Picasso painted this amply endowed and ripely colored nude on the third day of the new year 1965. He had just completed a nude seated in a chair that he began on 12 December 1964 (Zervos, vol. 24, no. 358; fig. 1). Earlier on 3 January he had also commenced painting of another seated nude, which he would finish on 5 January (Z., vol. 25, no. 6). He had been painting nudes as part of his artist and model series for almost two years. There were numerous variants on this theme: in many paintings artist is seen at his easel gazing at his model, while in others he is alone with his troubled thoughts. In a few versions Picasso has humorously turned the tables on himself and placed his model at the easel. And, of course, there are paintings of the nude alone. Hélène Parmelin has written:
"This nude, so beautiful and nonchalant, who lounges naturally on her couch or chaise longue; this nude so overwhelmingly for the Artist, full of arrogance, supremely disdainful of him; growing in the studio like a tree in the earth--with no problems, whereas the artist has so many--this nude that Picasso paints for his poor Artist in her multiple poses and solutions, is for him the double-edged major subject on which his Artist's life torments itself. The Artist's favorite reality is this woman, spirited, double in nature, whose body lends itself to the thousand elaborations of the mind, as it does to the thousand imaginations of the body and to infinite scrutiny" (in Picasso: The Artist and His Model, New York, 1965, p. 15).
The nude functioned in the dual figure artist and model paintings (fig. 2) as one party in the artist-model relationship, and as such she was a component within the context of a larger composition. Consequently, Picasso did not focus on her fleshly corporeality as an end it itself. When he painted pure nudes, the model alone, Picasso generally preferred to render their presence in a quickly applied amalgam of gestural and summary brushstrokes, as he had done in the artist and model versions, in which he created a pictorial "sign" to represent the nude as an idea in his ongoing studio dialectic (see lot ______Picasso, painter and model).
Full-bodied and voluptuous nudes that dominate the canvas, and appear as if they are almost about to burst out of the picture, as seen here, of the kind that one would most expect Picasso to paint, are surprisingly rare at this juncture; he had painted fewer than a score of them since he commenced the artist and model paintings. In the early days of 1965 he decided to bring her out again, to pose her front and center, to let her bask in the glare of the spotlight, and to completely and exclusively occupy his attention. When Picasso felt the urge to paint the nude in this way, on a large canvas with plenty of paint, the results are especially satisfying. These nudes possess a power and presence that stand out among the artist and model pictures. Here the artist has put aside the detached stance he was required to assume in the dual figure studio paintings, when his purpose was to analyze the relationship between the artist and model. He is now back behind the easel, and regarding not himself gazing on the model, but the model alone, as he sees her seated before him. He paints her. This is the act of painting brought back to its most basic and exciting form. Picasso communicates this personal experience to us directly, because he has also allowed the viewer to take his seat, as it were, and to see and feel what he sees.
The vertical pile-up of limbs and body-parts in Femme nue gives the initial impression that the model is seated; she is, however, reclining on a divan. Picasso has foreshortened her legs and tilted her upper body diagonally backwards. Her head leans backwards and to one side, which reinforces the front to back axis within the form of the figure. There are dislocations in her body, and some parts sit uneasily on others--she is nonetheless largely intact. Picasso stated, "It's all there. I try to do a nude as it is" (quoted in M.-L. Bernadac, Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 80).
Picasso claimed to have received the odalisque (fig. 3) as a legacy from Matisse upon the latter's death in 1954. Indeed, he had worked through the some of the most important attributes of this tradition in his fifteen variations on Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger in late 1954-1955, and in the Jacqueline au costume turc paintings of late 1955 (see lot 72). But he had not yet truly focused his attention on an equally significant aspect of Matisse's treatment of the odalisque: the sheer visual delight and sense of fantasy that the painter derived from the lovely presence of the girl herself. In the present Femme nue, Picasso does just that, while at the same time defining the differences between Matisse's interaction with his odalisques, and his own. Simply follow the line of the nude's crossed and foreshortened legs, and one will quickly travel to a place where Matisse never went. Mme Parmelin has observed:
"For Matisse, the sex slid, disappeared in the thighs of the odalisque. It existed primarily in harmonies, colors and arabesques The admirable nudes of Matisse have no sex, just as they have no glances. The nudes of Picasso have a glance and a sex. The sex of a nude is for him an essential part of the body whose reality he seeks For Picasso, the sex of painting and of reality is a mark as ubiquitous as the eye, it is the eye of the body, its crucial point; it is a flower of paint that expands in lines, in spots, or in colors at the tip of the stem which rises from where the legs join. It is that of a lover or a poet, without hindrance and without misunderstanding. If Picasso praises love, he makes no bones about it" (ibid., p. 158).
There is an erotic frisson in this work, more apparent than in the other nudes Picasso painted during this period, which stems the inviting nature of the pose, the spotlighting of the lower part of the body, and the strident chromaticism of the artist's palette. Mme Bernadac has pointed out, "The more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model [fig. 4], canceling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship. Painting is an act of love, according to Gert Schiff, and John Richardson speaks of 'sex as metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex'" (op. cit, p. 77).
The love which Picasso praises here are his powerful feelings for Jacqueline, his lover since 1954, and his wife for the past four years. The artist and model series is Picasso's paean to the importance of her presence in his life and the all-embracing nature of their relationship together. She is always the nude model, in as many guises as Picasso can devise for her; she is the ultimate and universal woman who is the object of the artist's obsessive attention and all his efforts. She came to embody in his eyes and mind the totality of the feminine myth, which obsessed him is his final years. "No painter has ever gone so far in unveiling the feminine universe in all the complexity of its real and fantasy life. This intimate, passionate awareness is a constant source of renewal for his painting, which revels in the variety of the repertoire of forms that it affords, mineral and carnal by turns" (ibid., p. 80). Despite her omnipresence, Jacqueline never posed. There was no need for her to do so; Picasso needed only the stimulation of her proximity and the scenarios in paintings sprang forth from his fantasies and imagination, guided by a deftly spontaneous hand born of an innate virtuosity and seasoned through long decades of hard and unrelenting work.
The synergy of artist and model lay at the very heart of creation in the studio, it also became the pulse of his daily life. The artist and model paintings, including the nudes, appears to have emerged in waves, from February to May, 1963, and in January, October, November and December 1964 and in early 1965. Their production usually subsided during the warmer months of spring and summer. It appears that Picasso most strongly felt the need to evoke this sensual aspect of the world when the days were short and the Midi weather was at its chilliest. The presence of the model, real or imagined, was welcome feminine warmth, and the Picasso knew that the irresistible attraction that drew him toward her was life itself.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Nu assis dans un fauteuil, 30 December 1964-2-3 January 1965. Private collection. BARCODE 25010213
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, 2 March 1963. Sold, Christie's New York, 9 May 2007, lot 72. BARCODE 24155854
(fig 3) Henri Matisse, Odalisque au tambourine, 1926. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE 25010206
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Couple, 23 October 1969. Private collection. BARCODE 25010190