Picasso. Figures title

Basically I am perhaps a painter without style. Style is often something which locks the painter into the same vision, the same technique, the same formula during years and years, sometimes during one’s whole lifetime. [. . .] I myself thrash around too much, move too much. You see me here and yet I’m already changed, I’m already elsewhere.

Pablo Picasso

The female figure unquestionably occupies a key place in Picasso’s art, as a subject present in every technique. From youthful drawings of his sisters and mother to late paintings inspired by his last wife, Jacqueline, Picasso was constantly depicting those around him, blurring the lines between his private life and artistic creation. Throughout his prolific career, female figures both tell his personal story, summoning up the features of his companions, and embody through their constant metamorphosis the perpetual renewal of his visual language. They carry with them the mark of a quest for possession: “These women aren’t simply sitting there like a bored model. They’re trapped in these chairs like birds locked in a cage. I imprisoned them [. . .] because I’m trying to capture the movement of flesh and blood over time.”

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
The Barefoot Girl (La Fillette aux pieds nus)
La Coruña, early 1895
Oil on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. MP2

Pablo Picasso was not yet fourteen when he painted the portrait of this young girl. Following the example of the Spanish masters of the seventeenth century, such as José de Ribera and Francisco de Zurbarán, Picasso naturalistically paints this portrait of a working-class figure. The pose is sober, and the space pared down. At the same time, the asymmetry of the gaze, roughness of the hands, and heaviness of the feet betray the painter’s empathy for his subject’s life of labor. The theme of the seated woman would appear in countless different guises throughout Picasso’s work; this painting is one of the first incarnations.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Head of a Woman (Tête de femme)
[Paris], 1921
Oil on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. MP66

Framed in close-up, this head of a woman in three-quarter view is typical of what is called Pablo Picasso’s classical period, simultaneously influenced by antique statuary, photography, and the figure of his wife Olga. Painted in a highly restricted palette of white, pink, and brown, the somewhat melancholy bust stands out against a uniform gray background. The indeterminate generality of both figure and ground reflect the quest for formal renewal that Picasso was then embarked upon. Here there is no explicit reference to the contemporary but rather the evocation of distant worlds of myth peopled by goddesses silent and mysterious.

Olga Khokhlova (1891–1955)
Olga Khokhlova was born in 1891 in Nizhyn, in the former Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine). As a child, she discovered a vocation for dance, and she joined the Ballets Russes troupe led by Serge Diaghilev in 1912. To rehearse for the ballet Parade, she went to Rome in 1917, where she met Picasso, who was working on the costumes and sets. She gave up her career and married the artist a year later. At the same time, the socialist revolution broke out in Russia. Khokhlova was from an aristocratic family and would never return to her homeland. She had a son, Paulo (1921–1975), with Picasso. The couple separated in 1935 but never divorced, because Picasso refused to divide his artworks and wealth with Khokhlova as required by law. She died in Cannes in 1955.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Woman in an Armchair (Femme dans un fauteuil)
Paris, July 3, 1946
Oil and gouache on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. MP197

The summer of 1946 marked a turning point in Pablo Picasso’s life and work. For this portrait of Françoise Gilot, he used the motif of women sitting in an enclosed room, but he also considerably altered the representation of the body, achieving this stylized shape with geometricized lines and figures. This simplification of the form went hand in hand with a plant fantasy. When Picasso introduced Gilot to Henri Matisse, his friend and rival, the latter said to her: “We’re all animals, more or less. . . . But you . . . are like a growing plant.” Picasso had this idea in mind when he painted this canvas.

Françoise Gilot (b. 1921)
Françoise Gilot was born in 1921 in Neuilly, on the outskirts of Paris. She abandoned her legal studies to devote herself to painting. She met Picasso in 1943 and had two children with him: Claude (b. 1947) and Paloma (b. 1949). She left the Spanish artist in 1953 and later published Life with Picasso (1964). Having never put her artistic career on hold, she settled in the United States, where her work met with success.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Reading Woman (La Lecture)
Boisgeloup, January 2, 1932
Oil on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. MP137

This painting is undoubtedly among the masterpieces of representations of seated women. Marie-Thérèse Walter, recognizable by her blonde hair and clear eyes, is plunged into reverie as she reads, with both front and profile views of her face offered to us. In the same way, through continuous lines and an interruption of the colored areas, her body is made partially transparent, revealing the interior of the armchair in which she is sitting. This overlapping of planes creates a new perspective that is typical of Picasso’s reinterpretation of cubism in the 1930s.

Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909–1977)
Marie-Thérèse Walter was born in 1909 in Le Perreux-sur-Marne. An athletic teenager, she was just seventeen when she met Picasso, a forty-five-year-old married man who was gaining international recognition. The couple’s relationship remained secret for several years, although the figure of the young woman gradually invaded the artist’s work, and she became the painter’s favorite motif throughout the 1930s. In 1935, she gave birth to their daughter, Maya, whom she raised alone. Marie-Thérèse Walter took her own life in 1977, four years after the death of Picasso.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Jacqueline with Crossed Hands (Jacqueline aux mains croisées)
Vallauris, June 3, 1954
Oil on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Jacqueline Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1990. MP1990-26

This portrait is one of the first of Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s final companion, whom he married in 1961. The rigid three-quarter profile results in a haughty posture that is further accentuated by an inordinately long neck; her pose is reminiscent of the sculptural attitude of ancient sphinxes. Sitting on a tiled floor, her body gathered in her arms like a solid cube of marble, she wears a striped tunic that illuminates the composition as if she were a modern goddess. The play of the various decorative motifs, such as the warm colors of the palette, brings the painting into line with the tradition of the odalisque, of which Henri Matisse and Eugène Delacroix were so fond.

Jacqueline Roque (1926–1986)
Jacqueline Roque was born in Paris in 1926. After the Second World War, she moved to Cannes, in southeast France. She began working for Suzanne Ramié, a cousin who ran a pottery studio with Georges Ramié, her husband, in the small town of Vallauris. It was there that Roque met Picasso, a regular at the studio. She married him in 1961, when she was twenty-seven years old, becoming his model and caring for him until his death in 1973. Jacqueline Roque died by suicide in 1986.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)
Portrait of Dora Maar (Portrait de Dora Maar)
Paris, November 23, 1937
Oil on canvas
Musée national Picasso-Paris
Pablo Picasso Acceptance in Lieu, 1979. MP166

Picasso met Dora Maar in late 1935, but their relationship did not become close until the summer of 1936, after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. She played a leading role in the painter’s political engagement with the Spanish republicans and the genesis of the anti-fascist masterpiece Guernica, which she photographed in Picasso’s Grands-Augustins studio during various stages of creation. Maar inspired many figures of crying women by the painter, but here he shows her with a peaceful and pensive air.

Dora Maar (1907–1997)
Henriette Dora Markovitch was born in 1907 in Paris. She studied photography and chose a pseudonym in the early 1930s: Dora Maar. Her first works, especially the photomontages, linked her to the surrealists. She combined her artistic career with strong political activism, fighting the rise of fascism in Europe. Picasso began a relationship with her in 1936, while he was still involved with Marie-Thérèse Walter and married to Olga Khokhlova. Maar suffered from a breakdown after finding out about Picasso’s affair with Françoise Gilot. She once said to Picasso, “As an artist you may be extraordinary, but morally speaking you are worthless.” After their breakup in 1943, Maar began working as a painter. She died in Paris in 1997.

Please consider supporting the Frist Art Museum with a donation. Your gift is essential to our mission of serving the community through the arts and art access in particular. We truly appreciate your generosity.