- Pablo Picasso
- Femme assise sur une chaise
- Dated 7.5.38. (lower right)
- Oil on canvas
Private Collection, New York
PaceWildenstein, New York
Gianni Versace, New York (acquired from the above and sold: Sotheby's, London, December 7, 1999, lot 21)
Acquired at the above sale A. Alfred Taubman
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Spanish Civil War 1937-1939, San Francisco, 1997, no. 38-072, illustrated p. 154
Picasso & the Camera (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2014, illustrated in a photograph by Dora Maar p. 305
Picasso met Dora Maar in 1936, and although he was still married to Olga Khokhlova and having an illicit affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, he began an intense relationship with her: Maar's image soon appeared in the artist's oeuvre, and over the next eight years she became his lover, companion and principal source of inspiration. Mature and intelligent, Dora Maar was a far more intense companion than the pliant Marie-Thérèse, whose passive, golden beauty had dominated Picasso’s work of the previous decade. Dora Maar’s highly emotional character influenced some of Picasso’s most intensely felt images, almost overpowering at times but always redeemed by technical bravura.
Dora charmed Picasso with her fluent Spanish and austere beauty, but more than anything else it was her face that obsessed the artist. Her most striking features, powerfully rendered in the present composition, were her thick mantle of rich black hair- which she kept long for the artist – and her dazzling soulful eyes, which she strongly accented with heavy mascara. Picasso declared that for him Dora, depicted seated in this three-quarter length portrait, had a “Kafkaesque” personality, and as a result he often portrayed her enclosed in a room, or trapped by the chair in which she is sitting. Dora aesthetically stimulated Picasso in a way that no other woman ever managed, and her features caused him to invent his famed “double portrait” device: in the present work the sitter’s face is painted in profile, yet with both eyes, ears and nostrils fully visible. Because it merges several concepts, the double profile is a fascinating development of Picasso’s pictorial evolution, stemming from the circulating viewpoint he had used in his cubist works. The artist would continue to explore this technique in his portraits until 1943.
Over the years Picasso spent with Dora Maar, the artist subjected her visage to a myriad of contortions, giving the impression of a tempestuous relationship. However, unlike the tortured renderings of a large number of her portraits, the present canvas is imbued with a lighter spirit, evoked by a soft palette and a decorative hat.
It is, though, Picasso's choice of pinks and purples, a palate reminiscent of his renderings of Marie-Thérèse Walter betray the vulnerability the artist may have recognized in his fierce lover and recalls Picasso’s comment: “For me [Dora Maar] is the weeping woman. For years I have painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism, and not with pleasure either; just obeying a vision that forced itself on me. It was the deep reality, not the superficial one” (quoted in Françoise Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 122.)
In a recent survey of portraits of Dora Maar, Brigitte Léal wrote that these works “remain among the finest achievement of his art, at a time when he was engaged in a sort of third path, verging on Surrealist representation while rejecting strict representation and, naturally, abstraction. Today, more than ever, the fascination that the image of this admirable, but suffering and alienated face exerts on us incontestably ensues from its conceding with our modern consciousness of the body in its threefold dimension of precariousness, ambiguity and monstrosity. There is no doubt that by signing these portraits, Picasso tolled the final bell for the reign of ideal beauty and opened the way for the aesthetic tyranny of a sort of terrible and tragic beauty, the fruit of our contemporary history.” Brigitte Léal continues: “… Dora Maar is the perfect prototype of the surrealist Egeria, capricious and eccentric, a direct descendant of the Baudelarian idol who is accomplishing a kind of duty, when she devotes herself to appearing magical and supernatural. The most provocative emblem of her somewhat flashy elegance is the little over-ornate hat that Picasso places on her head […] In its preciousness and fetishistic vocation, the feminine hat was, like the glove, an erotic accessory highly prized by the Surrealists” (ibid., pp. 387-389).
As was the case for many of his favorite pictures, the present work remained with Picasso until his death in 1973. It was then sold by his heirs through Pace Wildenstein to Gianni Versace, the larger-than-life Italian fashion designer and cultural icon, who died tragically from an assassin's bullet in the summer of 1997. This picture, which had adorned Versace's home in New York, was one of the first of many masterworks from Versace's collection to be sold at Sotheby's, where it was purchased by Mr. Taubman in 1999.