Pablo Picasso painted Femme assise dans un fauteuil in December 1960. This is one of a group of portraits appearing to show his partner Jacqueline Roque that Picasso created after his purchase of the Château de Vauvenargues - only a few months before their marriage - in which she sits in stately splendour, as though enthroned. During this period, Picasso would create several related images of Jacqueline, adding his own distinctive twist to the elegant portraiture of the Golden Age of painting in his native Spain. Of those created at around the same time as Femme assise dans un fauteuil, several now form parts of important collections, one belonging to the Detroit Institute of Arts, another to the Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Toyama and a third on loan to the Museo Picasso, Malaga; Femme assise dans un fauteuil itself was owned by Gioconda King, a noted philanthropist after whom a room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is named; she bequeathed this picture to the Met, by whom it was sold in 2006 in order to raise funds. These pictures of Jacqueline in her grand armchair are also related to the group of Femme et fillettes which Picasso began a few months before Femme assise dans un fauteuil was painted, and which he reprised in 1961 after his marriage to her; they also prefigure the 1962 images of Jacqueline with their pet Afghan hound, Kaboul.
Picasso had met Jacqueline through the Ramié family at Vallauris, with whom he collaborated in creating his ceramic works. The artist was credited with reviving the industry there, which had a history stretching back to Roman times. Jacqueline became Picasso's partner after the departure of Françoise Gilot. A divorcée, she had a daughter of her own, who herself may have been one of the fillettes mentioned above and who swiftly became part of the coterie that surrounded Picasso. Jacqueline would prove to be the most enduring of Picasso's loves, staying with him for almost two decades at the end of his life and becoming one of his most frequently-depicted Muses - despite supposedly never sitting for him. For Picasso, Jacqueline's arrival in his life appeared to have been foreseen, as she bore a great resemblance to one of the women in Eugène Delacroix's Les femmes d'Algers dans leur apartement, a picture which was a touchstone to the Spanish artist and which he himself would use as a springboard for a series of variations.
During the post-war years, Picasso often turned to his old artistic heroes and antecedents such as Delacroix, Rembrandt and Velasquez, sometimes paying homage to them and sometimes sparring with their legacy, emphasising his own primacy. This would appear to be the case in Femme assise dans un fauteuil, where Picasso has taken the bare bones of Golden Age portraiture and twisted them, reinvigorating them through his use of a post-Cubist idiom. The figure is made up of a series of cipher-like details, for instance the planar depiction of the face, which itself recalls the sculptures of cut paper and steel that he was beginning to create during this period. Meanwhile, the body itself is an accumulation of shapes and signs, not least the horizontal S-shape of the sitter's breasts. The throne-like chair has been rendered through a deft, even playful, reduction of form. Meanwhile, the book in her lap appears as a tribute to Old Master pictures, adding a dimension of contemplation to the work. In Femme assise dans un fauteuil, Picasso has thus used the visual language of the Old Masters, with a tried and tested composition and subject matter, as the launch-pad for a series of bold experiments; this is also reflected in the vigorous treatment of the paint itself, which varies in its textures, sometimes thick and impastoed while other areas are left in reserve. Picasso is clearly involving himself with the entire legacy of painting, keeping one eye on the post-war development of Art Informel and Action Painting, as is reflected in the surface and the sheer vigour of Femme assise dans un fauteuil, and on the other on the entire tradition of which he was such an important defender.
Picasso's backward glances to the history of art, which had appeared as early as his teenage years when he channelled Velasquez and El Greco, took on an increasing importance during the post-war period, not least after the death of his great artistic friend and rival, Henri Matisse. Picasso appears to have felt that there were no longer any living artists with whom to form a dialogue, and accordingly turned more and more to his forebears among painters. This resulted in the lively pictures such as Femme assise dans un fauteuil, in which atavism and iconoclasm enact a bustling to-and-fro, with Picasso paying his tribute while also undermining the stature of these titans of the past, showing himself on their level while toppling them from their pedestals. This became all the more accentuated after his purchase of the stately Château de Vauvenargues in the South of France. While Picasso himself did not adopt any more seigneurial role, still wandering around the labyrinthine space in his T-shirt and shorts almost as a provocation to the past and to the castle's grandeur, he nonetheless created a string of pictures of Jacqueline showing her in the guise of a châtelaine, as is the case in Femme assise dans un fauteuil. John Richardson has even pointed out that some of the colours that came to the fore during this period appeared as a form of alternative heraldic device, including the crimson backdrop in this picture, which is a near riposte to the velvet-like backdrops in many Old Master portraits (see J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline', pp. 17-48, in Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 20).
Picasso had acquired the Château de Vauvenargues after being told about it by Richardson himself and by Douglas Cooper in 1958 (see ibid., p. 20). It was a refuge that contrasted with the Villa La Californie, his home in the outskirts of Cannes - where to the artist's discomfort, the outskirts had increasingly stretched, invading his privacy. Now, he had a vast, private realm to enjoy with Jacqueline; it was a fortress whose barricades would prove impregnable to many people who tried to seek an audience with the great artist, including some of his friends and dealers, who would often be turned away at the gates, sometimes on a whim. There is a sense of calm in Femme assise dans un fauteuil, of poise and tranquillity, that may reflect this new-found security and domestic situation. This picture appears to provide an insight into Picasso's life behind the walls of his fortalice (although in fact many of Picasso's pictures showing Vauvenargues were painted back at the Villa La Californie).
The Château was located below the Mont Sainte-Victoire that was so immortalised by Paul Cézanne, an artist whom Picasso had revered and whose works, indeed, he had collected. Intriguingly, with such a gauntlet lying on his doorstep, he seldom turned to Cézanne during this period, instead tackling the legacies of diverse artists including Edouard Manet. He also appeared to look towards his own earlier works: in the case of Femme assise dans un fauteuil and its related pictures, Picasso seems to have revisited his earlier depictions of women in armchairs, especially those from the late 1930s and early 1940s usually associated with Dora Maar. A photographer with links to the Surrealist movement, Dora had been Picasso's lover during the anxious years of the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of the Second World War. A dark, sophisticated and intellectual presence, she brought about a broken sense of violence and instability in Picasso's works that was perfectly suited to that troubled age.
While Picasso often created styles responding to his lover of the time, marking different phases in his private life through his visual idioms, he also blended the attributes which he granted to his various partners, sometimes creating deliberate cross-over. In Femme assise dans un fauteuil, this appears to be the case: Picasso is revisiting the theme of the seated woman with all her associated anxieties, and yet has created a sort of exorcism, allowing Jacqueline to sit in comfort, relaxed with her book, in contrast to the torments of the earlier Dora images. 'Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman,' Picasso had told André Malraux, referring to those earlier works. 'And it's important, because women are suffering machines... When I paint a woman in an armchair, the armchair implies old age or death, right? So, too bad for her' (Picasso to André Malraux, A. Malraux, Picasso's Mask, New York, 1976, p. 138). In Femme assise dans un fauteuil, the woman no longer seems like a suffering machine, but instead as a secular figure of elegance, solace and domesticity, reflecting the less turbulent period of Picasso's life in which it was painted.
Picasso's backwards glance at his own pictorial vocabulary may in part have been inspired by the important retrospective which he had been given in London at the Tate Gallery, organised by his friend Roland Penrose. This was an extensive survey of Picasso's career and was visited by almost half a million people, an incredible achievement. After several weeks, the exhibition became again a focus of public attention as some of the Russian state-run galleries provided an extensive loan of works which, during the Cold War, had not been seen outside the USSR for a long time, providing an extra source of fascination. Picasso assisted Penrose in organising the exhibition, lending works from his own collection. This collaboration may have added to his own overview of his mighty career, from the early days in Barcelona to post-war innovations. In Femme assise dans un fauteuil, that combination of the armchair so strongly associated with depictions of Dora may be a stepping stone reaching further back to the works he had created as a young artist visiting the Prado a lifetime earlier.