For long periods during 1963 and 1964 Picasso completely immersed himself in paintings centered exclusively on an artist and his model. “And now he says he is turning his back on everything,” Hélène Parmelin, who witnessed the inception of these pictures, recounted. “He says he is embarking upon an incredible adventure. He says that everything is changed; it is over and done with; painting is completely different from what one had thought... He declares himself ready to kill modern ‘art’–and hence art itself–in order to rediscover painting... ‘Let it unfold in the form of the natural and not in the form of art [Picasso proclaimed]... The grass as grass, the tree as tree, the nude as nude...’ And from this moment on he paints like a madman, perhaps never before with such frenzy” (Picasso: The Artist and His Model, New York, 1965, pp. 9-10).
Picasso painted Femme assise, buste–depicting his wife Jacqueline–several days after his 83rd birthday, which fell on 25 October 1964. For the previous two weeks he had been painting an artist at his easel, in a series of variations showing wide-eyed and mostly hirsute young men, clad in his own favorite work attire, a horizontally striped fisherman’s vest, indicating that he intended them to represent himself (Zervos, vol. 24, nos. 215-243). To celebrate his birthday, Picasso began and completed the large canvas Le peintre et son modèle, this time revealing himself more clearly in a self-portrait, as he is engaged in painting Jacqueline (Zervos, vol. 24, no. 245). Picasso painted a small study of Jacqueline’s head on 28 October (I) (Zervos, vol. 24, no. 248), and later the same day he finished the present half-length portrait of her seated. The surge of painters and nudes, individually or together on the canvas, continued unabated well into the spring of 1965.
Femme assise, buste displays the excitement of perpetual rediscovery, the sheer delectation that Picasso experienced in gazing upon and rendering in paint the very woman whom he loved. Jacqueline hardly ever posed; Picasso merely needed the proximity of her presence for inspiration. When he does not actually appear in the painting, in the shape of some proxy or other, we sense–as here–him, standing just outside the canvas and scrutinizing it very intently; he is both creator and voyeur, and would have the viewer also share in such intimate secrets of the studio. As his model, Jacqueline represents no less than the totality of the larger world around him–during the final decade of his life, she had indeed become his world.
There is, invariably–as one should expect from Picasso–an insistently unabashed sexual component in these pictures. The outcome is inevitable, as Marie-Laure Bernadac has observed: “The more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model, canceling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship... John Richardson speaks of ‘sex as a metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex’”(Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 77).
In these paintings, Picasso’s late style quickly emerged. “A dot for the breast, a line for the artist, five spots of paint for the foot, a few pink and green lines – that’s enough, isn’t it?” [Picasso said]. “What more need I do? What can I add to that? It’s all been said... What has to happen, when you finally look at it, is that drawing and color are the same thing.” As Bernadac noted, “For Picasso, to paint is to say. ‘Things have got to be named [he declared]... I want to say the nude; I don’t just want to make a nude like a nude; I just want to say breast, to say foot, to say hand, belly–find a way to say it and that’s enough’” (ibid., p. 85).
Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Mougins, 25 October 1964. Private collection.
Pablo Picasso, Le peintre et son modèle, Mougins, 4 November 1964. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 4 May 2010, lot 43.