Impressionist & Modern Art

The Muse and the Chateau at the Heart of Picasso's Year of Wonders

By Sotheby's

There were many notable years in the long, dramatic career of Pablo Picasso, but 1932 stands out as particularly momentous. In this ‘year of wonders,’ Picasso produced the most sensuous depictions of his great muse and lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. One of them, Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant), is a scene of great tenderness and intimacy depicting the woman who would inspire some of the artist’s most iconic images. This work will go under the hammer as part of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 19 June.

Marie-Thérèse was only seventeen years old when she was discovered by Picasso while leaving the Metro in Paris. It was an encounter that would shape the artist’s trajectory in art history as Marie-Thérèse’s distinctive profile began to emerge again and again in Picasso’s paintings and sculpture.

As a result of Picasso’s ongoing and unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova, the couple soon became embroiled in a covert love affair, hidden even from Picasso’s innermost circle of friends. This secrecy, however, was not to last long and the affair was spectacularly revealed at the artist’s retrospective in 1932 at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. A series of works depicting his new lover appeared at this exhibition and Picasso’s wife found herself confronted by a face that was not her own.


Painted in April 1932 at the Château de Boisgeloup, Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant) depicts the artist’s young muse seated at one of the windows of the château. The strong geometric lines of the window frame dissect the canvas and create a beautiful interplay with the softer curves of her figure. The soft colours and clarity of light in the background of Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant) create an atmosphere of calm and freedom, reflecting the tranquillity Boisgeloup provided Picasso.

The château enabled Picasso to experiment with multiple artistic forms ranging from creating monumental sculpted heads inspired by Marie-Thérèse, to installing his own printing press. John Richardson notes the importance of Boisgeloup: ‘Picasso spent most of this spring at Boisgeloup. While the wife stayed in Paris during the weekend looking after Paulo, the mistress would move into the château. Weekends, she would go home to Maisons-Alfort, and Olga would take over again. […] Snapshots taken over these weekends make it clear that when a nanny or governess was around, or friends came to visit, family life at Boisgeloup could not have been more conventional. Paintings tell a very different story’ (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, London, 2007, vol. III, pp. 471-472).


While paintings from 1932 capture the full blossoming of Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter, Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant) provides the viewer with a window through which we may glimpse a more intimate scene showing the artist’s relationship with his young lover at its most tender. This series of works from 1932 compromise some of the finest achievements of Picasso’s œuvre, and it is with great excitement that we are able to offer this large-scale work depicted with the highly characteristic palette of the period at our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale on 19 June.

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