Acquired from the above by the present owner
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 27 Oeuvres de Pablo Picasso (1939-1945), 1946, no. 21
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Pablo Picasso, 1953, no. 109, illustrated in the catalogue
Worcester, The Worcester Art Museum, Picasso: His Later Works, 1938-1961, 1962, no. 12, illustrated in the catalogue
Toronto, The Art Gallery of Toronto & Montreal, The Montreal Museum of Fine
Art, Picasso and Man, 1964, no. 238, illustrated in the catalogue
San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, The California Palace of the Legion of Honor & New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Picasso and the War Years, 1999, no. 75, illustrated in color in the catalogue
In the present composition, Picasso features two women – one entirely nude and reclining in the glare of a lamp light, and one fully-clothed and washing her feet. The imagery calls to mind the biblical concubine Magdalene and her ceremonious washing of the feet, but the inspiration for this canvas is most likely Francisco Goya’s La Maja desnuda and the dramatic reclining nudes of Ingres. In the following decade Picasso would draw his inspiration liberally from the precedents of the Old Masters, aiming to establish himself squarely within their realm. This preoccupation with his own legacy might have been ignited by his experience living in Paris during the occupation, with its relentless reminders of the fragility of life and the defining of heroic action.
Due to the confining circumstances of occupied Paris, Picasso frequently painted at night or during the afternoon behind heavily shaded windows. This process created the chromatic severity of many of his war time compositions, and personified the tensions felt under the conditions of Nazi occupied Paris. The palette of the composition, with its stark grays, browns and ambers, calls to mind the uniforms of the occupying forces and the surreal tension that pervaded Picasso’s world during this era. Picasso’s life was not only colored by the war in the 1940s but also by tumultuous personal relationships. When the present work was completed in 1944, Picasso was involved in a veritable love triangle with the Surrealist photographer Dora Maar and the young painter Francoise Gilot. Picasso had met Dora Maar in the autumn of 1935, and for the next decade Picasso famously portrayed her as the Weeping Woman or the personification of wartime agony. But in 1943 following a chance encounter at a restaurant, a new woman began to infiltrate Picasso’s creative universe: Francoise Gilot, the young painter, who would eventually eclipse Maar as Picasso’s primary source of inspiration. Picasso had already become intimately involved with Gilot when he painted the present work, and his artistic and romantic attention during this period was divided between the two women. The present work, therefore, may have been a manifestation of this love triangle, with one woman firmly established in the bed of her beloved while the other prepares to leave.
In the years following the war, Picasso was scrutinized by some of his contemporaries for what they viewed as a lack of political engagement, commentary or the avoidance of politically charged compositions. Aside from Picasso’s Guernica and Charnel House, the artist largely avoided any direct representation of wartime events. Rather than using his canvases as vehicle for documenting the destructive reality that surrounded him, Picasso utilized his craft as a world of creativity into which he could escape. Steven A. Nash wrote about Picasso’s war years, “Yet no other artist of the twentieth century left so sustained and moving a visual record of the corrosive effect of war on the human spirit and its toll on human life. His achievement was to create a modern alternative to history painting. As he explained to an American war correspondent who sought him out at his studio in Paris just days after its liberation: 'I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict. But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war’s influence. Myself, I do not know'” (Steven A. Nash, Picasso and the War Years, 1937-1945, p. 13).
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