Even in his final years Picasso was preoccupied with his favorite subject - the woman in his life, the immediate object of his sexual passion. The present drawing depicts Jacqueline Roque, whom the artist married in 1961. She is omnipresent throughout the works of the last decade of Picasso's life, and is identifiable from her characteristic chignon and red nail-polish. Following Picasso's ulcer operation in November 1965, they gave up travelling and lived in near-seclusion at his villa, Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins. His increasing isolation from the world intensified his relationships with the few people he allowed around him, and in this context Jacqueline became a symbol of l'éternel féminin.
"Picasso never paints from life: Jacqueline never poses for him; but she is there always, everywhere. All the woman of these years are Jacqueline; and yet they are rarely portraits" (M.-L. Bernadac, Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 78).
In the present work, Jacqueline's flailing arms, gaping mouth, distorted face with dilated nostrils and bulging eyes project a Dionysian frenzy. There is an element of irony in her portrayal; her intense expression may stem more from frustration than actual sexual release. "Picasso's sexual powers may have waned - impotence is thought to have set in around his eightieth year - but sex was still very much on his mind. 'We don't do it any more, but the desire is still with us,' he told Brassaï. To compensate for his loss of libido, Picasso came to see sex and art as metaphors for each other - the sexual act standing for the creative act, and vice-versa. Hence the explicitly erotic nature of so many of these late drawings" (J. Richardson, intro., sale, Christie's, New York, 19 November 1998, p. 7).
A tremendous surge of creative energy and urgency compelled Picasso to produce a rich and vast body of work even into the last years of his life. The prodigious quantity of works created around the time of this drawing include: 347 etchings between March and October 1968; 167 paintings between January 1969 and January 1970; 194 drawings between December 1969 and January 1971; 156 etchings between January 1970 and March 1972 and 201 paintings between September 1970 and June 1972. Picasso had outlived many of his contemporaries and friends, including Braque, Cocteau, Breton, Giacometti, Zervos and Sabartés. His prolific output suggests a conscious or unconscious race against the march of time and his own impending mortality.