Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property from a Private European Collection
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Femme dans un fauteuil

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Femme dans un fauteuil
signed 'Picasso' (upper left); dated '19 juin 41.' (on the stretcher bar)
oil on canvas
51 1/8 x 38 in. (130 x 97 cm.)
Painted on 19 June 1941.
Galerie Louise Leiris (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris (acquired from the artist, after 1956).
Stephen Hahn, New York (by 1967).
Meshulam Riklis, New York.
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Placido Arango, New York (by 1981).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
H. and S. Janis, Picasso: The Recent Years, 1939-1946, New York, 1946 (illustrated in situ at the 1945 Victoria and Albert Museum exhibition, London, pl. 19).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1960, vol. 11, no. 191 (illustrated, pl. 81; with incorrect dimensions).
J. Lord, Picasso and Dora: A Personal Memoir, New York, 1993 (illustrated in situ in the artist's studio).
A. Podadera Sanchez, A. Romero Marquez and J.C. Jimenez Moreno, Genial Picasso, Malaga, 1996, p. 241.
Picaoo: Love and War, 1935-1945; Life with Dora Maar, exh. cat., National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2006, p. 206 (illustrated in situ in the artist's studio).
London, Victoria and Albert Museum, Paintings by Picasso and Matisse, December 1945-January 1946.
Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum and Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Picasso, Matisse, April-May 1946.
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Pablo Picasso, September-November 1953, no. 93 (illustrated).
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs; Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Rheinisches Museum and Kunsthalle-Altbau Hamburg, Picasso: Peintures 1900-1955, June 1955-April 1956, no. 98 (illustrated).
Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Pablo Picasso: A Retrospective Exhibition, February-March 1967, p. 96, no. 65 (illustrated, p. 67).
Madrid, Fundación Juan March and Barcelona, Museu Picasso, Pablo Picasso, September 1977-January 1978, no. 21 and 25 respectively (illustrated in color).
Barcelona, Museu Picasso, Picasso, January-February 1982, no. 111.
Kunstmuseum Bern, Picasso und die Schweiz, October 2001-January 2002, p. 371, no. 132 (illustrated in color; with incorrect dimensions).
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Lot Essay

Sporting a white ruffled blouse, and chic, plaid blazer, with her hair elegantly coiffured and topped with a feathered hat, the stylish Parisienne pictured in Femme dans un fauteuil is the figure of Dora Maar, Pablo Picasso’s great wartime paramour and muse. Painted on 19 June 1941, just over a year into the Nazi Occupation of Paris, this portrait forms part of an astonishing surge of creativity that the artist had begun a month prior. During this time, Picasso defied the ever-worsening events that were unfolding in his adopted home, and turned inwards, painting the world of his studio and those who peopled it with an irrepressible energy.
Here the Spanish-speaking, radical Surrealist photographer, painter, and intellectual is rendered on a monumental scale; her presence and image magisterial as she sits in a pose of cool insouciance, gazing out with her renowned dark-eyed stare to meet the eyes of her lover. From the Weeping Women to the plethora of seated portraits, Picasso’s images of Dora are among the greatest of his wartime work; the cataclysmic events of this epoch and the artist’s personal reaction to them etched onto the visage of his companion. At times haunting, arresting, adoring and reverential, the visual power of these portraits is due in part to the symbiotic creative relationship the pair shared: Dora was not simply a muse, but, as an artist in her own right, she was an active participant in their intense artistic dialogue.
As the second year of Paris’s Occupation dawned, temperatures had plummeted; the freezing weather, fuel shortages and rationing made life in the Nazi-ruled city even worse. “The Paris we loved has become a Paris of green uniforms and ‘gray mice’,” the photographer, Brassaï described, “of swastikas…headquarters of the Kommandantur and the Gestapo; a Paris without taxis, cigarettes, sugar…a Paris of lines and coupons, curfews and scrambled airwaves…of German patrols, yellow stars, air raids, roadsteads, arrests, execution notices” (Conversations with Picasso, trans. J. M. Todd, Chicago and London, 2002, pp. 56-57). Together with chance visits by Nazi officers to his studio, these stark conditions were all likely factors contributing to Picasso’s slender artistic production in the opening months of the year. The beginning of May saw this change however. While the warmer weather was encouraging some Parisians to emerge, albeit cautiously, from their homes to the outside world once again, Picasso remained holed up in his cavernous studio on the rue des Grands Augustins on Paris’s Left Bank, and it was here that he began a series of radical and powerful portraits all of which feature the striking visage of his companion, Dora Maar.
Clearly seized by inspiration, Picasso pictured Dora in myriad ways over the course of these weeks and months. She appears in multiple ink drawings; naturalistically in an oil painting (Zervos, vol. 11, no. 145); and with two opposing profiles, a motif that obsessed him, in others (Zervos, vol. 11, nos. 194, 195 and 198, for example). In the present work, Picasso has painted his lover with the distorted, exaggerated features that had already become his quintessential mode of representing her: her nose has become a snout-like appendage, placed amidst her split, divergent physiognomy. Her all-seeing eyes are rimmed with heavy black outlines, the indication of her oft-admired long eyelashes, which radiate from her rose-tinted skin, an intimate detail that tells of a certain tenderness on the part of Picasso.
Within an enclosed room, here she appears in a stately high backed metal chair, its legs, arms and back a grid-like arrangement of unforgiving, immovable black lines. As if encased in armor—her diaphanous blouse appears solid and unbending, enveloping its wearer in a protective layer of folds—Dora adopts a pose of easy, unshakable authority. Steadfast and resolute, she boldly surmounts the claustrophobic interior, the prison-bar-like chair that threatens to incarcerate her, a throne from which she presides. “When I paint a woman in an armchair, the armchair implies old age or death, right?” Picasso had once explained of this motif. “So, too bad for her. Or else the armchair is there to protect her” (quoted in A. Malraux, Picassos Mask, Boston, 1995, p. 138).
These features reappear in a several other closely related portraits that Picasso painted throughout June 1941. He painted a second, less resolved oil on the same day as the present work (Zervos, vol. 11, no. 192; Private collection), in which Dora is seen in the same ensemble, this time regarded from a slightly different angle. Dora herself documented this group with a photograph that shows the present work in Picasso’s Grands Augustins studio.
Not only are these portraits a testament to the intensity of the couple’s relationship, and the inspiration that her presence stimulated in the artist, but together they are a powerful symbol of renewed artistic creativity in the face of terror. Appearing in the present work upright and unflinching, her outfit and hair pristine and elegant, in a pose of commanding power, Dora is the embodiment of unyielding resolve and resilience—sentiments the artist was seeking to express through his work of this time. “It was not a time for the creative man to fail, to shrink, to stop working,” Picasso explained after the Liberation, “there was nothing else to do but work seriously and devotedly, struggle for food, see friends quietly, and look forward to freedom” (quoted in M. McCully, ed., A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences, Princeton, 1981, p. 224).
It is not just Dora’s face that makes her instantly recognizable in the present Femme dans un fauteuil, but her demeanor and attire encapsulate the defining iconography Picasso had created for her, his most collaborative and artistically engaged partner to date. At the time that the pair met in the winter of 1935-1936, Dora was a well-known figure within the Surrealist circles of Paris, her photography—from photocollage, to the uncanny compositions she captured of contemporary street life—as well as her political activism making her a key figure within the avant-garde and intellectual world of the city. As an artist in her own right, she engaged with Picasso as more of an equal, the self-assurance with which she is endowed in the present work, an indication of this. “I just felt finally, here was somebody I could carry on a conversation with,” Picasso later told his post-war lover, the woman who would ultimately replace Dora, Françoise Gilot (quoted in F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 236).
Described in 1927 by a fellow art student as the epitome of “La femme chic,” Dora was renowned for her elegant, often eccentric attire, itself an extension of her artistic identity (quoted in A. Maddox, K. Ziebinska-Lewandowska and D. Amao, Dora Maar, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2019, p. 11). She was known to paint her nails in different colors according to her mood, wear scarlet lipstick, and perhaps most famously, she sported an array of extravagant millinery creations, her “most provocative emblem”, Brigitte Léal has written (Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 387). For the Surrealists, the female hat was a fetishistic object, which, like gloves, was a highly alluring and erotic symbol. “Among the objects tangled in the web of life,” Paul Éluard wrote in 1937, “the female hat is one of those that requires the most insight, the most audacity. A head must dare wear a crown” (quoted in ibid., p. 389).
Picasso immediately picked up on this, Dora’s signature look, translating this accoutrement into both his depictions of her, as well as his other lover of the time, Marie-Thérèse Walter. While Dora is adorned in the often fantastical creations made by Schiaparelli and others, Walter appears in straw hats, berets, or flower crowns, these accessories illustrating their diametrically opposing characteristics and appearances. In 1954, a decade after their relationship had come to an end, Picasso and Dora met in a rare encounter at a dinner party hosted by Douglas Cooper and John Richardson. In the moments before she arrived, as Richardson has related, “the artist reminisced about Dora—at first affectionately—how the steadfastness of her gaze reflected her intelligence, and how her outré sense of fashion had inspired the surrealist hats trimmed with fish and fruit and sardine cans that figure in many of his portrayals of her—such a contrast, he said, to the tam o'shanter from Hermès that he gave to her rival Marie-Thérèse…” (The Sorcerer's Apprentice, New York, 1999, p. 206).
Picasso’s obsession with depicting his lovers in ever more extravagant hats during the war may also be a reflection of his lifelong rivalry and friendship with Henri Matisse. Picasso always kept a careful eye on what Matisse was doing, and the war was no exception. Indeed, during the Occupation, two of Picasso’s leading themes—the female portrait and the odalisque—are reminiscent of Matisse’s oeuvre, leading Yves-Alain Bois to suggest that this was a time during which Picasso was suffering from “bouts of Matisse fever” (quoted in Matisse and Picasso, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 2001, p. 161). The motif of a female figure sporting a hat can be most obviously linked back to a painting Picasso knew well: Matisse’s notorious Femme au chapeau (1905, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), in which he pictured his wife, Amélie, in an incendiary, kaleidoscopic explosion of color. Using this subject as a site for his own continuing form of artistic experimentation, Picasso, consciously or not, once again engaged in the continuously flowing artistic dialogue that existed between the two.
In December 1945, Femme dans un fauteuil was included in a landmark exhibition, Paintings by Picasso and Matisse held in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum—the first major British institution to hold an exhibition of the artist’s work, and a triumphant affirmation of art and culture after the war. Organized by the British Council in partnership with its French counterparts, this show was conceived as part of a cultural exchange following the end of the war. Succeeding Picasso’s landmark exhibition at the so-called Salon de la Libération in Paris the year prior, in which the artist and his work, most of which had been painted during the Occupation, were regarded as powerful symbols of the Resistance, the London exhibition similarly included a selection of Picasso’s wartime work. With 170,000 visitors in the first five weeks, the show caused a sensation in war weary London. “For the first time in many decades,” the British Council pronounced at the time, “London has been discussing art, and the name of Picasso has become a household word, and even, it is said, a verb” (quoted in Picasso & Modern British Art, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2012, p. 184).

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