PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Property from a Distinguished Private Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Femme assise au chapeau de paille (Marie-Thérèse)

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Femme assise au chapeau de paille (Marie-Thérèse)
dated '2.7.38.' (upper left)
oil on canvas
25 5/8 x 21 1/4 in. (65 x 54 cm.)
Painted on 2 July 1938
Estate of the artist.
Private collection, France (by descent from the above).
Pace Gallery, New York.
Private collection (acquired from the above, 1996).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, 3 February 2004, lot 46.
Private collection, Europe (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015.
D.D. Duncan, Picasso's Picassos: The Treasures of La Californie, London, 1961, p. 234 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Minotaur to Guernica, 1927-1939, Barcelona, 2011, pp. 385-386 and 448, no. 1191 (illustrated, p. 386).
Further details
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Painted in the summer of 1938, and depicting his paramour Marie-Thérèse Walter, Femme assise au chapeau de paille exemplifies Pablo Picasso’s bold, evocative approach to portraiture during the turbulent 1930s. The work remained in Picasso’s personal collection for the entirety of his life, a testament to its significance to the artist; such was the magnetic allure of Marie-Thérèse, the statuesque beauty who captured Picasso’s heart. The painting is one of three related portraits of Marie-Thérèse that Picasso painted between the 2nd and 3rd of July 1938, and it was likely executed just before he left Paris for his annual summer migration to the South of France, or shortly after his arrival. Indeed, Femme assise au chapeau de paille exudes heat and sunshine, the tranquility of a summer’s afternoon, love amongst the flowers.
Marie-Thérèse and Picasso’s initial encounter has long been chronicled: Picasso first caught sight of the young woman outside the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris on 8 January 1927. Enchanted by Marie-Thérèse's blonde hair and bright blue eyes, he approached. “You have an interesting face,” he said. “I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together. I am Picasso” (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, London, 2007, vol. III, p. 323). Despite his fame, Marie-Thérèse had no idea who this man was, so Picasso brought her to a nearby shop and showed her a book about his art. That he was a painter intrigued her because her mother had had a great love affair with an artist, and to Marie-Thérèse, it felt as if “the same story were about to begin all over again” (quoted in ibid., p. 323).
After chatting, Marie-Thérèse agreed to see Picasso again, and she visited his studio on rue la Boétie just a few days later, on 11 January. At this second meeting, he did little more than observe her face and body, the way she carried herself. As Marie-Thérèse was preparing to depart, Picasso asked her to return again the following day. Thus began a love affair that would indelibly mark Picasso’s life and art. From there, their relationship blossomed—the artist insisted on seeing Marie-Thérèse daily, and the two took long walks along the quai de la Marne, enjoyed the circus and amusement parks, and spent afternoons shopping.
Although intoxicated by his new romance, Picasso was still married to Olga Khokhlova. But even as he took great pains to conceal his passionate, heady affair from his wife, Marie-Thérèse's presence found its way into Picasso’s art. In private, he sketched tender drawings of her face, crafting her as a modern-day Raphaelite Madonna. In works that were to be shown publicly, Picasso transfigured Marie-Thérèse in to objects and biomorphic beings, or else incorporated her monogram into a series of still lifes. Such coded transformations were characteristic of the artist from who, observed William Rubin, “portraiture casts the very concept of identity into doubt” (“Reflections on Picasso and Portraiture,” W. Rubin, ed., Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 13). Personhood, under Picasso’s hand, was amorphous and pliable, yet over time and despite his attempts otherwise, Marie-Thérèse’s aesthetic manifestation became undeniable.
In part, this was due to the fact that Marie-Thérèse’s face and being inspired an “avalanche of work” from Picasso (op. cit., p. 323). Such euphoria could hardly be contained and the paintings of these years radiate a desire and passion previously unseen in his art. Moved by the youth, beauty, and sensual physicality of his young paramour, Picasso began to fill his canvases with Marie-Thérèse’s voluptuous body, “arresting face,” and “Grecian profile” (op. cit., New York, 1964, p. 241). She provoked a transformation and inspired a radical and novel understanding of the female body, at once surreal, abstract, and colossal. In works such as Femme nue dans un fauteuil rouge (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 364; Tate Collection, London) and La Rêveuse (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 407; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), Picasso represented her in almost Fauvist terms, depicting Marie-Thérèse in lilac and periwinkle, a palette which would carry through to the present work, Femme assise au chapeau de paille. Indeed, although painted more than three decades earlier, vestiges of Henri Matisse’s Femme au chapeau, 1905, can be seen in the present work’s bold planes and sculptural use of color.
In 1935, Picasso formally separated from Khokhlova—who, according to rumor, learned of Marie-Thérèse's identity after seeing her face in dozens of paintings exhibited at the artist’s Galerie Georges Petit retrospective in 1932—but despite promising a dozen times to marry Marie-Thérèse, he did not, swearing to remarry only after his former wife’s death. It was not simply tradition that kept him from commitment, but the allure of other liaisons. In 1936, Picasso met Dora Maar, a young photographer closely connected to the Surrealist movement. Dark haired and intense, she possessed what Picasso called the “mirada fuerte,” or a strong, powerful gaze (M. Caws, Dora Maar with & without Picasso: A Biography, London, 2000, p. 120). Dora was in many ways Marie-Thérèse’s antithesis, and though united in their shared devotion to the artist, the two were entirely opposite in terms of appearance and temperament. If Marie-Thérèse has been likened to a serene moon goddess, Dora, according to the writer Bernard Minoret, “took things and life seriously” (quoted in ibid.).
If in 1931 and 1932 Marie-Thérèse stood center stage in Picasso’s oeuvre, by 1938—the year Femme assise au chapeau de paille was executed—she shared the spotlight with Dora. Although the two women’s rivalry has been the subject of much analysis, Dora never supplanted Marie-Thérèse in Picasso’s eye. Instead they represented an equilibrium, and both provided him with powerful artistic stimulus. While Dora was the more public, and thus more visible, companion, Marie-Thérèse nevertheless remained symbolic of domestic life, sharing with Picasso a great, enduring love. In a letter dated 8 January 1936, the anniversary of their first encounter, she wrote, “Just to say that I have loved you for nine years. I love you and give you everything I have” (quoted in M. Bernadac and C. Piot, eds., Picasso: Collected Writings, trans. C. Volk and A. Bensoussan, London, 1989, p. 393). Indeed, the same year he met Dora, Marie-Thérèse moved with Maya, her daughter with Picasso, to Tremblay-sur-Mauldre into a studio owned by Ambroise Vollard. Picasso visited most weekends, and although he found himself swept up by his new relationship with Dora, he nevertheless remained in Marie-Thérèse’s thrall. The two women came to represent alternate archetypes within the artist’s life, and he loved them both. “Marie-Thérèse because she was sweet and gentle..” he told his future partner Françoise Gilot, “and Dora because she was intelligent” (quoted in F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 211). For a brief spell, he had everything that he could ever want.
In the works of these years, Picasso frequently painted his two muses as polar opposites, pitting them against one another in separate canvases: Marie-Thérèse rendered in lilac, sky blue, and vivid green, and the darker Dora, who was all sharp angles, deep reds, and black stripes. The most “elegant” example of this can be seen in twinned portraits dating to 1937, whose distinctions Brigitte Léal succinctly captures: “…each of these paintings shows the sitter in a similar position, a bust facing front, in the classic pose of melancholy but without morbid ostentation, seated in an armchair in a cramped, narrow space. For Marie-Thérèse, supple lines, curving forms, and pastel and light colors suggest a casual sensuality, a cheerful plenitude. For Dora, there are broken lines, acute, even jagged, angles, like the scarlet claws of her nails; the colors are loud and uneven. The black wings of her blouse recall a bird of prey, caged in a sort of barred cell” (“‘For Charming Dora’: Portraits of Dora Maar,” exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 392).
By showing Marie-Thérèse and Dora similarly posed, Picasso was able to nimbly juxtapose the leading women of his life. Indeed, the motif of a woman in a chair recurred throughout his career, providing Picasso with a stable site for his visual experimentation, as seen in such works as the landmark Cubist painting Femme en chemise assise dans un fauteuil (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 522; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) as well as the Grand nu au fauteuil rouge, his 1918 portrait of Khokhlova held in the collection of the Musée Picasso, Paris. Moreover, the use of such a traditional pictorial configuration—seated portraiture has a long, rich history—further emphasized Picasso’s revolutionary vision as he, once again, charted a new course away from art historical expectation.
These were tumultuous albeit prolific years for Picasso, during which he completed Guernica—his haunting response to the aerial bombardment of the Spanish market town by the Nazis—along with a number of works responding to the growing political tensions. Europe was on the brink of war, and as ever, Picasso dealt with his feelings in paint. But even as he poured himself emotionally into these works, Picasso was enjoying domestic bliss in Tremblay-sur-Mauldre with Marie-Thérèse. “Every chance I got to take a break, I would go out into the country for a breather,” he later recounted. “But I would begin to draw and paint from the moment I got there. And what did I paint, coming fresh from the work on Guernica? Flowers and fruit—never anything else” (quoted in C. Lake, “Picasso Speaking,” in The Atlantic Monthly, July 1957, p. 39).
Indeed, in several oils and pencil drawings, Picasso crowned Marie-Thérèse in garlands of white flowers whose innocent appearance embodies this arcadian sentiment. Such pictorial sweetness is evident in the color palette, composition, and pose of Femme assise au chapeau de paille. In her diaphanous white dress and titular straw hat bedecked with blue ribbon, Marie-Thérèse recalls Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait de Marie Antoinette en Gualle, the once-scandalous portrait of the monarch deemed an inappropriate representation of royalty. In the painting, Antoinette is shown wearing a robe en chemise, the unadorned, informal muslin gown that resembled the undergarments of pre-Revolutionary France. Vigée Le Brun preferred to paint her subjects in natural dress, and the Queen would have worn such an outfit when she spent time at the Hameau de la Reine, her idyllic refuge where she went to escape the constraints and protocols of the French Court. Similar to Portrait de Marie Antoinette en Gualle, Picasso’s Femme assise au chapeau de paille too suggests the same sense of blushing optimism. Set against a luminous pink ground, Marie-Thérèse blooms with vitality and youth, a fecund deity, a modern-day Flora—the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.
Eventually Marie-Thérèse’s prominence in Picasso’s life faded, but she and Maya remained of paramount import. Françoise Gilot, who met the artist during the Second World War and subsequently became his romantic partner, recalled Marie-Thérèse fondly as well as her significance to Picasso. “She had no inconvenient reality; she was a reflection of the cosmos,” wrote Gilot. “If it was a beautiful day, the clear blue sky reminded him of her eyes. The flight of a bird symbolized for him the freedom of their relationship. And over a period of eight or nine years her image found its way into a great body of his work in painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving. Hers was the privileged body on which the light fell to perfection” (F. Gilot and C. Lake, op. cit., p. 235).

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