Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
‘The day I met Marie-Thérèse I realised that I had before me what I had always been dreaming about’
(Picasso, quoted in I. Mössinger et al., Picasso et les femmes, exh. cat., Städtische Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, 2002, p. 169)
‘how much I love her now that she’s asleep and I can see no more than just her honey from afar’
(Picasso, trans. J. Rothenberg, Pablo Picasso: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz & other poems, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2004, p. 36)
A deeply intimate and tender portrayal of a sleeping woman, Pablo Picasso’s Le Repos depicts the youthful, golden-haired Marie-Thérèse Walter, the woman who, when she first entered the artist’s world in 1927, unleashed in his art one of the greatest surges of creativity, passion and eroticism that he had ever experienced. Le Repos forms a part of the legendary and now-iconic series of rapturous paintings that Picasso created at the beginning of 1932. It depicts an intimate close-up view of Marie-Thérèse's head while she sleeps, in the passive state that would become her pictorial signature. Marie-Thérèse's face, her figure and her sleep itself prompted some of Picasso's most lyrical and sensual works which remain celebrated to this day; as in Le Miroir (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 379) in which she sleeps, while reclining voluptuously in front of a mirror, Le Rêve (Zervos, vol. 7, no. 364) in which she has been caught on canvas shortly after falling asleep in a chair, and the magnificent Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, in which she reclines completely still before a dark curtain and underneath a marble bust of her profile. This remarkable series of works, regarded among the finest achievements of Picasso's oeuvre, allows a glimpse of the intimacy and dream-like atmosphere which prevailed between Picasso and Marie-Thérèse at this time.
Of all of these outstanding portraits, Le Repos, with its innovative landscape composition is among the most intimate. 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 a profound inspiration and the portraits Picasso painted of her during the spring of 1932 are visual declarations of his love. Never before had a woman unleashed such passionate expression in Picasso, and never before had his painting been infused with such abundant sensuality, overt eroticism and unbridled romance. Her body, striking physiognomy, and presence unleashed a new vocabulary in his art. As William Rubin has written "...none of Picasso’s earlier relationships had provoked such sustained lyric power, such a sense of psychological awareness and erotic completeness... Picasso proceeds from his intense feeling for the girl... he paints the body contemplated, loved and self-contemplating. The vision of another’s body becomes an intensely rousing and mysterious process" (W. Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1971, p.138).
Le Repos was painted on 17 May, during the spring that Picasso and Marie-Thérèse spent largely in each other's company at the Château de Boisgeloup. Picasso had recently purchased the château partly as a hideout to ensconce her, and partly as a personal retreat from the cosmopolitan life of Paris. The latter aspect doubtless pleased his wife, the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, as it meant that she was able to entertain in a country house of some stature. She would sometimes visit, it appears, at the weekend, during which time Picasso would promptly shift from a bohemian to a bourgeois manner of lifestyle; as Olga left, Marie-Thérèse would reappear on her bicycle and the idyll would be reinstated. The year 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 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. In 1932 at Boisgeloup, however, Picasso's art blossomed as these disjointed figures were superseded 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 tranquility express the artist's exultation of the fact that her body is his domain and that the couple can at last be at rest. Le Repos belongs to a group of pictures that frame Marie-Thérèse's head in dramatic close-up, dominating the canvas. This intimate group shuns the body, focusing instead on the blissful state of pure relaxation expressed by her gentle, sinuous features. Marie-Thérèse's face is shown resting on the distinctive, interlinking hands that appear in many of Picasso's depictions of his sleeping lover. It is exclusively a lover's view, seen with a lover's proximity. The face fills the composition, creating an intense impression of the intimacy between artist and sitter: it reads as a pillow-side view of Marie-Thérèse, with her features so near and all context absent other than a portion of the surface where her head rests. This surface, captured in an electric red, adds a flash of color and heat to the painting, while her skin, blonde hair and golden bracelet convey a sense of calm and stillness. Her skin is porcelain white, yet the red also serves to create a visual assonance that picks out the cherry-like bloom of her lips, pursed in a restful smile.
Le Repos demonstrates the unique status of Picasso's portraits of Marie-Thérèse: they are neither Cubistic nor Surreal, though informed by both approaches. The red of the lower portion and the lips, contrasting with the green in the hair, hints at the ecstatic explosion in Picasso's palette that had come about during this period as he reveled in a new-found, rich colorism. Meanwhile, the cool, marble-like skin is made all the more intense by the black and dark blue contours with which Picasso has encircled so many of the features, recalling the leading used in stained glass windows such as those that Picasso had found in the chapel at Boisgeloup. Looking at this deceptively simple, highly private painting, it is clear why John Richardson, in his authoritative biography of the artist, would refer to the reign of Marie-Thérèse as Picasso's muse as, "his most innovative period since cubism" (A Life of Picasso: The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, London, 2007, p. 460).
The meeting between Marie-Thérèse and Picasso has become the stuff of legend. It was in 1927 that the artist, in part inspired by the Surrealists' fascination for l'amour fou, had seen this radiant blonde woman and approached her outside the Galeries Lafayette and said, as she herself would later recall: "I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together!" (Marie-Thérèse Walter, quoted in B. Farrell, ‘Picasso: His Women: The Wonder Is that He Found So Much Time to Paint’, Life, 27 December 1968, p. 74). Within a short amount of time, they had embarked upon a clandestine affair that would influence his artwork onwards. However, it was towards the end of 1931 that he began to spend a significant amount of time with her, and she in turn appeared in his paintings in an increasingly overt form, rather than the cipher-like codified manner that had previously seen guitars standing in for her initials, or cryptic and distorted figures as metonyms for her body. Now, their lustful energy catalyzed Picasso's pictures in a freer manner, leading to the sweeping, often impastoed brushwork, the sinuous curves and the jewel-toned palette of works such as Le Repos.
Picasso's frequent portrayals of Marie-Thérèse sleeping provided the ideal platform for his eloquent, sensual, romantic visions of her, hinting at the languid eroticism of their lifestyle in the secluded château, while also tapping into her character. It is said that Marie-Thérèse loved to sleep, a quality that pleased Picasso; as he wrote in one of the freely associative prose poems he began to compose in 1935: "how much I love her now that she’s asleep and I can see no more than just her honey from afar" (Picasso, 21 October 1935, trans. J. Rothenberg, op. cit., 2004, p. 36). A witness to the period would explain this to John Richardson: "Never forget that Marie-Thérèse was the quintessence of dolce fa niente... and if Picasso usually portrayed her dozing or sunbathing or playing games, it was because these activities and passivities were the be-all and end-all of her easy-going nature" (quoted in J. Richardson, ‘Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter’, Through the Eyes of Picasso 1928-1934, exh. cat., William Beadleston, Inc., New York, 1985, n.p.). Le Repos, then, provides an insight into the character of Picasso's lover, the nature of their relationship, and crucially the intense furnace of creation that was brought about by her rejuvenating influence on the artist, who had recently turned fifty but was still filled with a vigor and passion utterly evident in the sweeping brushstrokes and vibrant red of this picture. "She was the reigning queen of an extraordinary abundance of production", the artist’s friend, Pierre Daix has written, "but for the external world she did not exist. Art for Picasso was more than ever provocation—the creation of life which remained the secret of its creator, and yet had more strength and wealth than life in the everyday world" (P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, trans. O. Emmet, New York, 1987, p. 232).