Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York

Pablo Picasso
1881 - 1973
Dated 4D37 (lower left)
Oil on canvas
18 1/8 by 15 in.
46 by 38 cm
Painted on December 4, 1937.
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Estate of the artist

Jacqueline Picasso

Catherine Hutin-Blay (inherited from the above)

PaceWildenstein, New York (acquired from the above)

Art Vision, Inc., San Francisco

Acquired from the above in  1999


David Douglas Duncan, Picasso’s Picassos, New York, 1961, illustrated p. 227

The Picasso Project, eds., Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Spanish Civil War, 1937–1939, San Francisco, 1997, no. 37-239, illustrated p. 100

Catalogue Note

Portrait de femme is a striking image of Picasso’s ‘golden muse’ Marie-Thérèse, the woman who was his model, lover, mother to his eldest daughter, and who inspired one of the most celebrated outpourings of creativity in twentieth century art. Marie-Thérèse is depicted through the boldly-coloured volumetric shapes of a distinctly Cubist idiom tempered by the realistic details of her hat and coat. The arrangement of the composition, emphasizing his model’s distinctive features, powerfully illustrates Picasso’s continued fascination with her physicality, almost a decade after they first met. The work is also a testament to the ceaseless inventiveness that led Picasso to depict Marie-Thérèse repeatedly – in paint, on paper, and with plaster – in search of new modes of visual expression.

Picasso first met Marie-Thérèse Walter on 8th January 1927. Walking through the streets of Paris he caught sight of her outside the Galeries Lafayette department store: "I was an innocent girl", Walter remembered years later. ‘I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together'’ (quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1994, p. 142). At the time Picasso was married to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, but the state of their marriage was deteriorating and the young Marie-Thérèse offered an important release from the increasingly intense atmosphere at home. Although kept secret at first, their relationship blossomed, and over the next decade Picasso painted and sculpted her continuously, producing some of the most iconic images of his long career.

Picasso was initially attracted by her alluring physicality; Françoise Gilot, a later lover of Picasso who met Marie-Thérèse in 1949 described her: "I found her fascinating to look at. I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other. She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile… Her form was very sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection" (F. Gilot quoted in L’amour fou, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, p. 71-72). It was this sculptural form that facilitated the extraordinary stylistic diversity of his many depictions of her. In the present work, Picasso captures both her striking profile and the voluptuous curves that dominate in earlier portraits of her, rendering them in the language of shape, as triangles or curving arcs of color.

Portrait de femme was painted towards the end of Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse, but it nonetheless illustrates the inventive energy that she inspired in the great artist. Picasso had met the exotic Dora Maar early in 1936, and by 1937 he was seeing both women regularly, yet this would have no immediate effect on his relationship with Marie-Thérèse. She had been invited by Picasso’s great friend Ambroise Vollard to live at his country house in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, and her move there allowed Picasso to spend the following years living a double life between the two women. As Pierre Daix observed: "The mother of Maya – and Maya, too, of course – lost nothing… Dora would be the public companion, while Marie-Thérèse and Maya continued to incarnate private life" (P. Daix, Picasso. Life and Art, London, 1994, p. 239). His affection for her was also undiminished; letters from the late thirties contain repeated declarations of his love, and perhaps more tellingly, throughout this time she continued to be the subject of his paintings.

Picasso’s depictions of Marie-Thérèse are an act of possession, celebration and love. They also represent the technical and stylistic innovation that Picasso pursued in an effort to articulate the emotions she aroused in him. The duality at the heart of Portrait de femme inherent in the arrangement of her features and the subtle balance between intimacy and remoteness that this creates, vividly captures his feelings for her at this time. Fabre wrote: "A portrait, since the Renaissance, had been the embodiment of a personality as it was seen or perceived by the painter at that precise moment… Painting, then, is never static, it is never objective. It was, for Picasso, a form of action. He made these portraits as he would have talked to the woman, given her a gift, embraced her. The portrait was another physical act" (J. Palau i Fabre, ibid., p. 282).

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale

New York