The brilliant primary colors in Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) proclaim a dazzling, sunny day in the Midi during early autumn, 1954. Picasso and Jacqueline Roque, his latest and—as time would tell—his ultimate paramour and eventual second wife, had begun living together, and would soon return to Paris to reside in the artist’s studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins. The present painting is one of three identically sized, large-easel-format canvases that Picasso painted on October 8th, in a flourish of portraits that celebrate the artist’s new mistress, declaring her newly established pride of place in the artist’s life and work.
In each of the three October paintings, Jacqueline is seated on the floor; in a compact, crouching pose, she clasps her knees raised up before her. From an open window behind her, golden light fills the room. The space is likely a corner of Picasso’s studio on the rue du Fournas in Vallauris, in a building that had previously housed a perfume factory, the scents from which still graced the air. Picasso purchased this ramshackle structure in the spring of 1949, when the villa La Galloise, in which he had been living with Françoise Gilot and acquired in her name, proved too small for the work space and storage room he required.
Picasso’s first portrait of Jacqueline, incorporating a vernal trellis of blossoming roses, dated from 2 June 1954 (Zervos, vol. 16, no. 325). The artist exhibited this painting at the Maison de la Pensée Français in Paris that July, under the coded title Portrait de Madame Z. He derived the alias from the name of Jacqueline’s small house between Golfe-Juan and Juan-les-Pins, called Le Ziquet, the Provençal word for a little goat. A second portrait, showing Jacqueline again seated and holding her legs drawn up before her, as seen in present painting, was completed on 3 June (no. 324).
Clearly drawn to the informal, unpretentious character of this posture, Picasso turned to it again in a naturalistic charcoal drawing with oils on canvas dated 5 October, in which Jacqueline is viewed near-profile, while seated in the artist’s favorite Thonet bentwood rocking chair (Zervos, vol. 16, no. 326). He also painted Jacqueline avec une écharpe noire (11 October) in a warmly representational manner; a fourth version of the seated, knees-up pose (14 October) completed this autumn series in Cannes (nos. 331 and 330, respectively).
Picasso had embarked on his late, great period, which his biographer John Richardson succinctly defined and characterized as “l’époque Jacqueline.” “It is Jacqueline's image that permeates Picasso's work from 1954 until his death, twice as long as any of her predecessors,” Richardson wrote. “It is her body that we are able to explore more exhaustively and more intimately than any other body in the history of art. It is her solicitude and patience that sustained the artist in the face of declining health and death and enabled him to be more productive than ever before and to go on working into his ninety-second year. And lastly it is her vulnerability that gives a new intensity to the combination of cruelty and tenderness that endows Picasso's paintings of women with their pathos and their strength” (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 47).
Jacqueline and Picasso first met during the summer of 1952 at Georges and Suzanne Ramié’s Madoura pottery works in Vallauris, where the artist had been creating ceramic wares since 1946. Paris-born Jacqueline was then a 25-year old divorcée; in 1950 she ended her marriage to André Hutin, an engineer, with whom she had lived for several years in colonial French West Africa. They had a young daughter, Cathy. Mme Ramié and Jacqueline were cousins; the Madoura owner offered her relation the job as a salesperson in the company retail store. Stationed at the table nearest the entrance, Jacqueline quickly caught Picasso’s eye. Françoise Gilot later recalled, “I wasn’t with Pablo very often when he went to the pottery and he undoubtedly saw Jacqueline Roque and talked with her more often than I might have imagined at the time” (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 358).
Françoise was the first of Picasso’s women to end her relationship with the famous artist on her own volition and at a time of her choosing. Picasso was devastated with she broke with him in Vallauris at the end of September 1953 and took their children Claude and Paloma with her to live in Paris. Jacqueline soon began to minister to Picasso’s daily needs. “One can’t leave that poor man alone like that, at his age,” as Françoise learned she had been telling the Ramiés and other friends. “I must look after him” (quoted in ibid.). When Françoise brought the children to visit Picasso in July 1954, she noticed that while he was still living alone, “Jacqueline Roque came nearly every day. We had lunch with her at her house several times. It was clear from everything Picasso said that he considered her presence temporarily useful, but that he didn’t see it as a long-term arrangement” (ibid., p. 361).
Deprived of constant female companionship for the first time in decades, Picasso was averse to being alone, especially at night. His liaison with young Geneviève Laporte, the “other woman” while he was living with Françoise, had also ended. Roland Penrose described this period as “a season in hell” (Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 387). To amuse himself during the winter of 1953-1954 Picasso created a suite of 180 ink and wash drawings on paper depicting artists and their models at work and play, which Michel Leiris titled Picasso et la comédie humaine in his preface when the series was published in Verve, September 1954.
The arrival of spring 1954 brought a new face for Picasso to paint. At the Madoura pottery in mid-April Picasso met Sylvette David, the daughter of Bernard Buffet’s dealer. Her fiancé, the sculptor Tobias Jellinek, was showing his furniture in the studio store; Picasso purchased some chairs. The artist arranged to draw and paint Sylvette for the next ten weeks. If Picasso had moreover hoped to initiate an amorous liaison with this nineteen-year-old, Brigitte Bardot-like beauty, the constant presence of her boyfriend thwarted any such intention.
Early summer 1954, Picasso accepted an invitation from Comte Jacques de Lazarme to spend several weeks at the latter’s large home in Perpignan, near the border with Spain and a short distance from Collioure, where Matisse and Derain had pioneered Fauvism in 1905. Picasso arrived on 6 August with his 19-year-old daughter Maya (by Marie-Thérèse Walter, with whom he still maintained close ties) and the two children Claude and Paloma. Douglas Cooper, John Richardson, and later Roland Penrose joined them. Jacqueline and Cathy also appeared, but were relegated to nightly accommodations in the local hotel. Totote Hugué, the widow of Picasso’s long-time friend the sculptor Manolo, contrived a situation resembling the mythical Judgment of Paris, in which Picasso would choose his next companion; the three candidates in competition were the Comtesse Paule—the host’s wife, with whom Picasso was already having an affair—Totote’s own adopted daughter Rosita, and Jacqueline.
“I soon realized that that Jaqueline would be the perfect consort for Picasso,” Richardson recalled. “Exceedingly submissive where Picasso was concerned, she was, in other respects a free spirit. Also she had fallen passionately in love with him and was out to convince him she was the one” (exh. cat., op. cit., London, 2010, pp. 18 and 21).
Delighted with all the attention the women were giving him, Picasso was playing out his own challenge to the strength and sincerity of Jacqueline’s feelings for him. Maya had been staying in Picasso’s room; after she departed, Jacqueline moved in. A couple of nights later they argued. She drove away the next morning, but phoned twice on her way back to Vallauris, once threatening to kill herself. Picasso did not discourage her from returning to Perpignan, where she quietly ingratiated her way back into the artist’s favor, having amply demonstrated to him her unstinting love and loyalty. Picasso surprised his host and friends when at the vacation’s end he and Jacqueline together left to return to Vallauris, where he stayed at Le Ziquet.
“[Picasso’s] relationship with [Jacqueline] was not the agonizing, novelistic kind of love that the artist had experienced in certain of his earlier relationships,” William Rubin explained. “Picasso did not have to win Jacqueline from another man, nor struggle to keep her. Her understated, gentle, and loving personality, combined with her unconditional commitment to him, provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period that he had ever before enjoyed” (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 458).
Evident in Picasso’s early depictions of Jacqueline are elements of the Sylvette portraits he painted during the spring of 1954. The artist appears to have been still reflecting on his recent winter of discontents when he commenced the Sylvette series on 18 April; he worked in grisaille, employing black and white only, a restriction he did not lift until exactly one month later, at around the thirtieth work in the series (Zervos, vol. 16, no. 309), out of a total of about 45 on either canvas or paper. The portraits of Sylvette, whether in a naturalistic or late cubist vein, are statuesquely beautiful, but coldly detached, alluding to her inaccessibility, a demeanor which contravened Picasso’s long accustomed amatory exploitation of his artist-model encounters.
The color Sylvettes (Zervos, vol. 16, nos. 308-313 and 315) nonetheless set the stage for Picasso’s re-assertion of strong color in the first paintings of Jacqueline that followed in early June. The final Sylvette (no. 315), although begun on 19 April, was not completed until 4 October, only a few days before the artist began the Femme accroupie and Femme assise series, and like the latter works, shows Sylvette seated not in a chair but on the floor of the Le Fournas studio.
The block-like planar construction that Picasso practiced in his cubist Sylvette compositions gave rise to the four sheet metal sculptures he created in her image during 1954. Tobias Jellinek assisted Picasso in transposing the artist’s paper cut-out maquettes to the metal sheets and directed the folding process at the local metalworking shop. The October portraits of Jacqueline, including the present canvas, display a similar approach in composing the figure. In the latter, however, Picasso dispensed with a geometric discipline in developing his forms, and no longer aimed for a volumetric, sculptural effect. He instead adopted a loose, painterly manner in generating form by means of color, while adhering to the fundamental modernist principle of respecting the flatness of the picture plane.
Picasso often reconfigured a female subject’s visage as a composite of simultaneous, multiple views of the head. In each of the four crouching Jacquelines completed in October, he employed a three-panel construction of different views. In the present painting, from left to right, her right side profile is turned inward on a central three-quarter aspect of her left eye and cheek, backed on the right side with an angle seen from behind her left ear. The idea of the face folded back upon itself stems from various portraits Picasso painted of Françoise, and later Sylvette, as reiterated in the recent bent sheet metal sculptures.
The color forms in Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) reflect Picasso’s admiration for the paper cut-outs of Matisse, in the latter’s use of assembling figural elements to create a compact seated pose, as seen in the Nu bleu series of 1952, but more significantly, as an example in composing and integrating both figure and ground as sectioned forms of pure color, as Matisse had done in Zulma, his magnificent standing nude of 1950. Picasso’s summer holiday at Perpignan, with frequent outings to the beach at Collioure, where Matisse had painted during his momentous Fauve summer of 1905, perhaps inspired Picasso’s sudden penchant for working in brilliant, sun-lit colors.
Matisse, then 85, the only living artist whom Picasso he recognized as his peer, had been ailing in Cimiez, a suburb of Nice, and passed away on 3 November. A month later Picasso commenced work on his painted variations, which would finally number fifteen in all, on Delacroix’s two versions of Les femmes d’Alger. The series was ostensibly his tribute to the Delacroix-inspired odalisques of Matisse, to honor the memory of his longtime rival, but also an admired friend. “When Matisse died,” Picasso told Penrose, “he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient though I have never been there” (quoted in op. cit., 1981, p. 396).
The Femmes d’Alger paintings are moreover a resplendent garland of affection for Jacqueline. An homage to Delacroix had been on Picasso’s mind for more than a decade, and the advent of Jacqueline, just as importantly as the idea of a tribute to Matisse, induced Picasso to undertake his own series of odalisques. Picasso had become intrigued at Jacqueline's resemblance to the odalisque crouching at lower right in the Louvre version of Delacroix’s harem scene, whose face is seen in left profile.
“Françoise had not been the Delacroix type,” Richardson has pointed out. “Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it... And then, there is the African connection: Jacqueline had lived for many years as the wife of a colonial official [Hutin] in Upper Volta. As Picasso remarked, ‘Ouagadougou may not be Algiers, nonetheless Jacqueline has an African provenance’” (ibid., p. 18). During his lifetime Picasso had come no closer to North Africa than when as a youth he lived among the relics of the old Moorish civilization in Andalucía. In Jacqueline, Africa had come to him. She possessed a classic Mediterranean appearance—jet-black hair, dark eyes and a long, narrow nose. She fully looked the part of Delacroix's Algerian odalisque.
Following the completion in Paris of the Femmes d’Algers canvases, Picasso decided to return to the Midi, this time for good. A new mistress required a new house. In the summer of 1955, Picasso purchased La Californie, a large, ornate, late nineteenth-century villa overlooking the Mediterranean coast at Cannes. Its location had the advantage of being close to Picasso's potters, and was sufficiently secluded for privacy. The building’s numerous Art Nouveau features were redolent of the Orientalism the artist evoked in his Delacroix variations. “I had thought so much about the Femmes d'Alger that I found La Californie,” Picasso told Pierre Daix. “That's how it is with painting. And Delacroix had already met Jacqueline” (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 329).
"Jacqueline has the gift of becoming painting to an unimaginable degree,” Hélène Parmelin, a close friend of Picasso during the late years, observed. “She has within her that wonderful power on which the painter feeds. She flows. She is made for it and gives of herself and devotes herself and dies in harness though living all the while and never posing. She harbors that multiplicity of herself...She unfurls ad infinitum. She invades everything. She becomes all characters. She takes the place of all models of all the artists on all the canvases. All the portraits resemble her, even though they may not resemble each other. All the heads are hers and there are a thousand different ones" (Picasso: Intimate Secrets of a Studio at Notre Dame de Vie, New York, 1966, pp. 14-15).