Picasso painted this gorgeously sensuous portrait of a young demi-mondaine during his first stay in Paris in the fall of 1900, as documented in both Zervos and Daix (op. cit., 1932 and 1967). When he arrived in the capital with his Catalan friend Carles Casagemas, he was but a few days short of his 19th birthday on 25 October. Manuel Pallarès, another companion, joined them soon afterward. Picasso was eager to attend the Exposition Universelle before it closed on 12 November; a major exhibition of Impressionist painting was on view, and the Spanish pavilion was showing one of Picasso’s own recent paintings, Derniers moments (painted over as La Vie, 1903; Zervos, vol. 1, no. 179). But most of all the teenaged artist wanted to live, to paint and to prove his worth in the very center of the art world–Paris.
Their compatriot Isidre Nonell offered the young men the use of his large studio in Montmartre while he was away. There Picasso, Casagemas and Pallarès could enjoy the comradery of the sizable Catalan ex-patriate community in Paris, and experience the fabled attractions of genuine bohemian nightlife. In a letter dated 25 October, its margins embellished with Picasso’s sketches, Casagemas wrote to their friend Ramon Reventós in Barcelona: “We have already launched into work. Now we have a model... We'll have to work furiously for we're already thinking about the painting we're going to send to the next Salon... So you'll see if we make it!” (M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology, Princeton, 1981, p. 27).
The young men quickly fell in with a trio of girls, friends of Nonell, who called themselves "models," one of whom is likely the subject of the present painting. Germaine Florentin (née Gargallo) and Antoinette Fornerod were half-sisters. Casagemas fell deeply in love with Germaine. She spoke Spanish well, which made her popular among the artists of the Catalan colony, most of whom, like Picasso, knew little if any French. The third model was Louise Lenoir, who called herself “Odette.” Although she did not speak Spanish, she became Picasso's girlfriend. Pallarès settled for Antoinette, and to regulate matters in this crowded household, he posted a notice to the group that gave hours for sleeping, eating, painting and even love-making.
The public display of affection that was commonplace among Parisians–not only prostitutes, but elsewhere among the lower classes, and even outside a déclassé neighborhood like Montmartre–astonished Picasso. "That raw sexuality could be harnessed to art was one of the major revelations of Paris,” John Richardson observed. “Accustomed as he was to Spanish constraint, Picasso was surprised to see couples not only embracing in public but depicted doing this in the works of artists like Steinlen... In Barcelona people did not publicly display sexual attraction for another outside the Barri Xino [a red-light district]. In Paris they did so all over the place” (A Life of Picasso, Volume I: 1881-1906, New York, 1991, p. 168).
The affair between Casagemas and Germaine was turning out badly. Hoping to distract his friend, Picasso took him on a trip during the New Year 1901 holiday to Málaga, the seaside city in Andalusia where Picasso grew up and had relatives. Their departure marked the end of the artist’s first Paris venture. Casagemas thereafter returned to resume his ill-fated liaison with Germaine–he killed himself in February 1901, while Picasso was working in Madrid. When Picasso returned to Paris in May 1901 to prepare for his exhibition at Vollard’s gallery, he dropped Odette and took up with Germaine.