Painted at the height of Picasso's affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, Le repos perfectly captures the spirit of Boisgeloup, the château which Picasso bought to use as a hideaway for this intense romance. Le repos is a deeply personal depiction of the contented sleep of Marie-Thérèse (fig. 1). Picasso had been completely besotted with this young blond woman from their first meeting. Executed on 17 May 1932, the painting dates from the year in which many of the strands that influenced his art came together producing a flowering that culminated in the extraordinarily vibrant and colorful works celebrating his love for Marie-Thérèse. The majority of Picasso's Boisgeloup paintings show Marie-Thérèse absorbed in a blissful sleep, as in Le miroir in which she sleeps, while sprawled voluptuously in front of a mirror, and Le rêve (fig. 2), in which she has been caught on canvas shortly after falling asleep in a chair. This remarkable series of works, which rate among the finest achievements of Picasso's oeuvre, allow a glimpse of the intimacy and dream-like atmosphere of Boisgeloup. Of all these works, Le repos, with its innovative landscape composition, is one of the most intimate of these outstanding portraits. A fluid and deeply personal work, the simple lines and fields of color translate the great tranquility of her sleep. Marie-Thérèse was not merely a model but an inspiration and the portraits Picasso painted of her during the spring of 1932 are visual declarations of his love.
Picasso had greeted the teenaged Marie-Thérèse with the prophetic words, "I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together'. In turn, Marie-Thérèse had only responded with a blank look, "I was an innocent young girl", she recalled. "I didn't know anything--neither about life nor about Picasso" (M.-T. Walter, quoted in P. Daix, La vie de peintre de Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1977, p. 217).
Picasso was deeply struck by the sensual physicality and youthful exuberance of the girl, and she became his ultimate muse, appearing under a variety of guises in his art. Marie-Thérèse was, however, so young that she still lived at her family home and it took six months of courting for Picasso to finally win her. The relationship was a secret, hidden affair. In 1930, Picasso had installed her in an apartment on rue de la Boétie, only doors away from his marital home. Marie-Thérèse fondly remembered the days when they were "living a completely non-bourgeois love, a bohemian love" (quoted in ibid., p. 217).
1932 marked a turning point in Picasso's life with Marie-Thérèse; for it was at this time that they began to escape the secrecy and subterfuge of their affair, and replaced it with the tranquillity of Boisgeloup, a place where they could leave their worries and Picasso's wife Olga behind them. In Boisgeloup, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse lived a relaxed home life together. This change was reflected in Picasso's art by a radical departure from his violent and Surrealist-inspired distortions of the female figure which had dominated his work for the last two years. These tortuous figures with their sharp, almost dismembered forms had been influenced by Oceanic art and were reflections of Picasso's great emotional range. In 1932 at Boisgeloup, however, Picasso's art blossomed as these disjointed figures were superceded by a more sensuous and gentle appreciation of flesh, a free celebration of Marie-Thérèse's sensuality. In Le repos, this paean finds a more domestic and personal form. Picasso's explorations of the gentle undulations of her flesh and of her tranquillity perfectly express the artist's exultation of the fact that her body is his domain and that the couple can at last be at rest.
The composition of Le repos reflects the intimacy shared by Picasso and Marie-Thérèse at Boisgeloup. A close-up view that allows the figure of Marie-Thérèse to fill the frame, Le repos conveys the idea that the viewer is lying beside her. Picasso portrays Marie-Thérèse's face and shoulders as though her body were a landscape. It is exclusively a lover's view, seen with a lover's proximity. The brush has visibly swept across the canvas, caressing Marie-Thérèse's face into existence. The simplicity of Picasso's rendering of her eyes perfectly captures the total relaxation of her dreamless sleep. The fingers on her hands flow together rather than interlocking. Picasso painted them with great ease and with only a few simple strokes. The fluidity of her face and arms is accentuated by the strong red of the bed. Above that violent color is a gentle combination of tones and curves that speak only of Marie-Thérèse's soft repose.
(fig. 1) Marie-Thérèse at 6, Cité d'Alfort at Alfortville. Photograph by Picasso, Collection of Maya Picasso. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2000
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Le rêve, 14 January 1932.
(Christie's, New York, 10 November 1997, lot 43).