In early autumn, 1954, Pablo Picasso was living in the south of France with Jacqueline Roque, his lover, whom he had met in 1952. They would soon return to Paris, where they would live together in the artist’s studio before marrying in 1961.
Femme accroupie (Jacqueline), painted on 8 October 1954, is one of three large-easel-format canvases that Picasso executed in a rapid burst of activity on that day. The October paintings proudly celebrate his new mistress, cementing her newly established pride of place in the artist’s life and work.
‘So much of Picasso’s career can be traced through the women in his life; the loves and what they inspired in him artistically,’ says Jessica Fertig, Impressionist and Modern Art specialist at Christie’s in New York.
‘Here he is in a new relationship, and the colour and light and vibrancy you see in this painting reflects the happiness he was feeling,’ Fertig explains. ‘By presenting Jacqueline on this grand scale, he sets her apart, introducing her to the world as the woman who would carry him through the rest of his artistic career. It’s a joyful representation of this new muse, this new love who had reinvigorated the artist.’
In this work, as in each of the three October paintings, Jacqueline crouches on the floor, clasping her knees. Light streams in from an open window. The space is probably a corner of Picasso’s studio on the rue du Fournas in Vallauris, in a building that had previously housed a perfume factory.
The artist uses ‘great impasto to build up the areas surrounding Jacqueline’s eyes, to accentuate her cheekbones,’ Fertig notes, ‘playing this off the colours and textures in the background.’
The brilliant primary colours and distinct colour forms, notably those in Jacqueline’s patchwork skirt, ‘reflect the influence of Henri Matisse,’ particularly Picasso’s admiration for Matisse’s signature cut-outs. At once a longtime rival and an admired friend, Matisse was the only living artist whom Picasso recognised as his peer. Matisse would die less than a month after Picasso completed Femme accroupie.
‘We are thrilled to be bringing to market for the first time this powerful portrait of Picasso’s great love’ — Jessica Fertig, Impressionist and Modern Art specialist
One month after his friend’s death, Picasso began work on his painted variations on Eugène Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger. Ostensibly a tribute to Matisse’s Delacroix-inspired odalisques, that series was also a declaration of affection for Jacqueline.
An homage to Delacroix had been on Picasso’s mind for more than a decade; meeting Jacqueline, Picasso became intrigued by her resemblance to an odalisque figure from one of Delacroix’s harem scenes. Matisse’s death, and the arrival of Jacqueline in his life, inspired Picasso to undertake his own series of odalisques.
‘It is Jacqueline’s image that dominates Picasso’s work from 1954 until his death, longer than any of the women who preceded her,’ observed Picasso’s biographer, John Richardson. ‘It is her body that we are able to explore more exhaustively and more intimately than any other body in the history of art.’
Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) hung in Picasso’s private collection for many years and has rarely been seen in public since 1954. The artist ‘took particular pride in this painting,’ Fertig says. ‘He felt that this was really a masterpiece for him, and we are thrilled to be bringing it to market for the first time.’ On 13 November Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) will be a central highlight of Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York.