Over the years Picasso's depictions of Françoise became increasingly stylized, from painting her as a "Woman-flower" to those that essentialize her image. Having left behind the innocent, dream-like portraits of Marie-Thérèse Walter, as well as the dramatic, distorted depictions of Dora Maar, Picasso found a new style for his portraits inspired by Françoise, characterized by a certain calm elegance and poise that carries throughout all his depictions of her over the decade they were together. In the present painting, she sits on the floor, holding a dog in her lap and offering it a ball. Picasso had previously depicted Gilot in similar poisitions at play with the couple’s children, as well as his children engaging with animals, dolls and other toys. As Frank Elgar pointed out: "The portraits of Françoise Gilot have a Madonna-like appearance, in contrast to the tormented figures he was painting a few years earlier" (F. Elgar, Picasso, New York, 1972, p. 123). While the present work still depicts Gilot in a nurturing position, the replacement of children with a dog and the extremely saturated and bright color palette, allude to the disquieting final weeks and months of their time together.
Gilot was forty years Picasso’s junior and was herself a painter. 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, painted just several months before the breakup of their relationship, demonstrates a stylistic shift that may indicate a decline in their partnership, 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.
Speaking with John Richardson, Françoise Gilot discussed another work, Femme et chien jouant, fond bleu, painted just seven days after the present work: “When Pablo became disagreeable, he could be very disagreeable…. I started talking about this with Pablo, raising issues that we had been unable to discuss, given how unpleasant the outcomes would be for both of us. As to leaving him, Pablo replied to my suggestion in a decidedly royal manner. To make matters worse, I , too, have a temper, even though I normally try to hide it. So when Pablo informed me that nobody would leave a man like him, I said, ‘Ha! That we will see!’ Pablo should not have provoked my aggressiveness. The fact that I had been so nice to him didn’t mean that I myself was always nice. When I was no longer nice to him, that’s when he did the painting of me with the dog, Femme et chien jouant, fond bleu” (reproduced in Picasso and Françoise Gilot, Paris-Vallauris, 1943-1953 (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2012, p. 35).
The inclusion of a dog as a main character in the artist’s work has precedent dating back to his earliest days as an artist. The titular dog, in Femme au chien, likely his boxer Jan, is depicted with clear affection and humor and is a nod to Picasso’s adoration of dogs. Canines of various sorts are present in Picasso’s works throughout his oeuvre: the emaciated figures of his Rose Period; his serial reinterpretations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas; and his Afghan hounds, Kasbek and Kaboul, in the 1940s and 1960s. The importance of dogs to Picasso is particularly evident in his 1903 self-portrait, in which a young, penurious artist, shrunken underneath the overcoat, confronts adversity with only his canine companion (Zervos, vol. I, no. 196).
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