With its vibrant palette and swirling brushstrokes, Pablo Picasso's Nu au chapeau, buste captivates the viewer with its sense of intimate, immediate presence. The portrait depicts Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso met in the summer of 1953 while both were working at the Madoura pottery works in Vallauris. He first painted Jacqueline in June 1954 and the two moved in together in September of that year. They subsequently married in Vallauris in 1961, and they remained together until Picasso's death in 1973, living on the Côte d'Azur, in Mougins. Perhaps reflecting their harmonious union as well as the longevity of their relationship, Picasso depicted Jacqueline more than any of his other lovers. William Rubin has written:
"Jacqueline never forced Picasso to choose; his relationship with her was not the agonizing, novelistic kind of love that the artist had experienced in certain of his earlier liaisons. Picasso did not have to win Jacqueline from another man, nor struggle to keep her. Her understated, gentle and loving personality combined with her unconditional commitment to him provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period of time than he had ever before enjoyed" (in "The Jacqueline Portraits in the Pattern of Picasso's Art", Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 458).
Jacqueline never actually posed for Picasso, rather, her constant presence in and around his studio served as sufficient and sustained inspiration for him. Marie-Laure Bernadac has observed: "It is characteristic of Picasso, in contrast to Matisse and many other twentieth-century painters, that he takes as his model--or as his Muse--the woman he loves and who lives with him, not a professional model the beloved woman stands for 'painting', and the painted woman is the beloved" (in "Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model", Late Picasso: Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, Prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 78).
Picasso became increasingly prolific in his later years, but Nu au chapeau, buste, which he painted on May 31, 1965, is unusual among his canvases from that year both in the variety of its richly colorful palette and in its frontal perspective. The multiplicity of vernal colors likely results from the time of year Picasso painted the composition--late spring. While several of his male portraits from this time depict the subject frontally (fig. 1), most of Picasso's female portraits from 1965 show the subject, inevitably Jacqueline, in profile (fig. 2). Here, Jacqueline appears to look straight ahead, returning the spectator's, and, more importantly, Picasso's, gaze. Upon closer inspection, however, it is possible to see that Picasso is depicting a portion of the right half of Jacqueline's face ("right" from the spectator's perspective; in actuality, her left side) in profile. This is discernible when one looks at the narrow, curved black line that stretches from just below her nose to nearly the bottom of her chin, bisecting her lips in the process. When one traces this line up from her chin to below her eye it appears to be a partial face in profile. Picasso highlights this perception through his use of a different shade of pigment, a natural, pink flesh-tone, on this section of Jacqueline's face. This combination of co-existing perspectives harks back to Picasso's Surrealist works of decades earlier. Jacqueline's solid, rectangular, phallic nose, coupled with the oval shape of her face (the three-quarters of it that is visible beneath her hat), are the only straightforward geometric shapes within a composition otherwise characterized by its turbulence and amorphousness.
Though Jacqueline stands exposed with bare breasts, her folded arms underneath bespeak a kind of determination, if not a downright stubbornness. Her prominent black eyes, eyebrows, and hair echo this sense of strength, and offset the vortex of aqua and blue hues that frame Jacqueline's head and torso. It is as if she is emerging from a sea of clouds. Her breasts, especially her nipples, are disparate in height, shape, and coloration, accentuating the air of distortion that characterizes the canvas. Further contributing to this sense of distortion are the thin black lines at the base of Jacqueline's chin, which give the appearance that a fissure exists between her head and neck. If she were a sculpture, these would be cracks. As Bernadac has written of Picasso's late portraits, figures seem "to erupt from this molten mass, in which painting and drawing unite within a single surface to form the body of the picture, its flesh and its armature. Picasso is deforming rather than forming... Before the final period, Picasso had always given his forms an outline which he invented and traced in order to impose his own vision on the paint; now, on the other hand, it is the matière, the paint itself, that gives 'form'" (ibid., p. 87).
Perhaps the most striking feature within the composition is Jacqueline's hat, for it, as much as she, is the focal point of the painting. Its bright chartreuse color clashes with the aqua background, and the royal blue that outlines it, to say nothing of the ostensibly random patch of red that floats nearby. The black markings that adorn the hat remind the viewer of primitive drawings, perhaps a reference to the African-inspired compositions of Picasso's analytical Cubist period. The shape of Jacqueline's Baroque-style hat combines elements of a conquistador's helmet, a tribute to Picasso's Spanish heritage, and a musketeer's hat, albeit with more pronounced wings. The latter seems to foretell Picasso's interest in the musketeers, whom he painted in various incarnations from 1967 onward (fig. 3).
Picasso's rediscovered appreciation for the work of Rembrandt around this date was the impetus for his fascination with the musketeer--one of Picasso's musketeer portraits is subtitled/inscribed Domenico Theotocopulos van Rijn da Silva, a combination of the lesser-known portions of the names of El Greco, Rembrandt, and Velázquez, respectively--Picasso's triumvirate of Old Masters. It is likely that the aging Picasso felt an affinity for the mature Rembrandt, who was an avatar for him--an artist with longevity whose work continued to evolve, and remain worthwhile and relevant, into his old age. Moreover, Jacqueline seems to have played an analogous role to Picasso as Saskia did to Rembrandt: beloved spouse and artistic muse. Picasso created his own versions of many Rembrandt compositions, and his prolific late self-portraits were informed by Rembrandt's continuous exercises in artistic self-reflection. He admired Rembrandt's Self-Portrait with Saskia (see lot _, fig. _), not least for its element of fantasy denoted by the artist's use of costume both on himself and on his wife. Jacqueline's hat is certainly a form of costume, and a fantastical one at that. As Bernadac has noted of Picasso: "no painter has ever gone so far in unveiling the feminine universe in all the complexity of its real and fantasy life" (ibid., p. 80). It is the subtle boundaries between the two that Picasso well navigates in Nu au Chapeau, Buste.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Homme au Chapeau, 25 May 1965, Private Collection. BARCODE 24409759
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Jacqueline, 4-5 April 1965, Estate of Jacqueline Picasso. BARCODE 24409735
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire: Buste, 28 May 1967, Private Collection. BARCODE 24409742