Painted in 1951, Femme peintre et mannequin is an intriguing view into the mind of one of Spain's most enigmatic modern painters. Clavé's subject matter in the figurative works he was painting during this period tended to result in cryptic, almost surreal scenes. Here, the female painter is painting a mannequin in what appears to be a confined space. This sense of confinement was a factor that initially became apparent in Clavé's works during the Occupation of Paris when he was both keeping his head low and also had a young son to look after. This sense of interiority became much more general and sinister in post-war paintings such as Femme peintre et mannequin, despite the fact that Clavé was becoming increasingly successful as an artist during precisely this time, feted by artists and collectors on an international scale.
The female painter and the mannequin were both common elements in his work, but the combination of these two key elements of his iconography is especially potent. Although superficially, Femme peintre et mannequin could be said to be a product of his friend and fellow Spanish exile Picasso's influence, especially in his pictures of the painter and his model, here the content has a less directly autobiographical content, while the atmosphere has nothing to do with the older Spaniard's works.
The dismembered mannequin is itself strangely disturbing. At first glance, it is not even clear that this is a mannequin - instead, it looks like a person, painted in similar tones and style to the painter. Clavé has even expressly created some similarity in their features, a similarity that is played out to more dramatic extent in some of his other paintings of the period. This creates a strange atmosphere, throwing the relationship between the painter and the painter's subject into a jarring relief. This is made even more explicit by the sheer painterliness of Femme peintre et mannequin, which brings our attention to the fact that this is itself a painted scene, that the femme peintre is herself the subject, or even object, of Clavé's painting. The mannequin, which has to be dressed, appears to reflect the artist's own imposition of content into the painting as it is molded, dressed and positioned by the painter, created in the necessary form. However, with its arm broken off, there is an implication not only of decrepitude, but also of violence. The inclusion of the detached hand in both Clavé's and, we assume, the femme peintre's work, appears to show some complicity in this violence. Femme peintre et mannequin appears therefore as some dialogue on the act, and even violence, of creation, a motif made more explicit by the gleaming colours that appear, in contrast to much of the rest of the work, on the femme peintre's palette.