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Patrick McCaughey wrote about the present work: ‘Marie-Thérèse embodied for Picasso an ideal type – love, model and goddess. She offered him a release into sensuality and inspired the series of reclining, sleeping nudes of the early 1930s. Through Marie-Thérèse, Picasso discovered a new amplitude of form; less solemn than the monumental neo-classical nudes of the 1920s and with a promise of abundance and pleasure. She was also the model for an extensive series of large sculpted heads (fig. 4) which progressively became more Sibyl-like – an image of eternal womanhood. Perhaps the most impressive of all Marie-Thérèse images is the solemn and luminous Woman seated by the window [the present work], 1932, where she fulfils all three roles of love, model and goddess. The sensuality of the figure, although fully clothed, is retained in the voluptuous, swelling contours of the body and drapery contrasting with the rectilinear chair, room and window. For all her monumentality and grandeur, Marie-Thérèse – dressed simply and set in the bare interior of the studio – assumes here the role of the companion, the female figure seen without the distractions of anguish or sexuality. The painting achieves a classical calm and repose, a temporary haven in a turbulent decade for Picasso’ (P. McCaughey in Picasso (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., 1984, p. 211).
Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old, while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. 'I was an innocent girl,' Walter remembered years later. 'I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together' (quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness.
The first major series of paintings depicting Marie-Thérèse was executed in January 1932 in anticipation of the major retrospective that Picasso was planning that coming June. It was during these preceding months that he first cast his artistic spotlight on the voluptuous blonde. Up until this point he had only made reference to his extramarital affair with Marie-Thérèse in code, sometimes embedding her symbolically in a composition or rendering her unmistakable profile as a feature of the background. But by the end of 1931, Picasso could no longer repress the creative impulse that his lover inspired (fig. 4), especially as his marriage grew increasingly unbearable. John Richardson explains that while Olga organised large holiday parties that December in an attempt to demonstrate family unity, Picasso was involved in an artistic blood-letting, painting violent or murderous depictions of his wife. The exercise was a catharsis, Richardson claims, that better enabled him to focus on a 'languorous, loving painting of a lilac-skinned Marie-Thérèse’ (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume III, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 466).
Judi Freeman wrote about Picasso’s portraits of Marie-Thérèse in comparison to his arch-rival Matisse: 'In the 1930s these chair-bound women directly responded to Matisse's work as well. Matisse painted many of his models in lavishly decorated interiors [fig. 5], often seating them on elaborately upholstered chairs or on divans' (J. Freeman in Picasso and the Weeping Women, op. cit., p. 157). However while Matisse’s oils often focused on the exotic quality of both the sitters and their surroundings, Picasso presents a much more personal, tender and highly emotional rendering of his muse. Writing about Picasso’s paintings of Marie-Thérèse executed in 1932, Josef Palau i Fabre observes that during January of that year ‘the figure of Marie-Thérèse became spiritualized.’ She is often depicted sleeping, an almost unreal presence. Discussing the present work, he continues: ‘The profile of Marie-Thérèse, the surrounding air and the window are still unreal in Woman Sitting by the Window, in which it is the girl’s dresses, red, purple and blue, that seem most tangible’ (J. Palau i Fabre, op. cit., pp. 107 & 109). Indeed, the present composition is dominated by strong blocks of pure colour denoting her clothes and the wall behind her, while her exaggerated Grecian profile and her delicate hair and skin are rendered in soft pastel tones. Furthermore, the accentuated horizontal and vertical lines of the chair, widow and the blue wall provide a dynamic contrast to the curvaceous shape of her body.
A major event that coincided with the execution of the present work was the large retrospective exhibition held at Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in June-July 1932, and at Kunsthaus in Zurich from September to November that year. Picasso was closely involved in selecting works for the exhibition, and chose to hang his recent portraits of Marie-Thérèse alongside his earlier Cubist and Surrealist compositions. The retrospective was a huge success, drawing large numbers of visitors daily, and included many important works, among them the seminal Marie-Thérèse oil Le Rêve (fig. 7). It was on this occasion in Paris that Olga, upon seeing Picasso's numerous references to a specific face that was clearly not her own, was alerted to the presence of another woman in her husband's life. Until the exhibition, Picasso's relationship with Marie-Thérèse had been a secret affair, the evidence of which he had kept sealed away at the studio he maintained at Boisgeloup. He had purchased this property near Gisors in 1930 as a retreat, where he could escape from Olga and spend time alone with his mistress. The chateau at Boisegeloup was much larger than his studio in Paris, and the space allowed him to create the monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that were depicted in several paintings (figs. 8 & 10).
Having been released into the public domain, after this exhibition Marie-Thérèse's features would become more readily identifiable in Picasso's art. Robert Rosenblum wrote about the young woman's symbolic unveiling: 'Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep' (R. Rosenblum in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 342).
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