The figures in this raucously festive, bucolic fantasy represent Picasso, in the form of a bearded surrogate, at left and Marie-Thérèse Walter in various guises--as painted and sculpted subject, and voyeur to the act of artistic production--throughout. Picasso's association with Marie-Thérèse began in 1927 (although some commentators claim they met earlier) when she was still a teenager living with her mother. Many years later she told Life magazine, "I was seventeen years old. I was an innocent young girl. I knew nothing--neither of life or of Picasso. Nothing. I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said: 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together'" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1987, p. 202).
The romance persisted into the next decade fostering some of Picasso's most magnificent, and loving, masterpieces. During the first four years of their affair, Picasso, who was still living with his wife Olga, devised a series of highly original pictorial idioms so that he could devote one picture after another to the depiction of Marie-Thérèse and yet disguise her identity. After Picasso purchased the Château de Boisgeloup in June 1930 and converted its stables into his studio, he returned to making sculpture for the first time in nearly two decades, inspired principally by his obsession with Marie-Thérèse, and it was only in December 1931 that Picasso finally represented Marie-Thérèse in a fully recognizable fashion. Robert Rosenblum has written, "In surveying the emotional and pictorial graph of Marie-Thérèse's covert and overt presence in Picasso's life and art, there is no doubt that 1932 marks the peak of fever-pitch intensity and achievement, a year of rapturous masterpieces that reach a new and unfamiliar summit in both his painting and sculpture" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 361). The present drawing, dating to the following spring 1933, not only underscores Picasso's compulsive relationship with his muse, but cleverly reflects on Marie-Thérèse as witness to her own multifarious artistic iterations.
To interpret the present work it is most useful to consult the print series Picasso completed a month prior in March 1933 while still in Paris before departing to Boisgeloup. Picasso devoted multiple etchings to the theme of both himself and Marie-Thérèse contemplating his sculptures of her. In Sculpteurs, modèles et sculpture (fig.1; Geiser and Baer, vol. II, no. 301), Picasso depicts three identical versions of his bearded, classically-fashioned, artist persona alter ego regarding a statue of Marie-Thérèse; the statue directly prefigures the statue at far right in the present work, both characterized by bulbous contours suggesting multiple, and possibly displaced, breasts, and emphasizing the sinuous curves of femininity. Sculpteurs, modèles et sculpture also features a Marie-Thérèse observer figure, in the upper center drawing back the curtains slightly, in a comparable location to the pair leaning over a ledge here. A subsequent etching, titled Dormeuse et sculptures (Geiser and Baer, vol. II, no. 306) celebrates diverse subjecthood by incorporating an elaborate seated figure, a dormeuse reminsicent of Picasso's paintings from 1931, and a simple bust on a pedestal. Finally, Sculpteur et son modèle avec un buste sur une colonne (fig. 2; Geiser and Baer, vol. II, no. 322), most closely prescribes the composition of the present work: the artist reclines at left smugly regarding his most recent invention. However, the bust, as previously mentioned, has been further elaborated as a statue, and the decapitated Marie-Thérèse head cradled in Picasso's right arm (a direct reference to the bust) has been replaced by the two dimensional Marie-Thérèse profile, introducing a self-evidently graphic element for the first time. By placing the drawn profile facing outwards directly above the artist's male organ, Picasso magnifies the basic metaphor of his libidinous relationship with Marie-Thérèse's image to suggest his appetite for all kinds of artistic production. The drawn profile functions as a mirror, effectively realizing the elision between Picasso's artistic inspiration and sexual desire, by inviting the viewer to imagine themselves in his art, and in his bed. A profile drawn just loosely enough--like a generic pick-up line--to say: this could be you.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Sculpteurs, Modèles et Sculpture, 1933.
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Sculpteur et son modèle avec un buste sur une colonne, 1933.