Femme assise is an extremely rare example of Picasso executing two closely related versions of a painting in widely differing sizes. The larger version of this subject is Femme assise en costume vert, 1953 (Zervos, vol. 15, no. 242), which measures 36 x 28 in. (92 x 73 cm.), more than four times the height of the present painting. The Zervos entry for the larger painting does not specify the month and day in which it was done. While the two pictures were presumably painted around the same time, it is not clear if the present painting preceeded or followed the larger one. However, Picasso hardly if ever worked from studies in this late phase in his career, so it seems most likely that the smaller version was done later, perhaps within a matter of days. It remained in the artist's collection--it is for this reason he did not sign it--and became part of his estate. Femme assise may have been some sort of keepsake, a possibility that becomes more apparent in light of events that transpired around the time Picasso painted it.
Picasso met Françoise Gilot, an aspiring young painter, in May 1943. They began living together three years later (see note to lot 159). Their son Claude was born in 1947, and their daughter Paloma in 1949. Their home was a villa called La Galloise, in the hills overlooking the town of Vallauris, where Picasso was making ceramics at Georges Rami©e's Madoura pottery works. Within a couple of years, however, serious strains had developed in their relationship--Françoise had confirmed her suspicions that Picasso had been having an affair and he wanted a third child, while she wanted to devote more time to her own painting. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler had given Françoise her first solo exhibition at Galerie Louise Leiris in 1952. In March 1953 Françoise went to Paris to work on sets and costumes for a ballet, and took the children with her. They did not return until the summer. Previously, when Picasso and his family were apart, it was he who went traveling on business or to visit old friends. With his family away, Picasso was alone in La Galloise that spring, and to evoke Françoise's presence, he painted a number of bust length portraits and seated figures that clearly show her features, even if they are not titled with her name.
Femme assise shows Françoise seated in wicker chair, as she appears in the larger painting and another portrait done on 5 March 1953 (Zervos, vol. 15, no. 239). In both the large and small versions of this subject, Françoise wears a green dress--Picasso associated her with the color green--when they first met, Françoise was wearing a green turban, and in his most famous portrait of her, Femme-fleur, painted 5 May 1946 (Zervos, vol.14, no. 167), Picasso transformed her tresses into enormous green leaves. Other similarities between the two versions are very general, so that the smaller picture is actually more a variation on, than a copy of, the larger one. Many of the differences were dictated by the very small scale of the present painting. Indeed, in this modest size, the artist's touch in his brushwork seems even more vigorous and personal, and the intimate scale lends the subject a special poignancy and tenderness.