Picasso crafted the sexual fantasy of Joueur de clarinette et nu couché in 1932. In this work, he depicts Marie-Thérèse Walter reclining blissfully while a clarinet player, a stand-in for Picasso, seduces her with his music. The artist underscored the musicality of this composition through the varying tempos of his pen and brush marks. The rapid pace of the zigzagged strokes and tight loops of his pen suggest the fervor of sexual energy in the work, while the languid rhythm set by his brushwork imbues it with a sense of delight and ecstasy.
The artist’s association with Marie-Thérèse began in 1927 (although some argue it began even earlier) when she was still a young woman living with her mother. Many years later, she recalled the moment that she met Picasso in Life magazine: “I was seventeen years old. I was an innocent young girl. I knew nothing—neither of life nor of Picasso. Nothing. I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said: ‘I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together’” (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1987, p. 202).
By 1932, Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse was well underway, albeit hidden from his wife Olga, and his young mistresses’ likeness had begun to covertly enter into his artistic production. Inspired by his muse and their passionate love affair, he created his celebrated series of sleeping women, all of which depict Marie-Thérèse, earlier that same year. Joueur de clarinette et nu couché conveys the rush of amorous excitement that the artist felt during this period. In similar drawings, Picasso presents himself as a flute or clarinet player, but often in the guise of a bearded older man, or on occasion, a minotaur. Overall, as Robert Rosenblum has written, “In surveying the emotional and pictorial graph of Marie-Thérèse's covert and overt presence in Picasso's life and art, there is no doubt that 1932 marks the peak of fever-pitch intensity and achievement, a year of rapturous masterpieces that reach a new and unfamiliar summit in both his painting and sculpture” (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 361).
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Femme allongée, joueur de flute, 1932. Sale, Christie's, Paris, 3 December 2007, lot 119.