Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The young blonde woman in this painting is unmistakably Marie-Thérèse Walter, since 1927 Picasso's mostly hidden mistress and the mother of his second child, their daughter Maya, who was a toddler when this was painted in December 1937. "Marie-Thérèse incarnated a wild beauty, a sporty and healthy beautiful plant," Brigitte Léal has written. Always attentive to a girlfriend's particular taste in attire, and how it characterizes her, Picasso has flattered Marie-Thérèse in a stylishly cosmopolitan scooped-neck dress trimmed with fur, while happily exploiting a more casual but crowning accessory in the shape of a jaunty red plaid beret, which he used to accentuate her lavender-pink complexion and signature golden shoulder-length tresses. "A crown of daffodils (Zervos, vol. 9, no. 312; fig. 1), an urchin's beret, or a cool straw hat for Marie-Thérèse," Léal has observed, "painted like a Manet" (Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, pp. 387 and 389).
Nearly eleven years earlier, on the evening of 8 January 1927, like a god descending from Olympus to claim an enticing nymph who has attracted his fancy, Picasso walked up to Marie-Thérèse, then only seventeen-and-a-half years old, as she stood outside the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris. "You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you," he told her. "I feel we are going to do great things together." It should have been the greatest pick-up line in the history of courtship when he then announced: "I am Picasso" (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years, New York, 2007, p. 323). She did not know who he was, however, and Picasso later took her to a bookstore and showed her a book with his name on the cover.
Thus began Picasso's grand amour fou, the kind of chance erotic adventure the surrealists touted for any man eager to experience the genuine rapture of love. This encounter held special allure for Picasso during the late 1920s; he was worldly, successful, even famous, but had become desperate to shake the constraints of mid-life married existence, in which he found himself coupled with a difficult woman he no longer loved, and whose haute bourgeoisie tastes were far removed from his own inner bohemian proclivities. For several years at least, Picasso's relationship with his wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-born former ballerina in Diaghilev's troupe, afforded him neither joy nor satisfaction. The advent of Marie-Thérèse suddenly offered Picasso the key to a new life, and she inspired a profound transformation in his art as well. "Picasso probably didn't become a truly great erotic artist," David Sylvester has written, "one who transcends stereotypes and arrives at objectifying his own particular experience, until he started composing his celebrations of the joys of making love to Marie-Thérèse ("Picasso II" in About Modern Art, New York, 1997, p. 413).
Picasso maintained strict secrecy in all matters relating to Marie-Thérèse, at first to shield their adulterous love from his wife, and thereafter for the purpose of generally establishing a protective sanctuary for his private life and those closest to him. Even after the 1930s Marie-Thérèse retained a meaningful if somewhat peripheral role in the artist's life, while still remaining virtually unknown to the outside world. Françoise Gilot, Picasso's later mistress and mother of two more of his children, had occasional contact with her during the post-war period. From these observations and conversations with Picasso, Françoise in her memoir Life with Picasso revealed the first valuable insights into the strong appeal that Marie-Thérèse once held for Picasso:
"She became the luminous dream of youth, always in the background but always within reach, that nourished his work. She was interested only in sports and didn't enter in any way into his public or intellectual life. When he went out socially it was with Olga; when he came back bored and exasperated, Marie-Thérèse was always available as a solace... She haunted his life, just out of reach poetically, but available in the practical sense whenever his dreams were troubled by her absence. She had no convenient reality; she was a reflection of the cosmos. If it was a beautiful day, the clear blue sky reminded him of her eyes. The flight of a bird symbolized for him the freedom of their relationship. And over a period of eight years her image found its way into a great body of his work in painting, drawing, sculpture and engraving. Hers was the privileged body on which the light fell to perfection... Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection... Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition. She was a magnificent model" (Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 235 and 241-242).
When Marie-Thérèse told Picasso on Christmas Eve, 1934, that she was pregnant, his response included a promise to speed up divorce proceedings which were already underway. A protracted stalemate thereafter ensued, however, when Picasso learned he was legally liable to surrender an unbearably large portion of his art assets to Olga. He even ceased painting and took up poetry instead. When Maya was born on 5 September 1935, Picasso was still enjoined from cohabiting with the infant's mother. Picasso eventually settled for a legal separation; he could not re-marry, but he could finally conduct living arrangements as he pleased with his true love. He proved to be an attentive father to his infant daughter. "Not that domesticated bliss lasted very long" as John Richardson has noted, however. "Picasso was soon off on the prowl. Two months after the baby's birth, the artist attended a movie opening where the French poet Paul Eluard introduced him to Dora Maar. This young, radiant-looking exceedingly gifted photographer was on the way to making a reputation as a hip Surrealist and a mondaine intellectual" (L'Amour Fou: Picasso and Marie-Thérèse, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 36). Françoise Gilot described the ensuing transfer of roles: "Then Marie-Thérèse replaced Olga as the one to escape from, in accordance with Pablo's form of logic" (op. cit., p. 236).
Picasso now had two mistresses. Marie-Thérèse would continue to serve as his nurturing and classically beautiful blonde sun goddess, and moreover by then the proven fertility goddess of family and home. Dora would assume the role of his darkly surrealist, enigmatic lunar goddess and more intensely probative muse. "Dora was added onto Marie-Thérèse," Pierre Daix observed. "But in my opinion, the mother of Maya--and Maya, too, of course--lost nothing... Dora would be the public companion, Marie-Thérèse and Maya continued to incarnate private life. Painting would be shared between them... Each woman would epitomize a particular facet of a period rich in increasingly dramatic repercussions" (Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 239). Picasso had become adept at compartmentalizing his emotional relationships; he could by choice open whichever drawer in his bureau of liaisons that suited his mood and the occasion at hand. Françoise Gilot wrote:
"The constant drama that this conflict between Marie-Thérèse and Dora brought up didn't bother Pablo at all. On the contrary, it was a source of a good deal of creative stimulation to him. The two women were completely opposite by nature and temperament. Marie-Thérèse was a sweet, gentle woman, very feminine, and very fully formed--all joy, light, and peace. Dora, by nature, was nervous, anxious, and tormented. Marie-Thérèse had no problems. With her, Pablo could throw off his intellectual life and follow his instinct. With Dora, he lived a life of the mind--'I just felt that finally [Picasso remarked], here was somebody I could carry on a conversation with'" (op. cit., p. 236).
Dora helped Picasso find the large second floor studio at 7, rue des Grands-Augustins where the artist painted Guernica during May 1937. She also documented Picasso's progress on the mural in a series of photographs. Marie-Thérèse played an important part in Picasso's formulation of the imagery in Guernica, while Dora, for her part, became the subject of the Weeping Woman series. Richardson has written:
"Picasso had no hesitation in using Marie-Thérèse's image as the incarnation of peace and innocence at the mercy of the forces of evil in this supreme indictment of war as well as of totalitarianism... She is the desperate girl running from left to right across the foreground... She is also the light-giving girl clutching a lamp emerging from an upper window. The mother wailing over her dead child can also be identified with Marie-Thérèse... By contrast, Dora largely inspired the Weeping Women paintings, a separate series that should not be identified too closely with Guernica... The source of Dora's tears was not Franco, but the artist's traumatic manipulation of her. Picasso's obsession with her had intensified, but to judge from portrayals of her, it precluded tenderness. Marie-Thérèse was submissive out of love; Dora out of a Sadean propensity" (exh. cat., op. cit., 2011, pp. 45-46).
It was inevitable that Marie-Thérèse and Dora should eventually cross paths, and this in fact occurred in the Grands-Augustins studio while Picasso was working on Guernica. Françoise Gilot recounts in her memoir Picasso's description of their confrontation: "Marie-Thérèse dropped in and when she found Dora there, she grew angry and said to her, 'I have a child by this man. It's my place to be here with him. You can leave right now.'" [Dora did not budge.] "Marie-Thérèse turned to Picasso and demanded, 'Make up your mind. Which one of us goes?' ...I [Picasso considered] liked them both, for different reasons: Marie-Thérèse because she was sweet and gentle and did whatever I wanted her to do, and Dora because she was intelligent... I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they'd have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. It's one of my choicest memories" (op. cit., pp. 210-211).
Having devoted a supreme effort to painting Guernica during May and early June 1937, Picasso took his summer holiday in Mougins--with Dora--where he returned to a more familiar and congenial theme, the Femmes assises and corollary series of Femmes au chapeau, picking up a thread that he had been treating on and off since the middle of the decade. During the summer in Mougins he created, in addition to portraits of Dora, paintings featuring Eluard's beautiful wife Nusch, and the statuesque American photographer Lee Miller (also a blonde), whom Roland Penrose had introduced to the artist. Following his return to Paris, he painted and drew the "Femmes qui pleurent" in October, and seguing through a series of pensive Doras, resumed the Femmes assises. Marie-Thérèse made her reappearance in a small close-up profile and a larger canvas in which she wears a striped beret, both dated 3 December 1937 (Picasso Project, nos. 37-232 and 37-233).
Picasso painted on 4 December six more canvases of Marie-Thérèse, including the present portrait (Picasso Project, nos. 37-234 and 37-239 [figs. 2 and 3]). He completed two more on 5 December (nos. 37-240 and 37-241; figs. 4 and 5), including one in which he exaggerated the vertical prominence of Marie-Thérèse's nose, a feature he liked, but about which she tended to be sensitive, wishing she had blessed with one of the prim button noses that pretty Parisian girls liked to show off. Picasso may have painted these pictures in his Paris studio, or perhaps in the country farmhouse at Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre which the dealer Vollard had lent the artist when the latter had to yield to Olga the château at Boisgeloup as part of their separation agreement. Picasso felt at home in the seclusion of Le Tremblay, and appreciated the peace and quiet it afforded his mistress and their young child, whom he would install there for weeks at a time, visiting them on weekends (3 through 5 December 1937 were in fact a Friday, Saturday and Sunday). Marie-Thérèse dominated the artist's production that December; there was a weeping Suppliante--Dora--painted on 18 December (Picasso Project no. 37-248; Musée Picasso, Paris), but only a single femme assise with Dora's features was painted that month, on 8 December (no. 37-244; fig. 6).
Although there may have been tensions between the two rival women in Picasso's life, by late 1937 daily living appears to have settled into a workable routine for all concerned. Notwithstanding the distinctive indicators--such as hair color and headwear--which characterize one sitter from the other in these paintings, their facial structure is often fundamentally the same, or even interchangeable, throughout: Picasso liked to place both eyes side by side as if viewed straight-on, but set on a right-facing profile, creating a hybrid three-quarter view.
The Femmes assises and Femmes au chapeau series became the basis for Picasso's ongoing line of female portraits, mainly featuring Dora--but also including Marie-Thérèse, although less frequently than before--which he painted on the eve of and during the Second World War. Pierre Daix has written: "[Dora] was the woman during the summer months [of 1939] when war threatened to break out over Danzig and Poland, Spain lay crushed beneath Franco's boot, and the Rome-Berlin Axis was imposing its rule through almost all of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Picasso worked well in her company because of the understanding and sympathies which had united them since Guernica. But how to reconcile pairing with Dora and the tenderness he felt for Marie-Thérèse and Maya?" (op. cit., p. 259).
Picasso mixing paints for Guernica in his Les Grands-Augustins studio, Paris, spring 1937. Photograph by Dora Maar. BARCODE: 28857617
Marie-Thérèse Walter nursing Maya Picasso, Juan-les-Pins, spring 1936. Photograph by Picasso. Collection Maya Widmaier-Picasso. BARCODE: 28857532
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Marie-Thérèse avec une guirlande, 1937. Private collection. BARCODE: 28857525
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Marie-Thérèse, 4 December 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: 28857518
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme, 4 December 1937. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. BARCODE: 28857501
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Femme au béret rouge au pompom, 5 December 1937. Private collection. BARCODE: 28857495
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Marie-Thérèse au béret rouge et au col de fourrure, 5 December 1937. Private collection. BARCODE: 28857488
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Buste de femme (Dora Maar), 8 December 1937. Sold, Christie's, New York, 7 November 2012, lot 20. BARCODE: 32608717