Throughout their life together, Jacqueline served as a model for several of Picasso's reinterpretations of art historical masterworks, including his studies of Manet's Déjeuner sur l'herbe and Delacroix' Femmes d'Algiers. But here, the artist has chosen to paint her not in any narrative context, but rather as the singular object and focus of his attention. In the present composition Jacqueline’s large eyes are combined with her other characteristic attributes – a strong nose and accentuated eyebrows – creating an expression that is at once self-assured and apprehensive. According to Elizabeth Cowling, “One of Jacqueline’s attractions for Picasso was her uncanny ability to inhabit and blend with now one picture in his musée imaginaire, now another” (E. Cowling in Picasso Portraits (exhibition catalogue), National Portrait Gallery, London, 2016-17, p. 184). Picasso painted Jacqueline in a variety of manners, from the more naturalistic, frontal depictions he explored in a range of media, to the more stylized, abstract renderings reminiscent of his earlier portraits of Dora Maar, including the present work. In the present work Jacqueline is depicted in characteristic double-profile, a jaunty hat set on her head and the outline of one of the chairs she regally inhabited, picked out in bold strokes of white and aquamarine.
During his final decades, Picasso reexamined artists who had come before. At one point in the 1960s Picasso was so fixated on Van Gogh that he carried in his wallet the original news article detailing Van Gogh’s self-mutilation of his ear. It was here on his hilltop in Notre Dame de Vie that Picasso would further deepen his study of the old masters. According to Elizabeth Cowling “In old age, when he no longer went to Paris and left his country house outside Mougins with the greatest reluctance, Picasso immersed himself in masterpieces like Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1628), Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642) and a van Gogh Self Portrait (1889) by projecting slides blown up to a gigantic scale onto his studio wall” (Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, pp. 12-13). Vincent van Gogh was the artist Picasso admired most and he referred to him frequently throughout his career. In Picasso’s final decade, Van Gogh came to be the greatest source of inspiration: “Of all the artists with whom Picasso identified, van Gogh is the least often cited but probably the one that meant the most to him in later years. He talked of him as his patron saint, talked of him with intense admiration and compassion, never with any of his habitual irony or mockery. Van Gogh, like Cézanne earlier in Picasso’s life, was sacrosanct…. Why, one wonders, should a great artist want to paint self-portraits in the guise of another great artist?... The answer is surely that in losing your identity to someone else you gain a measure of control over them…I suspect that Picasso also wanted to galvanize his paint surface…with some of the Dutchman’s Dyonisian fervor. The surface of the late paintings has a freedom, a plasticity, that was never there before; they are more spontaneous, more expressive and more instinctive than virtually all his previous work" (J. Richardson in Late Picasso, Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, Tate Gallery, London & Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1988, pp. 31-34).
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