Painted in 1963, Le Peintre et son modèle exemplifies the dynamic force of Picasso’s late work on a magnificent scale. Picasso presents a panegyric to the powerful of the relationship between artist and model. The male figure, a recognizable amalgamation of self-portrait, paints a female nude reminiscent of the women painted by Rubens and Ingres. With its foundation in this trajectory of art history, Le Peintre et son modèle is a monumental and dynamic depiction of this historic theme.
Throughout the spring of 1963, Picasso executed a series of paintings on the theme of the painter and his model, one of the great recurring motifs of his late work. Le Peintre et son modèle was one of two compositions he completed on the 26th of March, and is among the most monumental of the series of over forty painter and model pictures executed during this period. “Picasso painted, drew and etched this subject so many times in his life that, as Michel Leiris has remarked, it almost became a genre in itself like landscape or still-life. In 1963 and 1964 he painted almost nothing else, the painter armed with his attributes, palette and brushes, the canvas on an easel, mostly seen from the side. Like a screen and the nude model seated or reclining in a space which presents all the characteristics of an artist’s studio, the big window, the sculpture on a stool, the folding screen the lamp, the divan, etc. All these stage props have nothing to do with Picasso’s real situation; he always painted without a palette and without an easel, directly onto a canvas laid flat. This is therefore not so much a record of his own work as an ‘epitome’ of a profession” (M. Bernadac, Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), London, 1988, p. 74).
Throughout this series of large canvases, the figure of the painter almost exclusively occupies the left-hand side of the composition, while the nude female model occupies the right half. Never tiring of exploring visual means of depicting erotic tension, in the years to follow Picasso developed a number of variations on this theme, always cauterized by a great spontaneity in brushwork and coloration, and an extraordinary creative energy. While in the later variations of this theme men and women are seen in assorted costumes and performing various activities, such as musicians or musketeers, in the 1963 series the protagonists are unmistakably the artist himself and the model he is painting, often divided by the vertical line of the easel between them. However, rather than dedicated solely to the process of painting and modeling, the two figures are involved in the game of seduction, with the artist’s brushes wittily suggestive of the man’s desire for his female subject and of the erotic tension between them.
Picasso had devoted a large portion of his production throughout the 1960s to the reinterpretation of the old masters, an experience in which he reaffirmed his connection to some of the greatest painters in the history of art. His series of musketeers, commenced several years after Le Peintre et son modèle began, according to his wife Jacqueline Roque, “when Picasso started to study Rembrandt.” His interest in Rembrandt’s work, however, was longstanding. Indeed just two weeks before he painted the present composition, when he executed Rembrandt and Saskia. Michael Fitzgerald states “He painted Rembrandt and Saskia, based on the Dutch master’s portrait of himself and his wife (c. 1635; Dresden). Picasso had admired Rembrandt’s art (particularly his prints) since at least the thirties. During his last decade he showed a particular appreciation for two, apparently contradictory, aspects of his predecessor’s work – the unflattering realism of Rembrandt’s late style, particularly self-portraits and depictions of the female nude, and the ornamental costumes of his early phase” (M. Fitzgerald, Picasso, The Artist’s Studio (exhibition catalogue), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford & Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 2001-02, p. 57).
The motif of the female nude fascinated Picasso throughout his career, and in the present work he sets her stark white figure against a lavishly-colored background and accentuates the curves of her body. In various periods of his work, Picasso’s art was closely related to his personal life and the women depicted in his paintings were always influenced by Picasso’s female companions at the time. In Le Peintre et son modèle, the female figure is inspired by Jacqueline, the last love of his life, whom Picasso married in 1961. Although she is not a direct likeness of Jacqueline, with her characteristic hairstyle, she bears the features with which Picasso usually portrayed his last muse. The essence of Jacqueline, who never formally posed as Picasso’s model, is always present in his portraits of this period, including the present work.
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