A t any given point in Pablo Picasso’s life, a veritable menagerie could be found in his home and studio. Dogs of all shapes and sizes, a variety of felines, doves, a parrot, an owl, a goat – indoors and out of doors these animals would appear, disappear, reappear.
The titular dog in Femme au chien, his Afghan hound Kaboul, is rendered with clear affection and humor – a nod to Picasso’s adoration of these creatures. 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 dachshund Lump (who he “borrowed” from David Douglas Duncan for many years) along with his Afghan hounds, Kasbek and Kaboul and his boxer Jan.
Kaboul is not the only protagonist in Femme au chien, as the title suggests. Enthroned in an armchair, the woman featured in Femme au chien is Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s beloved second wife who remained with him until his death in 1973. Picasso’s renderings of Jacqueline constitute the largest group of images of any woman in his life. The couple met in 1952 at the pottery studio in Vallauris, while Picasso was still living with the mother of his two children, Françoise Gilot. Picasso proceeded to marry Jacqueline in 1961 and as the art scholar William Rubin notes:
Jacqueline’s understated, gentle, and loving personality combined with her unconditional commitment to [Picasso] provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period of time than he had ever before enjoyed.
The relationship between Jacqueline and Kaboul was apparently very close. Art historian Boris Friedwald writes:
As of 1960, Lump [Picasso’s dachshund] had a new companion, Kaboul, named after the Afghan capital – and rightly so, because he was an Afghan Greyhound. Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso had married in 1961, was in love with Kaboul. And soon the animal, which was to accompany Picasso up to the end of his life, was appearing in several portraits of Jacqueline Roque. No wonder the features of Kaboul can be subtly traced in her visage.
Unlike many other figural artists who employed professional models or negotiated with strangers and slight acquaintances to sit for them, Picasso’s figures always revolved around those who inhabited the closest portions of his personal life. Jacqueline is depicted with the beloved hound Kaboul and, two years later, in a series of images, both clothed and nude, with their cat.
Femme au chien, in its bold use of color, complexity and monumental scale ensure that his canvas is one of Picasso’s most evocative portraits of his wife during their years at Notre Dame de Vie and a masterpiece of the artist’s late period.