Femme assise dans un fauteuil (fig. 1) depicts Picasso's second wife, Jacqueline Roque (fig. 2) , whom the artist met in 1952 when she came to work for his potters, the Ramiés, in Vallauris. Picasso and Jacqueline took up residence together two years later and were married in 1961, just a few months shy of the artist's eightieth birthday.
The artist was captivated by Jacqueline's classic brand of beauty, particularly her long, patrician nose and thick sweep of glossy, dark hair. He commented in 1964, "Braque once said to me, 'Basically you have always loved classical beauty.' It's true. They don't invent a type of beauty every year" (quoted in D. Ashton, Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 74). From 1954 onward, the image of Jacqueline dominated Picasso's work, forming the largest group of portraits in his entire oeuvre. John Richardson has written, "It is her body that we are able to explore more exhaustively and more intimately than any other body in the history of art. It is her solicitude and patience that sustained the artist in the face of declining health and death and enabled him to be more productive than ever before and to go on working into his ninety-second year. And lastly it is her vulnerability that gives a new intensity to the combination of cruelty and tenderness that endows Picasso's paintings of women with their pathos and their strength" (in Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 47).
Picasso makes striking use of multiple profiles in this portrait of Jacqueline. This was an idea that he first explored in his cubist Baigneuse of 1908-1909, where it functioned as a means of condensing various perspectives within a single plane (Zervos vol. 2, no. 111). Around 1925, Picasso began to investigate the psychological possibilities of this motif, using it to evoke a conflicted or divided personality. 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of images the simultaneous presentation of an outgoing or 'public' self and a more subjective, psychologically withdrawn 'private' self.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).
A woman seated in the armchair was one of Picasso's favorite motifs, and he returned to it at nearly every stage of his career. As he explained to the writer André Malraux, "When I paint a woman in an armchair, the armchair implies old age or death or else the armchair is there to protect her" (quoted in J. Richardson, Through the Eye of Picasso, 1928-1934, New York, 1985, n.p.).
(fig. 1) Picasso in his studio with the present painting, 1962.
(fig. 2) Jacqueline Roque, 1956. Photograph by André Villers.