In May 1909, Pablo Picasso and his lover Fernande Olivier left Paris to spend the summer in the artist’s native Spain. Having stayed in Barcelona for a few weeks, in June the couple arrived in Horta de Ebro (now Horta de Sant Joan), a remote Catalonian village that could only be reached by mule.

The months spent in Horta proved to be one of the most significant periods of Picasso’s career, one in which the artist developed a radically new approach to the representation of form. Along with the landscapes and other portraits of Fernande that Picasso executed there, Femme assise belongs to a series that revolutionised his working methods and marked the true beginnings of Cubism. Find out more about the work, which features in the Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 21 June.


SCULPTURE: Femme assise and its companion Horta portraits were a catalyst for Tête de femme (Fernande), the first Cubist sculpture that Picasso created on his return to Paris. His sculptural approach here is evident in the multiple viewpoints. 

FERNANDE: Picasso met Fernande when he moved into the Bateau-Lavoir building in Montmartre, where Fernande lived and worked as an artist’s model. With her beautiful features and rich auburn hair, she was known as “La belle Fernande.” 

STILL LIFE: To the right of Fernande's face is a stylised vase of flowers, which appears in several other related canvases and is depicted here in a radically broken-down form. Still-life would soon become the  genre central to the development of Cubism.  

CUBISM: Art historian William Rubin wrote about the period: “There in the pellucid Mediterranean light of his native Spain, he distilled from the material he had been exploring during the previous two years his first fully defined statement of Analytic Cubism.” 

LANDSCAPE: A landscape at the top left of the work was inspired by the Mediterranean setting and painted in broken-down forms to a highly abstract effect. Picasso’s portraits of Fernande and his Horta landscapes are among his most influential works.

The Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale is in London on 21 June.