Picasso created one hundred etchings from 1933-36--now known under the collective title La Suite Vollard--which represent the artist's definitive graphic achievement in his Neo-classical style. In the present work, depicting a harem scene in homage of Ingres' The Turkish Bath (1862), the etched plate acts as a microcosm onto which the artist develops infatuations, conflates identities and merges roles. As the fifth and final state (a state being a stage in the creation of an image), the figures appear well-defined, commanding a sense of lurid entitlement in their arresting pose. Picasso's reworking of the central and reclining female figures is telling. In the first state, the reclining figure lies demurely facing the viewer, the central figure gazes down at her serenely. By the fifth state, this interaction has reversed entirely, as the reclining figure now appears in profile, looking up at the central figure, who now stares brazenly back at the viewer. The strong re-working of this figure's face in particular transforms it into the visual focus of the composition. The articulation of contours in dark, richly-inked line completes the artist's inventive transformation of the original Ingres painting.
The delineation of subject and theme is less clear, though the centrality of storytelling and sequence throughout La Suite Vollard is definite. The conflation of Ingres' oriental subject with the Neo-classicism characteristic of the suite is mirrored in the blending of its quintessential motifs--model as lover, muse as temptress, artist as voyeur and god. The artist's models are possibly his lovers too; they are also posing as Odalisques in a Greco-Roman scene. The bearded sculpture--recurrent throughout the suite--is often understood to be the artist's father, or in the context of the harem his presence becomes decidedly voyeuristic. The methodical re-visiting of themes within La Suite Vollard, as well as the mining of celebrated art historical motifs, imbues this work with a psychological intensity that matches its formal ingenuity.