Picasso’s wartime portraits generally depict Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse Walter—the artist’s dual mistresses. The identities of a few other sitters are unclear or unfamiliar to most people today. There are several pictures of one exemplary young woman, who may be singled out as an unsung heroine in Picasso’s life, having remained by the artist’s side for more than three decades while his lovers came and went. Inès Sassier, née Odorisi, served Picasso as his housekeeper, and became a trusted friend and confidante. Painted in Paris on 4 April 1942, signed and dedicated to her, the present picture may be admired as the most warmly appealing portrait that Picasso ever painted of the lovely, helpful Inès.
Dora had noticed Inès while vacationing with Picasso at the Hôtel Vaste Horizon in Mougins during the summer of 1938. Inès, then sixteen, “was working there with her elder sister,” Picasso told the photographer Brassaï. “Inès as chambermaid and her sister as cook. She was beautiful. She was kind. So we took her and brought her back to Paris” (quoted in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, p. 156). He also returned with a painting he had done of her (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 209). At the beginning of the war, while Picasso and his entourage were staying in Royan, Inès moved back to Mougins, where she married Gustave Sassier. She returned with her husband to Paris in the spring of 1942, and moved into a small apartment below Picasso's rooms and studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins. The present portrait was painted at this time.
In his recollection of a meeting with Picasso in the studio on 9 April 1944, Brassaï wrote, “Suddenly, the door opens. Inès enters, holding springtime in her arms: an armful of lavender and white lilies. Picasso: ‘Isn’t Inès beautiful? Have you seen the color of her eyes? You should photograph her one day.’ The graceful young woman is decorating the room with flowers…With her matte complexion, her long black hair, her always-beaming smile, and her flowered dresses, she could be taken for a Polynesian vahine” (ibid.). Brassaï did in fact photograph Inès soon afterwards, as illustrated in this catalogue essay.
“There was not much for her to cook with in Paris,” Patrick O’Brian wrote. “However, Inès did a great deal with very little; she was thoroughly used to Picasso; she fed him as well as she could, and she kept a neat house where he wanted it to be neat. Theirs was a pleasant southern relationship, tyrannical at times, with loud expostulations on either side, but entirely human, and the place was far less austere with Inès in it” (op. cit., 1976, p. 357).
Inès’s presence in wartime Paris was moreover a blessing for Marie-Thérèse and Maya, who lived on the boulevard Henri IV. “My father had unlimited trust in Inès, like he had in his friend Sabartés,” Maya later recalled. “She is for me a wonderful memory from my youth. She was a true ray of light for us, always happy, always gracious” (in correspondence with Christie’s London, 30 March 2002; sale, 27 June 2002, lots 392-393).
Inès witnessed the stormy end of Picasso’s affair with Dora, and was present for Picasso’s rediscovery of family life with children after the war, during his relationship with Françoise Gilot—but this also ended badly. Stability returned, beginning in the mid-1950s, during l’époque Jacqueline. Inès's quarters became a shrine to Picasso's art, crammed with the etchings, gouaches, and portraits of her created as birthday gifts, testimonies to the durability of one of the few constant and lasting relationships during the last third of the artist’s life.
signed and dedicated ‘Picasso Pour Ines’ (lower center); dated ‘4.AVRIL.1942.’ (on the stretcher)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Paris, Galerie Taménaga, Thirtieth Anniversary, 2001.
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 229 (illustrated; with incorrect dimensions).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1961, vol. 12, no. 34 (illustrated, pl. 13; with incorrect dimensions).
P. O'Brien, Pablo Ruiz Picasso: A Biography, New York, 1976, p. 357.
Inès Sassier, Vallauris (gift from the artist).
Heinz Berggruen & Cie., Paris.
Galerie Taménaga, Tokyo (by 2001).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, circa 2008.