Picasso painted his series of fifteen variations on Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger (fig. A, p. __) between 13 December 1954 and 14 February 1955. Shortly after Picasso completed the final canvas, Version O (fig. P-C___, p.__), Roland Penrose arrived at the artist's Paris studio on the rue des Grands-Augustins to view the entire group. Penrose later recalled, "Bringing them out one after another he showed me the rich variety of style and fantasy to which Les Femmes d'Alger had been subjected. My first sight of the Moorish interiors and the provocative poses of the nude girls reminded me of the odalisques of Matisse. 'You are right,' he said with a laugh, 'when Matisse died he left his odalisques to me as a legacy, and this is my idea of the Orient though I have never been there'" (in Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 396).
The odalisque--the exotically robed, semi-clad or more often nude figure of an alluring young woman--would remain the pre-eminent subject in Picasso's work during the final two decades of his life. Toward the end of 1955 he added an important installment on this theme in a series of ten portraits of his companion Jacqueline Roque (fig. P-D___, p.__), clad in a traditional Turkish costume. The present Femme accroupie au costume turc is the crowning, definitive painting in this group. It would be the last time that Picasso evoked the Orientalist theme of the odalisque on canvas with such specificity in regard to the garb and other accoutrements pertaining to the traditions of this genre. Thereafter Picasso's idea of the odalisque would merge into a broader conception of the nude as the artist's model. Sequestered within the closed and private confines of the studio, as in a harem (the word is derived from the Persian haram and the Arabic har LONG MARK ON im, a sacred or forbidden place), she would be subjected to his gaze alone, painted and then revealed to the world. She became the passive participant in a sophisticated--and, indeed, very adult--game of role-playing, in which her relationship to the artist, real or imagined, might be that of mythical goddess, nymph, wife, lover, courtesan or whore.
Matisse and Picasso developed a strenuous rivalry early in their careers, and many of the elements that were crucial to the evolution of modern painting and sculpture stemmed from their compulsive game of brinksmanship. They nonetheless became warm friends, especially after the Second World War. They were the two surviving, towering titans of modernism, and, amid the rapid changes in painting during the post-war era, they saw themselves as the guardians of the entire long line of venerable traditions in European painting. They continued to closely follow each other's work; each regarded his colleague as the only living artist worthy to be considered his peer. Matisse died on 3 November 1954. Given the measure of their mutual regard, Marguerite Duthuit, Matisse's daughter, was baffled by Picasso's behavior when she tried to telephone him with news of her father's passing. Picasso would not get on the line himself, she told Brassaï, the photographer and close friend of Picasso, nor did he call her back, and later did not attend the funeral. Brassaï explained his seemingly callous attitude: "Picasso doesn't like to hear about death and he hates effusiveness. That news was a terrible blow for him, I'm sure of it. It was so he wouldn't lose his composure that he took refuge in work, in silence. He loved Matisse. He always defended his paintings. He bought many of his canvases. He has a whole collection of them" (in Brassaï, Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, p. 333).
Picasso's close friend the poet Paul Eluard had died in late 1952, and other lifelong associates were likewise departing this world at an alarming rate. Picasso, now in his early 70s, was virtually alone. With Matisse gone, he lamented, "Who was there to talk to?" (quoted in ibid.). The answer, he knew, could only lay in his work. He would proceed to hold dialogues with the masters, lately or long deceased, in his paintings. With the memory of his friend Matisse weighing heavily on his mind, he began his variations on Delacroix. In these pictures he initiated the systematic and sequential process that he would continue for the rest of his career, in which he took on and reinterpreted the great masters of the recent and distant past--Matisse and Delacroix at first, then Velázquez, Rembrandt, Ingres, Manet, Degas, and Van Gogh, among others. It was time to measure himself against them, in order to stake his claim in posterity, and define his place in the pantheon of the immortals. Those artists whose signature aspects he appropriated and remade in his own way seemed to speak to him as he painted, as if they were still alive and standing at his side.
Picasso had actually pondered the idea of tackling Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger for more than a decade. Françoise Gilot recalled how in 1944, following the Liberation, Georges Salle, the director of the Louvre, arranged for Picasso to have some of his paintings brought into the museum galleries and held up beside various masters. "(Picasso) asked to see some of his paintings beside Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus, The Massacre of Chios, and the The Women of Algiers. He had often spoken to me of making his own version of The Women of Algiers and had taken me to the Louvre on an average of once a month to study it... I asked him how he felt about Delacroix. His eyes narrowed and he said, 'That bastard. He's really good'" (in Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 203). Yve-Alain Bois observed, "Now, in late 1954, was the moment to act, to kill two birds with one stone: to address one 'bastard' the help of an earlier one, to populate the world with imaginary interlocutors in order to alleviate the sadness of this new, inescapable, and definitive solitude" (in Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry, exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1999, p. 231).
A further catalyst was the presence of Picasso's new companion Jacqueline, with whom he had been living since the early fall of 1954. The artist had noticed and relished her resemblance (fig. P-E, p. ___) to the right-hand figure, seen kneeling and in profile, in the Louvre version of Delacroix's painting. John Richardson has pointed out that "Françoise had not been the Delacroix type. Jacqueline, on the contrary, epitomized it--and not just in physiognomy. All three of Delacroix's 'Women of Algiers' have the same squat, short-waisted torso that we find in numerous paintings of Jacqueline... All three 'Women of Algiers' likewise manifest Jacqueline's submissiveness towards the absent but ever present pasha, the painter. And then, there is the African connection: Jacqueline had lived for many years as the wife of a colonial official in Upper Volta, now called Burkina. As Picasso remarked, 'Ouagadougou may not be Algiers, nonetheless Jacqueline has an African provenance'" (in Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, 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 Andalusia, from whence Morocco would have been a short trip across the Strait of Gibraltar. In Jacqueline, Africa had now come to him. With her classic Mediterranean appearance --jet-black hair, dark eyes and a long, narrow nose--she fully looked the part.
The advent of a new love in Picasso's life usually resulted in portraits that, at the outset, show her off to best advantage. The powerful presence of Jacqueline in the composition of Version O of the Delacroix paintings bears witness to the fact that she had indeed arrived and had become a significant force in his life. Susan Grace Galassi has suggested that Picasso's treatment of Jacqueline in his Delacroix variations was "a means of announcing Jacqueline's primacy in his 'harem'... a means of leaving Gilot behind" (in Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 137).
The Delacroix variations were the last major works that Picasso painted in his Paris studio. He was now so famous that it was impossible to move around Paris without being mobbed by journalists and passersby, and he decided to settle permanently in the Midi. La Galloise, his house in Vallauris, was too small for the many projects he was considering, and besides, it contained unpleasant memories of the departure in September 1953 of Françoise and their children Claude and Paloma. A new mistress required a new home, and during the summer of 1955 he purchased a spacious 19th century villa known as La Californie, which overlooked Cannes. It possessed numerous Art Nouveau features that lent the house a vaguely Orientalist air. Picasso told Pierre Daix, "I thought so much about Femmes d'Alger that I found La Californie; 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).
In the same way that the three wives of the Algerian engineer in Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger rule the inner domestic space of the home, so Jacqueline would hold sway over the new domain of La Californie, looking after the artist's needs, and most important of all, guarding his privacy, so that he could devote most of his time to painting. Because he was pursuing mainly formal concerns in his Delacroix variations, Picasso gave little attention to characterizing the women in these pictures. Their facial features are absent or summary at best, with the exception of Version O, in which the stately beauty of Jacqueline suddenly crystallizes before our view. It was perhaps to give Jacqueline the full measure of her due, and to mark her installation as the reigning female presence in his life and new home, that Picasso recast her as the odalisque in the costume turc paintings of late 1955, this time showing her with a recognizable face and investing her with a distinctive sense of individuality and empowerment. She dominates the space within these pictures; they are filled with the strength and charm of her presence. To create an appropriately stylish context for her appearance, Picasso took an especially Matissean approach in the costume turc canvases, to an even greater degree than in the variations on Les Femmes d'Alger. Here Picasso has employed costume and decoration as a primary means of evoking the seductive fantasy of Orientalism.
Picasso commenced his costume turc series on 19 November 1955 with Femme assise au costume oriental (Zervos, vol. 16, no. 532). The sitter is not recognizably Jacqueline, although it is assuredly her. Picasso has attired her in an undecorated jacket and loose, billowing harem pants, known as a saroual. His interest here appears to have been mainly structural, as he contrasted the contours of the figure against the framework of the chair. Later that day he painted a fully characterized portrait of Jacqueline, Femme au costume turc dans un fauteuil (Z., vol. 16, no. 534; fig. P-F, p. ___), in which she appears in the costume that defines the series: embroidered jacket, pants, and on her head, a fes with an embroidered headscarf. It is debatable whether Picasso actually had a Turkish costume on hand; the decoration on the jacket and headscarf varies from one painting to the next, suggesting that it was easy for Picasso to recreate the contours of the garments from examples he may have seen, and likewise invent convincingly authentic variations in their embroidered arabesques. It was probably unnecessary for Jacqueline to even sit for Picasso, as he already painted and drew her from memory, having absorbed his companion's presence, appearance and gestures from her movements around him during the course of the day.
The next canvas, like the previous two a portrait of Jacqueline seated in a chair, was painted on 20 November. Femme au costume turc (Picasso Project, no. 55-233; fig. P-G, p. __) may have been the result of an actual sitting. The portrayal of Jacqueline's features here is the most naturalistic in the series, and the most flattering to her actual appearance. Picasso changed the sarouel in which he attired her in the earlier pictures to slim-legged black pants, in imitation of the Turkish salvar worn by women beneath their robes and skirts. In order to create the effect of a patterned screen behind her, he has simply etched a swirling motif into the wet paint with the wooden tip of his brush. Picasso painted another version the same day (Z., vol. 16, no. 533), in which he could not resist reconfiguring Jacqueline's visage, bending her nose to one side in one of his signature portrait devices, a sort of visual pun, in which one half of the face appears as a profile, while the head itself has been viewed frontally.
In the next two paintings in the series, both done on 22 November (Z., vol. 16, no. 535; the other Picasso Project, no. 55-236), Jacqueline is seated not half-length in a chair, but full-length and cross-legged on the floor, recalling the middle femme d'Alger in Delacroix's painting. Here Picasso deconstructed the figure into ribbon-like color signs. He returned to a more pleasingly naturalistic rendering of the figure in the next painting, Femme à la veste turque, done on 24 November (Z., vol. 16, no. 527). Her vine-patterned headscarf resembles a Spanish lace mantilla, and there is an element of Baroque chiaroscuro in the composite profile and frontal face, divided into contrasting half-moons of light and dark.
Picasso painted the present canvas, Femme accroupie au costume turc, on 26 November 1955, his sole work that day. It incorporates all of the changes that Picasso had been making thus far as he worked through this idea, and takes his subject one significant step further. By including the screen or hanging rug on the right side, and noting the pattern of the floor tiling, Picasso has opened up a new dimension in the spatial aspect of this series, with the result that this canvas is the most Matisse-like of all of his Les Femmes d'Alger-related paintings. In the previous costume turc pictures, the background was simply a neutral, supportive space behind the figure. Here it possesses a decorative character all its own, which complements the figure to create an interesting interior environment and a more elaborate pictorial composition.
Picasso has used the counterpoint of profile and frontal visages--Jacqueline's right eye and ear are seen from the side--to excellent effect in this painting. The resulting portrayal of Jacqueline's expression is probably the most warmly engaging and good-humored in the entire costume turc series. The red and ochre ground in his canvas recalls the overall tonality in the Montpelier version of Delacroix's Les Femmes d'Alger (fig. P-B, p. ____), which Picasso has contrasted with the blue and green colors of Jacqueline's costume. The use of the lattice-work screen, or a patterned textile wall hanging, recalls the rectangular forms of the two door panels behind the central algerienne in the Louvre version. Matisse might often concentrate on rendering the decorative design of his fabrics in some detail, as seen in his L'Odalisque, harmonie bleue, also featured in this catalogue. Picasso's idea of decoration is, on the other hand, a marvel of economy--he has simply used little squares and Xs, a kind of painterly short-hand, to conjure the appearance of a pattern. Notice the effect of a diagonal beam of light striking the lower part of the screen, possibly also inspired by the Montpelier Les Femmes d'Alger.
Insofar as it adheres to the century-old conventions of the Orientalist genre, Femme accroupie au costume turc is Picasso's ultimate and consummate odalisque. While there are drawings of odalisques aplenty, especially in an extended sequence done in early 1968 (fig. P-H, p.___), the artist never returned to this subject in his painting in this full-blown, comprehensively realized manner. The Turkish costume reappeared in the bust-length Jacqueline au costume turc, 29 November 1955 (Picasso Project, no. 55-258[a]) and the abstractly deconstructed Femme assise au costume turc painted on 22 December 1955 (Z., vol. 16, no. 528). More remarkably, however, and a sure sign of what the odalisque theme would subsequently become in Picasso's hands, is Femme nue au bonnet turc (Z., vol. 16, no. 529; fig. P-I, p.___), painted on 1 December 1955. Here Jacqueline is again seated cross-legged, but this time she is voluptuously nude, except for her fes and headscarf, an incongruous touch that may represent a tip of the hat, so to speak, to Ingres' Grande odalisque (fig. O-?, p. ___).
Jacqueline would henceforth populate Picasso's paintings, drawings and prints as the archetypal woman, which in Picasso's mind required that she be almost always nude, completely exposed to our view. Marie-Laure Bernadac has noted the "impulse that Picasso feels, as a man and a painter, to dominate a woman's body, the object of desire and the eternal subject of painting." This was the irresistible allure of the odalisque. She continued, "Picasso is the painter of women: goddess of antiquity, praying mantis, blown-up balloon, weeper, hysteric, body curled in a ball or sprawled in sleep, pile of available flesh, cheerful pisser, fruitful mother or courtesan: no painter has ever gone so far in unveiling the feminine universe in all the complexity of its real and fantasy life" (in Late Picasso; exh. cat., op, cit., p. 80). John Richardson has called this late period in Picasso's life and work "l'époque Jacqueline":
"It is her image that permeates Picasso's work from 1954 to his death, twice as long as any of her predecessors. It is her body that we are able to explore 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 go on working in his ninety-second year. And lastly it 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" (in ibid., p. 47).
(fig. P-A) Eugène Delacroix, Les Femmes d'Alger, 1834. Musée du Louvre, Paris. BARCODE 26000459
(fig. P-B) Eugène Delacroix, Les Femmes d'Alger, 1849. Musée Fabre, Montpelier. BARCODE 26000442
(fig. P-C) Pablo Picasso, Les Femmes d'Alger, Version O, 14 February 1955. Formerly in the Collection of Victor and Sally Ganz; Sold, Christies, New York, 10 November 1997, lot 33. BARCODE 26000435
(fig. P-D) Jacqueline Roque, photograph by David Douglas Duncan. BARCODE 26000336
(fig. P-E) Jacqueline Roque, photograph by David Douglas Duncan. BARCODE 26000329
(fig. P-F) Pablo Picasso, Femme au costume turc dans un fauteuil, 19 November 1955. Private collection. BARCODE 26000244
(fig. P-G) Pablo Picasso, Femme au costume turc, 20 November, 1955. Private collection. BARCODE 26000251
(fig. P-H) Pablo Picasso, Le bain turc, 1 November 1968. Sold, Christie's, New York, 3 November 2004, lot 12. BARCODE 26000237
(fig. P-I) Pablo Picasso, Femme nue au bonnet turc, 1 December 1955. Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris. BARCODE 26000428