It is the figure of the artist’s final muse, wife and great love of his life, Jacqueline Picasso, who appears enthroned in Pablo Picasso’s stately and impressively-sized Femme assise dans un fauteuil noir (Jacqueline) of 1962. Renowned for her raven coloured hair, dark, almond shaped eyes and striking, aquiline profile, Jacqueline appears in myriad ways in Picasso’s late work, her presence infusing every aspect of his art. Indeed, his depictions of her constitute the single largest group of his portraits, dominating the art of the final two decades of his life. ‘It is her image that permeates Picasso’s work from 1954 until his death, twice as long as any of her predecessors,’ the artist’s biographer John Richardson has written. ‘It is her body that we are able to explore more exhaustively and more intimately than any other body in the history of art… And lastly it is her vulnerability that gives a new intensity to the combination of cruelty and tenderness that endows Picasso’s paintings of women with their pathos and their strength’ (Late Picasso, exh. cat., London, 1988, p. 47).
Here, he has depicted Jacqueline as an all-seeing classical beauty enthroned in an armchair, her demeanour seigniorial, the undisputed mistress of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, the spacious, secluded farmhouse set on the hillside of Mougins where the couple had moved in June 1961, three months after their wedding. This would be Picasso and Jacqueline’s home for the rest of the artist’s life, as well as the backdrop for the incredible explosion of creativity that distinguishes the final two decades of his prodigious career.
Femme assise dans un fauteuil noir belongs to a series of compelling seated portraits of Jacqueline that he began in November 1962 and continued for the rest of the year. Picasso’s friend, the writer, Hélène Parmelin, recalled seeing this phalanx of dramatically-colored, elegant and stately portraits of Jacqueline in Notre-Dame-de-Vie: ‘Picasso had just been showing us serious faces with huge close-set eyes, sort of Mona Lisas with elongated hands… women engrossed beneath hats, or bareheaded with eyes and hair in every shape and position; one with a little head, full face and double profile, within her great sombre profile... They are the Dames de Mougins, the queens, the beloved ones, the Jacquelines, all watching us at once with an incomparable serenity’ (Picasso Says..., trans. C. Trollope, London, 1969, p. 29).
Jacqueline Roque had entered Picasso’s life in the summer of 1952. Recently divorced with a young daughter, Catherine, she was working as a sales assistant at the Madoura ceramic studio in Vallauris, where the artist frequently worked. At this time, Picasso was still living with his then-lover, Françoise Gilot, and their two young children, Claude and Paloma, in La Galloise, their home near Vallauris. By September of the following year, however, their relationship, which had been gradually deteriorating, came to a dramatic and conclusive end, with Françoise leaving the artist and returning with her two children to Paris. Soon after she left, the artist began to see Jacqueline, and by 1954 the pair were a couple, with her unmistakable features appearing in his art in the summer of this year. ‘How could I have had any reservations about Pablo’s intentions?’ Jacqueline said of these striking portraits of her in profile, bold, pictorial declarations of love (quoted in ibid., p. 17).
For the rest of Picasso’s life, Jacqueline was a constant, unfailing presence. After the death of his first wife Olga, the pair finally married in 1961, in a ceremony that included just two witnesses, the artist’s lawyer and a cleaner. Calm, unfailingly loyal and completely besotted with Picasso, Jacqueline occupied every role the artist could need; she was his devoted protector and guardian, assistant both personal and artistic, loyal friend and ever dutiful muse. As William Rubin has described, ‘Jacqueline’s understated, gentle, and loving personality combined with her unconditional commitment to [Picasso] provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period of time than he had ever before enjoyed’ (quoted in Picasso & Jacqueline: The Evolution of Style, exh. cat., New York, 2014-2015, p. 190). Indeed, Jacqueline later said that throughout their lives together, she never left Picasso’s side for more than a few hours at a time.
Picasso's artistic output has long been broken up into periods dictated according to the woman in his life. The long, final Jacqueline phase was unequalled in the multiplicity of manners in which his subject was depicted when compared to the eras of Olga Picasso, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar or Françoise Gilot. This was an age of renewed experimentation, a time during which Picasso both looked back through his own career, as well as to the great masters who had come before him, while simultaneously having one eye trained on contemporary developments in painting.
The motif of a woman seated in an armchair was one of the artist’s abiding subjects, appearing time and time again throughout the artist’s career. From the masterful cubist Femme en chemise (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Zervos, vol. 2, no. 522) to the undulant, deeply sensual depictions of his golden haired muse Marie-Thérèse, and the highly wrought images of Dora Maar, Picasso constantly returned to this format, the abiding pictorial idiom defined primarily by the associated iconography of his muse at the time. For his depictions of Maar in particular, Picasso imbued the chair in which he depicted her with a powerful resonance. ‘When I paint a woman in an armchair, the armchair implies old age or death, right? So, too bad for her. Or else the armchair is there to protect her’ (quoted in A. Malraux, Picasso’s Mask, New York, 1994, p. 138).
In Femme assise dans un fauteuil noir Jacqueline unquestionably commands the scene, her image invested with a sense of power and authority. With her hands resting boldly upon the throne-like chair, her regally poised head and all-seeing eyes demonstrate the artist’s thrall to his new wife. Indeed, this pose is instantly reminiscent of works such as Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome) – an artist to whom Picasso had recently been looking, and a work that had deeply inspired Francis Bacon at around the same time. The rich, Baroque palette of the painting heightens this sense of regal stability, as well as drawing attention to the interlocking forms of Jacqueline’s head, which Picasso has depicted with a carefully constructed collection of lines and planes. Reminiscent of the iconic double-portrait motif which he had explored throughout much of his career, here, he has portrayed Jacqueline’s face both frontally and in profile. This sculptural three-dimensionality found an equivalence in the paper cut outs and sheet metal portrait heads of her that he was creating at the same time, a reflection of the unparalleled role Jacqueline held in the artist’s life at this time, and the astonishing creativity and diversity of styles that she inspired in his art.