Painted during the winter of 1961-62, L'atelier focuses on the relationship between artist and his model - a common theme in Picasso's work of the 1950s and 1960s. The present work is one of the most elaborate depictions of this subject, in which the artist has included several models posing for the painter on the right. The setting for this picture was the studio at La Californie in which Picasso spent the majority of his time during the 1960s, and the likenesses of the female figures are inspired by the artist's wife Jacqueline (see fig. 5).
Picasso began L'atelier on November 27, 1961, the same day that he executed a similar composition, Femme couchée dans un intérieur (see fig. 1). Both of these works include a richly textured interior, featuring a reclining nude in the center of the composition and another nude model seated to her right. According to the dates inscribed on the back of the canvas, Picasso began painting this picture in late November and completed it in January of the following year. With the inclusion of the figure of the painter, Picasso introduces the dialogue between artist and model which Femme couchée dans un intérieur did not address. As Michael FitzGerald writes, "... the large easel Picasso frequently included to anchor the scene is not present. Instead the artist holds a small rectangle (probably a sketch pad) in his hands. His position at an edge of the composition is a strategy Picasso had used frequently to upset an assumption of the artist's dominance. As a result, the picture is devoted to the women..." (Michael FitzGerald, Picasso: The Artist's Studio (exhibition catalogue), Hartford, Connecticut, 2001, p. 164).
The origins of this composition can be traced back to Picasso's series from six years earlier, Les Femmes d'Alger (see fig. 2). Picasso began his reinterpretation of Delacroix's famous composition shortly after the death of his longtime friend and artistic rival Henri Matisse. With this series, Picasso was not only attempting to elevate himself to the ranks of the great French painters Delacroix and Ingres, but he was also responding the influence of Matisse and the chromatic richness of his odalisques (see figs. 3 and 4). As Susan Grace Galassi writes, "In the Women of Algiers ... various artistic presences are synthesized. Likewise, Picasso's series encompasses multiple modern idioms, while Delacroix is 'altered' to accommodate Velázquez, Ingres, and Matisse. Picasso's own seminal, early masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, for which Delacroix's painting served as a source, hovers as a reference throughout the series.... The subject of the harem itself is fused with the studio and the brothel to become an allegory of creation. Thus, the Romantic impulse toward the continual expansion of boundaries is absorbed and carried out in Picasso's response, in which every element is transformed into something else" (Susan Grace Galassi, Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 147). L'atelier is a clear inheritor of the stylistic concerns of this famous series. But now, as if reflecting upon his own role in the production of his art, Picasso has inserted himself into this colorful studio-as-seraglio by including the painter presiding over the entire spectacle.
After Picasso finished work on L'atelier, the painting remained in his collection until it was acquired by the photographer David Douglas Duncan. The work was never publicly exhibited until it entered the Nasher collection in 1985, where it has remained ever since. When Jacqueline Picasso saw the work at the Nasher home in 1985, she commented that she still owned the blue canopy that appears above the central nude in the composition.
Oil on canvas
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne; London, The Tate Gallery, Late Picasso, 1988, no. 16 (Paris no. 24), illustrated in color in the catalogue (titled Femmes nues dans un intérieur)
29 3/8 by 36 1/4 in. 74.5 by 92 cm
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Sixties I, 1960-1963, San Francisco, 2002, no. 62-033, illustrated p. 222 (titled Femmes nues dans un intérieur)
Robert J. Bliwise, "The Collector: Raymond D. Nasher," Duke Magazine, Durham, May - June 2003, pp. 24-33
David Douglas Duncan (acquired from the artist in 1962)
Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne
Acquired from the above in 1985
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