In 1963, after almost ten years of finding inspiration in the iconography of Old Masters such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Delacroix and Ingres, Picasso suddenly curtailed the use of allusive references to the past, limiting them to his etchings, while in his painting he concentrated on the essential relationship between the artist and his model. There are numerous variants on this theme: in some the artist is seen with his easel in front of him as he gazes at his model, in others the artist is alone with his troubled thoughts, or the nude body of the model alone fills the canvas. In a few examples Picasso humorously turns the tables on himself and places the model at the easel, brush in hand.
In this series the artist is both voyeur and creator, and the model is the world itself, revealed through the reality of paint. Picasso reaffirmed his attachment to the external world and the presence of the "subject" in his painting, at a time when many artists were talking of doing away with both. However, the artist's intent is far from being purely philosophical, nor is it meant to serve as a commentary on his craft. "The more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model, cancelling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship. Painting is an act of love, according to Gert Schiff, and John Richardson speaks of 'sex as metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex' " (M.-L. Bernadac, "Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model," Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 77).
In this respect the artist and model series is a paean to the intensity of Picasso's relationship with Jacqueline Roque, his lover since 1954, and his wife since 1961; they were married when Picasso was almost eighty years old. She is the model and the powerful female figure in all of these paintings. "No painter has ever gone so far in unveiling the feminine universe in all the complexity of its real and fantasy life. This intimate, passionate awareness is a constant source of renewal for his painting, which revels in the variety of the repertoire of forms that it affords, mineral and carnal by turns" (ibid., p. 80). Despite her omnipresence, Jacqueline never posed. There was no need for her to do so; Picasso needed only the stimulation of her presence and the paintings sprang forth from his fantasies and imagination, with a skill born of decades of experience and an innate virtuosity.
The artist-model paintings of this period burst forth in waves, from February to May, 1963, and in January, October, November and December 1964 and in March 1965. Their production subsided during the warmer months of spring and summer. It appears that Picasso felt the need most strongly to evoke this sensual aspect of the world when the days were short and the Midi weather was at its chilliest. Painted in a tonality of pale pinks and greens, the present painting evokes the bleached colors of the Mediterranean world, seen in the receding light of the November sun. Picasso used black paint to outline the figures and to draw attention to their expressions, underscoring the powerful attraction between the artist and his subject. The meeting of their eyes, following an emphatic horizontal line of sight from one to the other, creates an atmosphere of simmering sexual anticipation.