Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg (acquired from the above in 1995)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1995
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum & Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Picasso Black and White, 2012-13, no. 97, illustrated in colour in the catalogue
Sylvette, Sylvette, Sylvette: Picasso and the Model (exhibition catalogue), Kunsthalle, Bremen, 2014, no. 77, illustrated in colour p. 79
Carmen Giménez in Picasso Black and White (exhibition catalogue), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York & The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2012-13, p. 27
'Je vois souvent une lumière et une ombre.'
Dating from March 1953, Femme assise dans un fauteuil sur fond blanc was painted during the time when Picasso was living in the south of France with Françoise Gilot (fig. 2) and their two children, Claude and Paloma. Picasso met Françoise in May 1943, during his tumultuous relationship with Dora Maar, and in 1946 that they settled in Vallauris. The period that followed was marked by great personal fulfilment, during which Picasso was, probably more than at any other time, devoted to his family, and this happiness in private life spilled into the artist’s work, resulting in a number of portraits of his muse and their children.
Gilot was forty years Picasso’s junior and was herself a painter, and her youthful spirit and interest in art not only inspired Picasso, but also encouraged a new direction in his portraiture. The majority of his depictions of Françoise, with her hair in the characteristic chignon, are infused with a calm elegance and poise. The present work, however, was painted only several months before the breakup of their relationship, as Françoise would leave Picasso in September 1953 and move with the children to Paris. Although executed months before these events that would cause Picasso much suffering, Femme assise dans un fauteuil sur fond blanc demonstrates a stylistic shift that may indicate a decline in their relationship, as well as an early appearance of a new woman in the artist’s life. The tranquil and domestic atmosphere of the previous decade is here replaced with a degree of energy and drama stemming from a sharp, linear execution. The angular, broken forms which were developed during Picasso’s Cubist phase recall the dramatic depictions of Dora Maar and his war-time portraits.
Over the ten or so years in which Picasso painted portraits of Françoise, she was a catalyst for some of the most elegant and innovative artistic explorations. In the early days of their relationship Picasso painted Gilot in a series of now celebrated images of femme-fleur, where the artist beautifully compared the features of his youthful muse to a delicate flower. In the present work Picasso further develops the linear style with which his portrayals of Gilot are usually associated, pushing the boundaries of two-dimensional representation. Using only white paint, he reverses the traditional notion of line and background, and allows passages of unpainted brown board to play the role of the line which describes the features of his sitter. Instead of the traditional modulation of paint, a variation in chromatic intensity is achieved through the colour and texture intrinsic to the plywood visible through or between layers of white paint. This combination of linear treatment with the use of only two colours would lead to a remarkable series of sculptures executed in sheet metal which Picasso produced the following year (fig. 4).
Picasso’s monochrome works (figs. 1, 3 & 4) have recently been the subject of the highly acclaimed exhibition Picasso Black and White, held in New York and Houston in 20012-13, in which the present work was included. Whilst Picasso’s use of a reduced palette, going back to his Cubist works, is often discussed by art historians from a formalist point of view, in the exhibition catalogue Carmen Giménez suggests that ‘line, shadow, chiaroscuro, and monochromy are not simple techniques or procedures, but bring with them a symbolic sense of enormous intellectual and psychological density – something of deep importance for an artist like Picasso’ (C. Giménez in Picasso Black and White (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 25). In the present work this monochrome backdrop, executed in wide brushstrokes of pure white pigment, emphasises the artist’s flat treatment of the picture plane, and by concealing any indication of a setting, focuses the viewer’s attention on the details of the sitter’s costume, hair and facial features. The resulting image is not only a remarkable example of Picasso’s unique technical and intellectual ability, but also a poignant reflection of the artist’s emotional state during this important period in his life.
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