins. Painted in quick succession, these works bear witness to the extraordinary energy and creative urge that characterized Picasso’s late years. Having gone through many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, by this time Picasso had acquired a confidence and freedom that enabled him to paint monumental works in quick, spontaneous brush-strokes. Rather than ponder over the details of human anatomy and perspective, the artist was able to isolate those elements of his subject that fascinated and preoccupied him, namely the symbols of erotic desire and threat embodied in the female nude.
The motif of a nude figure seated in an armchair occurred repeatedly throughout Picasso’s career. While varying in style and depicting different women that marked each period of the artist’s life, these nudes always served as a vehicle of expressing the palpable sexual tension between the painter and his model. From the soft, voluptuous curves of Marie-Thérèse Walter, to the fragmented, near-abstract nudes of his Surrealist works, and the geometrical rendering of his later years, Picasso’s seated nudes have a monumental, sculptural presence, and are invariably depicted with a powerful sense of psychological drama stemming from the tension between the invisible artist and his sitter. Although the figure of the painter is not portrayed within the composition, his persona is very much present in this work. Picasso’s concerns regarding the act of painting and the role of the artist, explored in the series of works on the theme of artist and model, carried onto his series of seated nudes, including Femme nue assise dans un fauteuil. The monumental nude, looming large on her throne like a pagan goddess, is not isolated in her own world. Her significance is in her relationship with her creator at the same time as with the viewer – a tantalizing relationship of attraction and menace.
In his discussion of Picasso’s late works, David Sylvester links them to his early masterpiece, Demoiselles d’Avignon (see fig. 3), both distinguished by the ‘raw vitality’ which they have as their central underlying theme: “The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours. Despite the rich assortment of allusions to paintings in the Renaissance tradition, the treatment of space rejects that tradition in favour of an earlier one, the flat unperspectival space of, say, medieval Catalan frescoes… At twenty five, Picasso’s raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopaedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopaedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality” (David Sylvester, Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953-1972, Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 144).
In various periods of his work, Picasso’s art was closely related to his personal life, and the women depicted in his paintings were always influenced by Picasso’s female companions at the time. In Femme nue assise dans un fauteuil, the female figure is inspired by Jacqueline, the last love of his life, whom Picasso married in 1961, and although she is not a direct likeness of Jacqueline, with her large eyes and sharp profile, she bears the features with which Picasso usually portrayed his last muse. The essence of Jacqueline, who never posed as his model, is always present in his portraits of the period. As demonstrated in the present work, Picasso often depicted Jacqueline in ‘double-profile’, a stylistic device invented in his portraits of Dora Maar, but the roots of which go back to his cubist experiments with multiple view-points. Whilst borrowing elements from his own artistic past, Picasso here created an image with a force and freedom he only achieved in his last years.
Fig. 1, Picasso and Jacqueline at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, 1961. Photograph by Jacqueline Picasso.
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Femme nue assise, January 7, 1965 (II), oil on canvas, Mougins, Private Collection
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Oil on canvas
Paris, Picasso: Fête de l'humanité, 1972
45 5/8 by 35 in. 116 by 89 cm Painted on January 3, 5 and 8, 1965 in Mougins.
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1965 à 1967, vol. 25, Paris, 1972, no. 6, illustrated pl. 3
Carsten-Peter Warncke, Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973, vol. II, The Works 1937-1973, Cologne, 1994, illustrated p. 627 (as dating from August 3-5)
The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Sixties II, 1964-1967, San Francisco, 2002, no. 65-005, illustrated p. 136
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Acquavella Galleries, New York (acquired from the above in 1993)
Acquired from the above in 1993