Picasso had known Jacqueline Roque since the summer of 1952, when he met this young and attractive divorcée at the Madoura pottery works in Vallauris, where the artist created his ceramics. It was not until June 1954, months after Picasso's relationship with Françoise Gilot had ended, that Picasso first painted Jacqueline, making a virtual declaration of love. They began to live together in Picasso's Grand-Augustins studio in Paris the following month, signaling the beginning of what John Richardson has called "l'époque Jacqueline." From this point, until his very last paintings and drawings, Jacqueline's presence dominated Picasso's work. Marie-Laure Bernadac wrote, "It is characteristic of Picasso, in contrast to Matisse and other twentieth-century painters, that he takes as his model--or as his Muse--the woman he loves and who lives with him, not a professional model. The beloved woman stands for 'painting' and the painted woman is the beloved: detachment is an impossibility. Picasso never paints from life: Jacqueline never poses for him, but she is there always, everywhere" (in Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 78).
The present painting is the first and most dramatic of three bust-length portraits that Picasso painted on 26-27 March 1956 on identically-sized canvases (Zervos, vol. 17, nos. 50 and 51). Jacqueline's face is severely angular; even the curvilinear elements terminate in sharp, blade-like points. Picasso has created his own form of geometric chiaroscuro, so that the highlights on the face and upper body stand out in sharp contrast from areas in shadow and the dark background. Picasso has made striking use of multiple profiles, so that Jacqueline's face is seen simultaneously from the front and both sides. This was an idea that he first explored in his cubist portrait Baigneuse, 1908 (Z. vol. 2, no. 111), by which he condensed various perspectives within a single plane. Picasso began to explore the psychological aspect of this pictorial device in paintings and drawings done in 1925-1926 (fig. 1). William Rubin has explained, "For Picasso, this meant achieving through a conflation of images the simultaneous presentation of an outgoing or 'public' self and a more subjective, psychologically withdrawn 'private' self. From the mid-1920s onward, Picasso had used for this purpose variations on his celebrated 'double-face,' which usually discloses the darker, private self in the form of a shaded or more darkly colored profile enclosed within the silhouette of a full front-face" (in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 473).
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme, 1926. Musée d'Art Moderne, Strasbourg.