The paintings Picasso created of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter during their summer together at his château, Boisgeloup, in 1932 still rank as the most potent and sensual of his paintings of any of his lovers. The transformation of his Cubism, under the influence of Surrealism, into a fluid and flowing style perfectly captured not only his lover, but also the atmosphere of freedom that reigned at Boisgeloup. For it was before this summer that Picasso's wife had finally been confronted with her husband's errant behaviour. Now that it was in the open, Picasso no longer had to hide the relationship. Where he had earlier been obliged to conceal Marie-Thérèse's existence, in June 1932 he took the bold step of filling a large exhibition at the Galerie Georges Petit with paintings in which his lover was displayed with varying degrees of cryptography. While some of his works had concealed the initials of her name in musical instruments, others were obviously lust-fuelled depictions of a blonde nude. Olga was thus confronted with her husband's affair in a highly public way, but one that was arguably the only way he knew. Following this, Picasso essentially eloped for the summer, forsaking his wife and indulging himself with his lithe young lover.
After the rigid neo-Classicism that had dominated Picasso's work during the more successful years of his marriage to Olga, colour and swirling, expressive forms now flooded into his work. In some, he concentrated the colour in intense fields, such as Le rêve, whereas in others he introduced a sense of light, a sense of the care- and consequence-free environment in which he was now living. Femme dans un fauteuil, despite the artist's exuberant use of bold green, yellow and red, is dominated by an interest in light rather than colour, using various gentle lilacs, pinks and greens to articulate her flesh and hair. The composition is dominated by a serpentine inverted S-shaped curve that begins with her hair and continues through her body, changing in its colours but retaining its form. This lends the work a lyrical, sensuous aspect.
Marie-Thérèse was a striking woman. Picasso had met her when she was only seventeen years old, and had immediately managed to way-lay her, encouraging her to pose for him. 'I am Picasso!' he had exclaimed on seeing her outside the Galeries Lafayette. 'You and I are going to do great things together' (P. Daix, La vie de peintre de Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1977, p.217). The girl had no idea then who was confronting her thus, but was swept along by his enthusiasm and became one of his most enduring lovers. She also became a muse to him in a way that few other women managed. Her athletic yet curvaceous form begged him to create sensual and curving images of her, and indeed it was during this time that he returned to sculpture, desiring to mould and capture her form in three dimensions as well as two. In Femme dans un fauteuil, the sense of the artist's own physical interest in these curves is accentuated by the rare painterliness with which he has painted the body: the background and hair are smoothly painted in comparison to the flesh, perhaps revealing Picasso's own excitement at surveying her voluptuous naked form.
As well as her athleticism, Picasso was drawn to her glow of health, of fertility. It was with this in mind that Picasso began to paint her limbs as though they were tendrils, giving a sense of growth and fecundity. She is almost leafy, implying a sense also of shelter in her arms especially. This is heightened by the greens in the picture, used to portray her (usually blonde) hair and snaking in more muted form through her body.
When Picasso's friend and dealer Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler visited Picasso's studio during this period and viewed his 1932 output, he was amazed by the virtuosity, the life and the confidence of these works, writing to Michel Leiris that:
'Painting is really sustained by Picasso: and so wonderfully. [His recent work] is without painterly artifice: very alive, very erotic, but the eroticism of a giant. For some years now, Picasso has not had any rival... We left feeling quite overwhelmed' (Kahnweiler, quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 221).