Created in the middle of spring 1965, Picasso’s Femme nue couchée is a testament to the artist’s inexhaustible fascination with the heady eroticism and allure of the female figure. Along with compositions of the painter and his model, the reclining nude was one of the most enduring themes the artist explored during this late period of his career, a subject he returned to and reinvented in endless iterations. In the present Femme nue couchée, Picasso shuns the soft, smooth contours and delicate proportions that typified his predecessors’ works, and instead seeks to accentuate the sheer physicality of the sitter’s voluptuous form. Through a series of bold, supple lines, Picasso enhances the figure’s volumes and features to illustrate the fleshy appeal of the female body.
Executed on a piece of plywood using a mixture of oil, charcoal and pencil, Femme nue couchée captures a sense of the spontaneity of Picasso’s style in the mid-1960s. The subtle revision of lines and quick, dynamic strokes of charcoal evident in this work suggest a rapidity of execution and fluency of technique that reflects the impulsive nature of the artist’s vision. Describing the unpremeditated nature of his art, Picasso explained: “when you start drawing a line, you don’t know where it’s going to go—it starts and goes on until something stops it or makes it turn” (quoted in C. Lloyd, Picasso and the Art of Drawing, London, 2018, p. 17). This aspect of Femme nue couchée is further highlighted by the presence of a slight pentimento just visible in the upper left corner of the composition, its lines suggesting a delicate re-working of the face to transform the painting from a profile view to a more complex conception of the woman as she allows her head to stretch backwards, elongating her neck and resting her chin gently in the palm of her hand.