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The image of Jacqueline, seated in profile, came to define her soft-spoken persona in the 1950s. Femme à la robe was created just as her relationship with Picasso had achieved a deeper level of commitment in 1956 and hints at the steady and powerful force she would become in the artist’s life until his death in 1973. In the catalogue for The Mediterranean Years exhibition in which the present picture was included, John Richardson described Picasso's depictions of Jacqueline at the beginning of their relationship: The brilliant series of portraits that record Jacqueline's triumphant rise as Picasso's maîtresse-en-titre reveal not only the splendors but also the miseries of her new role. Picasso and Jacqueline were more or less the same height (5 feet 4 inches), and they could easily be mistaken for father and daughter in that they both had strikingly larger features, notably very large eyes. Picasso used his Andalusian mirada fuerte (strong gaze) to undress, seduce, amuse, terrify, or devour whomever he was out to get. In his portraits of Jacqueline, Picasso often gave her his eyes -- enormously magnified, but nonetheless submissive; infinitely loving, but sometimes sick or scared. Similarly, just as he had ameliorated Jacqueline's appearance in some of his earlier portraits by giving her the long neck she lacked, he was no less capable of doing the reverse. By adjusting her image, he could humiliate or test Jacqueline, indicate love or anger or desire, and even, on occasion, predict or ordain a bout of illness" (J. Richardson, Picasso, The Mediterranean Years, op. cit., pp. 29-33).
Femme à la robe features the raven-haired Jacqueline at the beginning of the couple’s relationship and sitting in Picasso’s favorite rocking chair, which was a constant fixture in his studio at their home, La Californie. Several of Picasso’s contemporaries claimed that Picasso rarely painted from live models and that his figural portraits were all products of his imagination. In his photographic essay on the artist, David Douglas Duncan wrote about this practice and specifically referred to these first depictions of Jacqueline seated in the precious wooden rocker: “Jacqueline sometimes mirrored Pablo sitting in his favorite turn-of-the-century rocker. He had two. They followed him whenever he changed homes, his always faithful refuge in which to curl up, isolated – just to think. One of his first portraits of her was drawn in charcoal when she pulled her feet up into the companion chair – as she often did, even though when he transformed profile to portrait she was nowhere in sight. She never posed.” (D.D. Duncan, Picasso and Jacqueline, New York and London, 1988, p. 123).
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