Painted in 1956, Femme dans un rocking-chair is a colourful picture that doubles as an insight into Picasso's own domestic life at the period, and into the emotional landscape of the period. This is evident not only in its inclusion of Jacqueline, his final lover (who would later become his second wife), but also in the lingering spirit of Matisse that pervades the work.
Picasso had met Jacqueline some years before, while he was still involved with Françoise Gilot. She was to leave him in 1954, only two years before Femme dans un rocking-chair was painted. And yet it is clear from the atmosphere in this work that within a very short time, a comfortable air surrounded the relationship between Jacqueline and Picasso. For the model in this work, despite the lack of any overly specific facial traits, is clearly intended to be his lover.
Picasso had met Jacqueline Roque at the pottery of the Ramiés in Vallauris that he used in making his ceramics; she was working as an assistant there, but within a couple of years was already featuring prominently as one of the artist's muses. Indeed, in her role as Picasso's lover, companion and wife over the next two decades, she would come to be the most-represented of all the women in the painter's life, and those representations would arguably be the most varied, celebrating various aspects of her personality, her strong good looks and their relationship. In Femme dans un rocking-chair, Picasso has clearly painted the face using the bare minimum of means, yet the posture of the figure, so poised and elegant, appears to be a clear reference to Jacqueline as she is shown in many other depictions.
The fact that Jacqueline is shown in a chair at all is a tribute to the straightforward relationship that the couple enjoyed in comparison to some of the more turbulent periods of Picasso's life. Gone is the angst that accompanied the 'Seated Woman' portraits of Dora Maar, the dark and tortured images that were so suited to the period of conflict, both on the personal level and in the context of the Spanish Civil War, and then the Second World War. All that tension has been exorcised, replaced by a relaxed, homely and distinctly sensual atmosphere.
During this early period of their relationship, Picasso painted several images of Jacqueline within the context of his studio of the Villa La Californie, a representation perhaps of her role at the centre of his world. Often in these works, she would be shown in one of the two rocking-chairs to which he had clung for so long-- some of the only furniture that, it seems, would follow the hermit-crab-like artist from home to home. Femme dans un rocking-chair bears several similarities to those works, despite the lack of any of the accoutrements of a studio space around her. Instead, this work is filled with colour. The sheer blocks of yellow, red and green that take up so much of the background appear to refer to the intense colourism of the legendary paper cut-outs of Henri Matisse. The older artist, Picasso's great friend and rival, had died only two years before Femme dans un rocking-chair was painted, and his legacy remained evident in several works from the following years.
Matisse's influence is likewise evident in the vaguely oriental ambience that Picasso has so deftly conjured in Femme dans un rocking-chair. The woman is presented topless, a clear reference to the pictures on the theme of the Odalisque with which Matisse had been so well associated. This was a subject that he had made his own, but that he had also married to the light and life of the South of France, and so here Picasso takes up the gauntlet of his friend to produce his own Southern French image of the Odalisque. This subject, as a manner of depicting Jacqueline, was all the more pertinent because of the noted similarity between her own features and those of the woman shown at the right in the Louvre version of Delacroix' Femmes d'Alger dans leur appartement. Thus an older masterpiece, a late master and friend, and Picasso's current companion all come together in Femme dans un rocking-chair, as many strange and coincidentally-linked facets of the Spanish artist's concerns, thoughts and feelings of the time.
Despite the references in both subject and in the use of colour to Matisse, the style of this painting is very much Picasso's own. He has painted with gusto, with clear and palpable energy, a sharp contrast to the paper cut-outs to which Matisse partly resorted because of his lack of mobility towards the end of his life. This towering canvas provided Picasso with a vast arena upon which he has, with an energy belying his age (he was over 70 years old), clearly moved with great energy. The many curlicues that make up the various parts of the chair and even the edge of the woman's arm are evidence of Picasso's intense activity, as is the deliberately gestural and varied paint surface in the red, yellow and green colour fields of the background. Here and there, expansive and sweeping brushstrokes are in evidence that tell of Picasso's movements.
This expressly painterly treatment reflects not only Picasso's own insistence on his own vitality, a key concern for him now that he was spending time with his far younger partner, but also reflects his awareness of the artistic movements in the world at large. In Femme dans un rocking-chair, there is a clear hint of the Art Informel that was so integral to painting in France in the Post-War period. Picasso has taken this anti-style, and created something very much his own from it; his own anxieties about his increasing age and frailness were perfectly suited to the existentialism at the core of the art of the period, and Picasso explores this shared territory to great effect in this picture. At the same time, he has added an exuberance, a sense of light and colour, while also attacking the very bare bones of painting itself, attacking traditional (and even, Matisse-like) beauty to create something that appears all the more direct, Picasso revealing his own domestic and interior life, his feelings, with a brutal and engaging frankness.