Picasso's representations of his own children and of childlike inhibition evolved over time as his stylistic presentations evolved, with the birth of each child coinciding with the genesis of a new representational style. While the works featuring Paulo are more classically representational, those of Maya some fifteen years later are a confluence of styles, emblematic of Picasso's stylistic pluralism of the 1930s. Werner Spies argues, “The early 1950s portraits of Claude and Paloma compared to all of Picasso's earlier depictions of children, are marked by a striking emphasis on movement . . . the paintings and drawings devoted to Claude and Paloma reveal a more liberal attitude to children in general, a reflection both of Picasso's own family situation and of the increasingly permissive society of the 1950s,” (quoted in Werner Spies [ed.], Picasso’s World of Children [exhibition catalogue], Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Munich, 1996, p. 12).
Picasso's fascination with depicting children waxed and waned throughout his prolific career, with clear demarcations of time marked by his portrayal of each child. Picasso's images of unidentified children – the "impersonal" child – began to appear on the art market in 1901 and were sought after by museums and collectors alike. The works featuring his own children, however, rarely left the artist's studios during his lifetime, suggesting he felt these works were too personal for unknown eyes. And yet Picasso's depictions of children almost exclusively are representations of his own children; after 1920 more than three-quarters of works touching on the motif of children – whether a universal trope or portraits – are of the artist's own offspring: Paulo (born in 1921), Maya (1935), Claude (1947) and Paloma (1949).
A young child's freedom from decorum and innate spontaneity was an ideal case study for Picasso, whose lifetime desire to break the boundaries of artistic conventions is embodied by his depictions of children. Picasso's famed dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler once noted the artist's particular affection for little children, stating: "If one were to make a ranking of the figures in Picasso's work, children would doubtless hold an outstanding place. There was no aesthetic reason for this. He painted and drew children, captured them in prints and sculptures, simply because he loved them passionately, especially the little ones. I have always seen him behaving affectionately toward the children in his surroundings, and I remember how once, in about 1908, he tenderly kissed the tiny hand of a baby," (ibid, p. 9).
Picasso met Françoise Gilot in 1943, while he was still embroiled with an increasingly mentally fragile Dora Maar, but by 1946 he and Gilot had settled in the town of Vallauris. The years that followed with the birth of their children Claude and Paloma were probably when Picasso was, more than at any other time, devoted to his family. The happiness of his private life spilled into his canvases, resulting in a number of portraits of Gilot and their children.
Throughout the course of the 1950s Picasso's depictions of his own children slowly vanished, suggesting that it was the behavior of early childhood that particularly inspired the artist. Picasso's observations of the freedom of childhood, as well as his familial happiness, influenced his composition choices, as is evident in Femme au chien. Painted on 3 February 1953, Femme au chien is a beautiful confluence of Picasso's personal and artistic passions: the freedom of childhood, the female form and the undying loyalty of canine companions. Picasso articulates his female figure, who occupies almost the entirety of the canvas, with bold, black lines to give her a seigniorial, stately quality. He found a new style for his portraits inspired by Françoise, characterized by a certain calm elegance and poise found throughout his depictions of her during the decade they were together. 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.
The titular dog, likely his boxer Jan, is depicted with clear affection and humor and is a nod to the Picasso's adoration of dogs. Canines of various sorts are present in Picasso's works throughout his œuvre: 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. 1, no. 196).
Pablo Picasso's Femme au chien will be offered in Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale (14 May, New York). Estimate $12,000,000–18,000,000. Learn more about the artists that bring the spirit of Fearless Now to life.