In late 1962 Picasso completed his series of paintings based on Poussin's L'enlèvement des sabines, with a nod toward David as well. For almost ten years he had been seeking his primary inspiration in the works and iconography of the Old Masters, as well as in Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe, the pioneering work of early modernism. He declared that he had nearly spent himself on the Sabines, -calamitous scenes out of classical antiquity, filled with women in distress, rapacious warriors and rampaging horses. Picasso then turned away from deliberate allusions to the past, limiting their appearance to his etchings, while he sought to reinvigorate himself by taking on a new theme in his painting, which was as basic and immediate to the work of a painter as he could conceive: the relationship between the artist and his model.
Hélène Parmelin, a close friend and a frequent visitor to Picasso's studio during this period, recalled, ''And now he says he is turning his back on everything. He says he is embarking upon an incredible adventure. He says that everything is changed; it is over and done with; painting is completely different from what one had thought--perhaps it is even the opposite. It is a time that he declares himself ready to kill modern 'art'--and hence art itself--in order to rediscover painting. One must, says Picasso, look for something that develops all by itself, something natural and not manufactured. 'Let it unfold in the form of the natural and not in the form of art. The grass as grass, the tree as tree, the nude as nude'. In the month of February, 1963, Picasso lets loose. He paints the Artist and His Model. And from this moment on he paints like a madman, perhaps never before with such frenzy" (in op. cit., pp. 9-10).
The bridge between the final déjeuneurs, Sabines and warriors, and the new artist and model pictures, were a series of portraits that Picasso painted of Jacqueline, the artist's companion since 1954, whom he married in 1961. Painted in late 1962 and early 1963 (Zervos, vol. 23, nos. 72-94 and 110-117), these pictures suggest the excitement of rediscovery, and, indeed, the sheer delectation, that Picasso took in looking at and depicting in paint a live, flesh and blood model, who was the very woman whom he loved. The next step in this process was to insert the artist into the picture, which Picasso undertook in a series of drawings done between 10 and 21 February 1963 (Zervos, vol. 23, nos. 125-150). The first painting on this new theme actually made the artist its subject, in Le peintre, done on 22 February (Zervos, vol. 23, no, 151; fig. 1). As if to declare, by way of a prologue, that he was preparing for the grand enterprise at hand, the painter is seen there rendering a bust set on a stool, an image which embodies the notion of tradition and recalls an artist's typical classical education--Picasso had drawn from plaster casts as a youthful student in Corunna nearly seven decades earlier.
A reclining nude then replaced the bust as the artist's subject in an important sequence of four paintings done on 2 March (Zervos, vol. 23, nos. 154-157). The present Le peintre et son modèle was the culmination of that momentous day's efforts. With it, after only the very first session, Picasso established the paradigm for the entire series to come. Parmelin has observed, "This nude, so beautiful and nonchalant, who lounges naturally on her couch or chaise longue; this nude so overwhelmingly for the Artist, full of arrogance, supremely disdainful of him; growing in the studio like a tree in the earth--with no problems, whereas the artist has so many--this nude that Picasso paints for his poor Artist in her multiple poses and solutions, is for him the double-edged major subject on which his Artist's life torments itself. The Artist's favorite reality is this woman, spirited, double in nature, whose body lends itself to the thousand elaborations of the mind, as it does to the thousand imaginations of the body and to infinite scrutiny" (ibid., p. 15).
This series would eventually comprise numerous variants on the artist and model theme. In some versions 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 turned the tables on himself and placed the model at the easel, brush in hand. Throughout the series Picasso is both observer and creator, the passive voyeur and the active agent in the scene, while the model stands for the totality of the world itself, made manifest through the reality of paint. The artist and model, or more generally the studio theme, was not new in Picasso's work, but coming at this juncture it stated Picasso's reaffirmation of 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. The artist's intent, however, went beyond the theoretical, and the artist and model paintings were not meant to serve solely 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).
The artist and model series is Picasso's paean to the powerful presence of Jacqueline and the strength of his feelings for her. She is the model, in as many guises as Picasso lends her, the ultimate and universal woman who is the object of the artist's obsessive attention and efforts. "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 proximity and the paintings sprang forth from his fantasies and imagination, guided by a deftly spontaneous hand born of an innate virtuosity and seasoned through long decades of hard and unrelenting work.
The artist and model paintings led to the emergence of the mousquetaire paintings in the later 1960s, via the personage of the baroque peintre-cavalier, for whom Picasso returned to Velázquez and Rembrandt as his guides (fig. 2). They also mark the final chapter in Picasso's ongoing engagement with the work of his great rival and friend Matisse. The arrival of Jacqueline in his life in 1954, as new lover and model, coincided with the death of Matisse. "When Matisse died," said Picasso, "he left his odalisques to me as a legacy" (quoted in ibid., p. 55). Matisse had based his art on, and defined the very essence of painting through the relationship of the artist and his model (fig. 3). For Picasso as well, in his final decade, after all that gone before, it had come down to the very same thing. The synergy of artist and model lay at the very heart of creation, it became the pulse of his daily life. The artist and 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 most strongly felt the need to evoke this sensual aspect of the world when the days were short and the Midi weather was at its chilliest. The presence of the model, real or imagined, was welcome feminine warmth, and Picasso knew that the irresistible attraction that drew him toward her was life itself.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Le peintre, 22 February 1963, photographed in Picasso's studio in his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins. Private collection. Copyright 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York BARCODE 25238570
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt et Saskia, 13-14 March 1963. Private collection. Copyright 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York BARCODE 25238587
(fig. 3) Henri Matisse, Le peintre et son modèle: Interieur d'atelier, Nice, 1919. Private collection. Copyright 2007 Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York BARCODE 25238594