“Picasso painted, drew and engraved this subject so many times in the course of his life, from every possible angle, that it almost became a “genre” in itself, like the landscape or the still-life. In 1963 and 1964, he barely painted anything else.” This comment from Marie-Laure Bernadac (in Picasso. La Monographie 1881-1973, Barcelone, 2000, p. 439) reveals the importance of the iconic theme of the Painter and his Model in Picasso’s art. Though the subject appears early in the painter’s oeuvre, notably in a 1926 picture painted at the request of Ambroise Vollard (Le Peintre et son modèle, 1926, Musée Picasso, Paris) and two years later in a sumptuous 1928 composition today conserved at the Museum of Modern Art inNew York, it was above all at the end of this life, in the 1960s, that it became a central theme.
From 1963 onwards Picasso approached the theme of the Painter and his Model with something approaching frenzy. He had just moved to Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins and the series of works he devoted to this theme correspond to his appropriation of his new studio. For several months (from February to May 1963 and then October to December 1964, when the present canvas was painted), he devoted himself almost exclusively to this subject, translating his creative passion directly onto the canvas, without any preparatory sketches. During this period of intense creativity, he painted almost 150 canvases depicting the painter and his model. More often than not, as is the case with the present work, the painted appears with his traditional attributes (paintbrush and palette) face to face with nude model, who is sitting or lying. The easel with its canvas serves to separate the picture into two parts, corresponding to two distinct worlds: that of the artist and that of the model.
More than an evocation of his own work, in these iconic paintings Picasso strives to create an homage to the very profession of being an artist. Nearing the end of his life, after close to a decade spent reinterpreting the great masters of the past (notably his works dedicated to Velasquez’s Meninas, Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger, Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe de Manet and Poussin’s L’Enlèvement des Sabines), in this series the aging artist returns to the essence of his vocation: painting from a life model. A shining manifesto illustrating his conception of the painter’s profession. in opposition to the trends in contemporary art at the time, in the present work, by depicting the very act of painting, Picasso strives to reveal to the spectator the complex relationship between the painter and his model. Though the model, with her raw sexuality, incarnates the real world, she only exists in terms of the artist’s gaze, the starting point for all creativity. Painted in pastel tones that contrast with the eroticism of the composition, this picture highlights the intertwined and magical relationship between the two protagonists, the spectator appears here in the role of voyeur encroaching into the intimate world of the artist’s studio. As Jean Leymarie expresses, “The Painter and his Model is the dialogue between art and nature, between painting and the real” (in Jean Leymarie, Picasso. Métamorphoses et unité, Geneva, 1971, p. 279), a final testament from Picasso at the zenith of his art.
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