PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Ivan & Genevieve Reitman: A Life in Pictures
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Femme endormie

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Femme endormie
dated and inscribed 'Boisgeloup 17 Juillet XXXIV' (upper left)
oil on canvas
28 ½ x 21 ¼ in. (72.4 x 54 cm.)
Painted in Boisgeloup on 17 July 1934
Estate of the artist.
Bernard Ruiz-Picasso, Paris (by descent from the above).
The Pace Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, 30 October 1991).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 14 December 1992.
Beverly Hills, PaceWildenstein, Pablo Picasso: Works from the Estate and Selected Loans, January-March 1998.
Further details
The Picasso Administration has confirmed that this work is listed in the Picasso Estate inventory.

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Lot Essay

Painted in a whirl of vibrant, resplendent tones, Pablo Picasso’s 1934 composition Femme endormie is a deeply tender portrayal of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, the young, golden-haired woman whose presence had transformed every facet of his oeuvre since their fateful meeting in 1927. Inspired by her sensuous form and their passionate intimacy, Picasso’s creativity reached new heights over the course of their relationship, leading John Richardson to proclaim this the artist’s “most innovative period since Cubism” (A Life of Picasso, The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, vol. 3, p. 460).
The mid-1930s was a particularly fraught period for Picasso, in which he was plagued by ever-worsening marital conflict and a growing anxiety regarding the darkening political situation across Europe, as Fascism took hold in both his native Spain and Germany, and France was hit by social upheaval. Painted on 17 July 1934, Femme endormie marks a rare day when the artist’s concerns and fears seem to have been momentarily allayed, and he was able to focus once again on his joyous, beloved muse. As such, the painting appears as an homage to Marie-Thérèse, her unmistakable cropped blonde hair, classical profile and athletic figure captured in a rich interplay of color and sinuous lines, as she indulges in a moment of pure relaxation. It is a testament to the fact that through all the upheaval of the period—the arguments, accusations and threats within his personal life, the encroaching violence and darkness of the outside world that seemed to increase with each day—Marie-Thérèse remained a source of solace and inspiration for Picasso, her presence continuing to elicit great, passion-filled outpouring of creativity within his art, even as events threatened to overwhelm him.
Picasso had first met the youthful Marie-Thérèse Walter in a chance encounter on the streets of Paris in the early evening of 8 January 1927. Marie-Thérèse, who was exiting the famed Galeries Lafayette department store with her newly purchased Peter Pan collar, called a col Claudine in French, and matching cuffs for a blouse, remembered catching the artist’s eye in the middle of the crowd. Making his way to her, Picasso promptly introduced himself. “You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you,” he reportedly told her. “I feel we are going to do great things together… I am Picasso” (quoted in ibid., p. 323). In turn, Marie-Thérèse responded with a blank look. “The name Picasso did not mean anything to me. It was his tie that interested me,” she explained. “And then he charmed me” (quoted in P. Cabanne, “Picasso et les joies de la paternité,” in L’Oeil, no. 226, May 1974, p. 7).
Picasso was deeply struck by her statuesque beauty and exuberance, and arranged to meet her again two days later, at the Saint-Lazare metro station. “I went there, just like that, because he had such a pleasant smile,” Marie-Thérèse remembered (quoted in D. Widmaier Picasso, “Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso: New Insights into a Secret Love,” in Pablo Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter: Between Classicism and Surrealism, exh. cat., Graphikmuseum Pablo Picasso, Münster, 2004, p. 29). The pair soon embarked upon a clandestine affair, centered around furtive meetings and love letters passed in secret. Exuding a youthful innocence and luminous vitality, Marie-Thérèse became one of the artist’s greatest muses; her presence, image, and the overwhelming desire she aroused in him inspiring an ecstatic outpouring of works that more than fulfilled his predictions for their partnership.
Enchanted by Marie-Thérèse, Picasso initially marked her presence in his art through a series of playful, cryptic, coded compositions from the spring of 1927, in which he interlaced and overlapped her initials into a secretive monogram. While he took great pleasure in playing such visual games with Marie-Thérèse’s identity, the meaning of which could only be deciphered by him, slowly her silhouette began to infiltrate his paintings, in sinuous, abstracted lines or transformed into a bowl of ripe fruit, or an overflowing vase of flowers. As the 1930s dawned, Marie-Thérèse became evermore present in Picasso’s work, the sensual curves of her body revealing themselves uninterrupted on his canvases, ushering a bold, new vocabulary into his art.
Indeed, as Françoise Gilot noted, Walter’s presence left an indelible mark on Picasso’s artistic output during these years: “I found Marie-Thérèse fascinating to look at. I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other. She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile. The whole series of portraits of blonde women Pablo painted between 1927 and 1935 are almost exact replicas of her… she was very athletic, she had that high-color look of glowing good health one often sees in Swedish women. Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection” (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 241-242).
By the time their relationship entered its eighth, deeply passionate year in 1934, Picasso was intimately familiar with Marie-Thérèse’s form—he could recall from memory the way her golden hair fell as it brushed her cheek, the exact profile of the line that ran from her forehead, down her nose to her chin, and the sinuous, flowing topography of her body as she relaxed. However, storm clouds were brewing in the artist’s personal life. While Marie-Thérèse’s identity remained a closely guarded secret to all but a handful of trusted friends, and the pair were careful to ensure they were never seen together in public, her presence in his life had been dramatically revealed during the artist’s 1932 retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit. For visitors to the exhibition, Picasso’s feelings for the unidentified blonde muse were abundantly clear, the myriad of large, sensual visions of Marie-Thérèse in a variety of guises serving as a rapturous declaration that a new woman had not only entered Picasso’s life, but was now the primary source of his creative inspiration.
For the artist’s wife, Olga, the sight of so many works depicting Picasso’s young lover confirmed her growing suspicions of her husband’s infidelity—through the following eighteen months, their relationship deteriorated rapidly as the increasing tensions between the two came to a head in angry confrontations. In early 1934, Olga became so enraged at the state of the marriage and her husband’s behavior that she left the family home in La rue Boétie and moved into a nearby hotel.
The chaos and turbulence of his marital situation appears to have begun to infiltrate and affect Picasso’s artistic work through the ensuing months. At the beginning of July, he executed two works on paper inspired by David’s La mort de Marat (Zervos, vol. 8, nos. 216 and 222; Musée national Picasso, Paris) in an explicit evocation of violence. Here, the terrifying, monstrous figure of Charlotte Corday is seen wielding a knife at Marat, who takes the form of a lifeless Marie-Thérèse. While the gaping, distorted figure of Corday appears as a terrifying personification of primal rage, her figure retains echoes of Picasso’s surrealist-inspired compositions from the late-1920s, in which Olga’s presence was incited through a series of distorted and disquieting figures.
“Although Olga never came face to face with Marie-Thérèse,” Richardson has written, “Picasso fantasized about the violence that she might enact on her rival” (“Picasso and Marie-Thérèse,” in L’amour fou: Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 32). In the intense drawing La meurtre (Zervos, vol. 8, no. 216; Musée national Picasso, Paris) from early July, Picasso casts Olga in the role of the twisted femme fatale, a predatory surrealist Megaera—the spiteful goddess of jealousy—attacking her rival. In contrast, his paintings from this year celebrate Marie-Thérèse as a nurturing muse, a wholesome young goddess, a beacon of light and passion amid the chaos. Works such as Femme endormie appear as an oasis of tranquility, color and joy among his painterly oeuvre, capturing the peace the artist felt when the two lovers were together.
Radiating bright summer light and saturated with the vibrant, color-filled palette that defined Picasso’s depictions of Marie-Thérèse, Femme endormie was painted in July 1934, at the artist’s country hideaway of Boisgeloup, an impressive seventeenth-century provincial château in rural Gisors, northwest of Paris. Having tired of carting his canvases, materials, and other artistic paraphernalia around his annual summer haunts, and seeking refuge away from his familial obligations in Paris, Picasso had bought the château in 1930. He immediately converted the outdoor stables into a sculpture studio, and devoted a large, light-filled room on the second floor to painting. Though just a quick drive from the French capital, this secluded, private property was a refuge for Picasso during the early 1930s, its location reducing the likelihood of unwelcome visitors, prying acquaintances, or admirers paying an unexpected call. Boisgeloup was not only Picasso’s country residence and rural hideaway, but it served as a crucible for many of his artistic developments through this extraordinary period, a place where he could indulge in his art, as well as his muse, unimpeded. “We would joke and laugh together all day,” Marie-Thérèse later recalled of their time there together through these years, “so happy with our secret, living a totally non-bourgeois life, a bohemian love away from those people Picasso knew then...” (quoted in B. Farrell, “Picasso: His Women: The Wonder is that He Found So Much Time to Paint,” in Life, 27 December 1968, p. 74).
Ensconced together at Boisgeloup, Picasso’s creativity flourished, and he painted myriad portraits of Marie-Thérèse in a variety of poses and situations, shifting from languorous and luxuriant to upright and alert, lost in the act of reading, writing, or simply daydreaming as she moved through the château. Surrounded by the verdant landscape of Gisors, her image was often linked to the natural world: she became a goddess, a blooming flower, a sun or moon. The pair appear to have spent much of the spring and summer of 1934 there together, with the artist’s granddaughter Diana Widmaier Picasso noting that “the frantic rate at which they exchanged letters abated,” offering a clear indication of their close proximity during this period (exh. cat., op. cit., p. 32). In March, Picasso embarked on a series of paintings focusing on Marie-Thérèse reading and writing letters, sometimes alone at a desk or table, but most often in the company of one of her sisters, who appears to have joined her at Boisgeloup for a brief sojourn. Through April and May, her features proliferate in his paintings and drawings, leading to a sequence of erotically-charged reclining nudes, celebrating his passionate adoration of his lover. In these works—many of which appear as a thematic continuation of the quick, gesturally painted reclining nude studies that had preoccupied him through much of 1932—Marie-Thérèse is seen in the painting studio at Boisgeloup, posed before a folding screen or alongside the windows thrown open to the landscape beyond, the sinuous curves and voluptuous lines of her body rendered in flowing, fluid brushstrokes.
Femme endormie emerged on 17 July, and is imbued with an intimacy and tenderness that stands in stark contrast to the artist’s other portraits of Marie-Thérèse from this period. On the same day that he created the present work, Picasso painted two other visions of his lover, both highly stylized, bust-length portraits in which her features were transformed into an abstract play of angular, interlocking elements. In Bust de femme (Zervos, vol. 8, no. 140), now held in the collections of The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., Marie-Thérèse’s familiar profile is boldly fragmented—though her sensuous lips and straight nose remain clearly visible in the very center of the overlapping planes, her eyes are cast outwards and re-aligned, so that they seem to be floating freely from her face. Two arcing curves allude to her cropped golden hair, while a dramatically architectural hat appears to balance precariously on her crown. Similarly, the vibrantly colored Tête de femme (Portland Museum of Art) presents a divided conceptualization of Marie-Thérèse’s visage, portraying her simultaneously as a moon goddess and a bright, sun-filled being, as Picasso explores the duality he detected in her character. In the complex interweaving of her features, the shifting sense of color and overlapping planes, Tête de femme appears to be a more formal exercise in construction for the artist, in which Marie-Thérèse served as a vehicle for his artistic musings.
In comparison, Femme endormie exhibits a languorous ease and closeness, rooted in the intense and cherished familiarity between artist and sitter. Here, she is shown resting at a table, her arms overlapping and intertwining to create a pillow upon which she lays her head. Her face remains serene as she dreams, her body soft as she indulges in a moment of pure relaxation. Picasso’s frequent portrayals of Marie-Thérèse sleeping provided the ideal platform for his eloquent, sensual, romantic visions of her, hinting at the languid eroticism of their lifestyle in the secluded château, while also tapping into her character. It is said that Marie-Thérèse loved to sleep, a quality that pleased Picasso; as he wrote in one of the freely associative prose poems he began to compose in 1935: “how much I love her now that she’s asleep and I can see no more than just her honey from afar” (Picasso, 21 October 1935; Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & other poems, trans. J. Rothenberg, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2004, p. 36). As one acquaintance would later explain to John Richardson: “Never forget that Marie-Thérèse was the quintessence of dolce far niente... and if Picasso usually portrayed her dozing or sunbathing or playing games, it was because these activities and passivities were the be-all and end-all of her easy-going nature” (quoted in “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter,” in Through the Eyes of Picasso 1928-1934, exh. cat., William Beadleston, Inc., New York, 1985, n.p.).
That intimacy is driven home by the compositional arrangement of the present work, which is tightly focused on his sleeping paramour’s head: she dominates the canvas, giving a sense of the artist’s highly subjective, personal perspective while gazing upon his lover. In this way, Picasso offers the viewer a glimpse into his own charmed world, the painting becoming a window into the easy, passion-filled days he enjoyed with Marie-Thérèse as they lounged around Boisgeloup. The swooping, sinuous curves of the painting convey a rich sensuality, with the artist himself appearing to vicariously enjoy the curves of her body through the proxy of his paintbrush. This effect is made more impactful by the rich, glowing pigments that suffuse the canvas, the vibrant tones of turquoise, lilac, golden yellow, sky blue and bright pink aligning in interlocking panels, while deliberate, brief touches of certain pigments draw the eye to the aspects of her form that Picasso found most intriguing and sensual. Clearly the artist felt it was among the most successful of his depictions of Marie-Thérèse from that summer, as he kept the canvas in his personal collection for the rest of his life.
In many ways, these paintings from the summer of 1934 herald the final great celebration of this passionate union between Marie-Thérèse and Picasso. Through the fall and winter his painterly activities dwindled, as tensions within his marriage and the ongoing political turmoil across Europe occupied his mind. Indeed, for much of the following year, he stepped away from painting and instead turned to writing poetry. In December 1934, Marie-Thérèse discovered she was pregnant and shortly afterwards Picasso began formal proceedings to divorce Olga. However, upon learning of the vast expense this would incur him—she would have been entitled to receive half of everything he owned, including half of his studio—they instead agreed upon an official separation, in which Boisgeloup officially passed to Olga. Picasso bought Marie-Thérèse an apartment in Paris close to his, at 45 rue la Boétie, and in September, their daughter Maya was born. Though a devoted father and still passionately in love with Marie-Thérèse, their relationship and, by extension, her presence in his art, would never quite be the same again.
Shortly afterwards, Picasso was introduced to the woman who would become the new protagonist of his art of the war years, the enigmatic Surrealist photographer Dora Maar. Her complex character, dark psyche, fearsome intellect and chic demeanor were the complete antithesis of the sweet-natured and easy-going Marie-Thérèse, a contrast that he drew heavily upon in his portraiture of the following years. After 1934, Picasso's depictions of Marie-Thérèse changed—she appeared older, pictured in fashionable attire more closely aligned with his portrayals of Dora, than his intimate visions of her from the early years of their relationship. As such, Femme endormie can be seen as one of the final, blissfully sensual depictions of Marie-Thérèse that Picasso completed before they moved into this new, altered phase of their relationship, a glowing testament to their joyful, carefree love and the woman who had transformed his life and art with her presence.

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