Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Nu couché, executed in 1934, is a depiction of the artist's twenty-five year old mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Picasso had met the young woman by chance on the streets of Paris in 1927, and shortly thereafter he began a romantic relationship with her that lasted well into the next decade. Because he was still married to Olga Kokhlova during this time, the couple's affair was largely shrouded in secrecy, even after the birth of their daughter Maya in 1935. Nevertheless, Marie-Thérèse's image appeared in numerous compositions during this period, making no mystery of the artist's fascination with his mistress. For Picasso, who was in his fifties at the time, Marie-Thérèse represented the epitome of youth and inspired a fresh, new direction in his art.
Reminiscing about this time in her life, Marie-Thérèse recounted how Picasso ushered her from the naiveté of adolescence into a world rich with pleasures that she had never before imagined. "I was seventeen years old," she recalled, "I was an innocent young girl. I knew nothing--either 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, 1993, p. 202).
Picasso was deeply struck by the sensual physicality and youthful exuberance of the girl, and she became his ultimate muse, appearing under a variety of guises in his art. Marie-Thérèse was, however, so young that she still lived with her family and it took six months of courting for Picasso to finally win her over. The relationship was a secret, hidden affair. In 1930, Picasso had installed her in an apartment on rue de la Boétie, only doors away from the home he shared with his wife Olga. Marie-Thérèse fondly remembered the days when they were "living a completely non-bourgeois love, a bohemian love" (quoted in ibid., p. 217).
Painted at the height of Picasso's affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, Nu couché perfectly captures the spirit of this intense romance. It is a deeply personal depiction of her contented sleep. The majority of Picasso's works from this period in the early 1930s depict Marie-Thérèse absorbed in a blissful slumber, as in his masterful paintings Le miroir (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 378), where she sleeps sprawled seductively in front of a mirror, and La rêve (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 364), in which she has been caught on canvas shortly after falling asleep in a chair. This remarkable series of dreamscapes, which figure among the finest achievements of Picasso's oeuvre, allow a glimpse into the couple's intimate and dream-like relationship. This relationship was intensified during summers spent at Picasso's 18th Century château in Normandy, used as a romantic hideaway, Boisgeloup. There, they could leave their worries and Picasso's wife Olga behind and live a relaxed home life together. This change prompted a dramatic shift in Picasso's art away from his violent and Surrealist-inspired distortions of the female figure to a more sensuous and gentle appreciation of flesh: a free celebration of Marie-Thérèse's youthful vitality. Picasso's explorations of the gentle undulations of her flesh and of her tranquility perfectly express the artist's exaltation of the fact that her body is his domain and that the couple can at last be at rest.
The composition of Nu couché reflects the intimacy shared by Picasso and Marie-Thérèse during this period. A close-up view that allows the figure of Marie-Thérèse to fill the frame, Picasso portrays her face and shoulders as though her body were a landscape. It is exclusively a lover's view, seen with a lover's proximity. Sweeping curves delineate the figure's breasts, hair and profile, caressing Marie-Thérèse's figure into existence. The dramatic curvature of her body perfectly captures the total relaxation of her sleep, her willful surrender to their mutual repose.