"That the artist at work – almost always Le Peintre et son modèle which, in Picasso's oeuvre, has appeared as a major theme– became not his unique theme, but at least his most frequent, shows how important the very act of painting is in Picasso's eyes."
In 1963, the same year as the present painting, Michel Leiris wrote these words on the iconic series of works by Picasso on the theme of the painter and his model.(in Jean Leymarie, Picasso, Métamorphose et unité, Geneva, 1971, p.191)
Although Picasso depicted the theme in his early works with paintings such as Le Peintre et son modèle of 1926 (Paris, Musée Picasso) or a composition of 1928 today at the Museum of Modern Art, it was not until the 1960s that the subject acquired a fundamental importance in his art. As Marie-Laure Bernadac emphasized "in 1963 and 1964, he painted almost only that…" (in Picasso, la monographie 1881-1973, Barcelona, 2000, p.439). The painter, who had embarked upon his last decade, had just moved to Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins and devoted himself almost frenetically to the theme of the painter and his model, painting directly onto the canvas, without any preparatory studies. This period of intense creativity resulted in almost one hundred and fifty painted variations around this theme.
Most often, as in this painting, the painter is represented with his traditional attributes of palette and paintbrushes, facing the naked model. The easel on which the painting rests creates a separation between two distinct universes: that of the artist and that of the model. In this emblematic series, although the figure of the painter can be considered as a self-portrait, Picasso is also paying tribute to the vocation of the painter. Whilst approaching the end of his life, Picasso devoted a decade to the reinterpretation of the great masters of the past, painting after works by Velazquez, Poussin or Manet. The ageing artist thus returns to the essence of his occupation, painting from the life model.
Le Peintre et son modèle is a brilliant manifesto for the act of painting itself, staging the complex relationship that links the artist to his model. Through the erotic figure of the model, a central figure of the composition, the artist's gaze is magnified and becomes the catalyst for the work as a symbol of the artist's creative power.
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