The inclusion of a dog as a principal subject has precedent dating back to Picasso's earliest days as an artist. The titular dog in Femme au chien, his Afghan hound Kaboul, is rendered with clear affection and humor and a nod to Picasso’s adoration of these creatures. Canines of various sorts are present in Picasso’s works throughout his oeuvre: the emaciated figures of his Rose Period; his serial reinterpretations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas; and his dachshund Lump (who he “borrowed” from David Douglas Duncan for many years) along with his Afghan hounds, Kasbek and Kaboul and his boxer Jan. The importance of dogs to Picasso is particularly evident in his delicate rendering of Garçon au chien executed in 1905, now a part of the permanent collection at the Hermitage (see fig. 1).
Kaboul is not the only protagonist in Femme au chien, as the title suggests. Enthroned in an armchair, the woman featured in Femme au chien is Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s beloved second wife who remained with him until his death in 1973. Picasso’s renderings of Jacqueline constitute the largest group of images of any woman in his life. The couple met in 1952 at the pottery studio in Vallauris, while Picasso was still living with the mother of his two children, Françoise Gilot. Unlike Françoise, Jacqueline was accepting of the notoriously temperamental artist and his obsession with his art. Her unflappable support and willingness to sacrifice herself on the altar of his ego won the artist’s heart. Picasso married Jacqueline in 1961 and as William Rubin noted, “Jacqueline’s understated, gentle, and loving personality combined with her unconditional commitment to [Picasso] provided an emotionally stable life and a dependable foyer over a longer period of time than he had ever before enjoyed” (W. Rubin quoted in Picasso & Jacqueline, The Evolution of Style (exhibition catalogue), Pace Gallery, New York, 2014-15, p. 190).
The relationship between Jacqueline and Kaboul was apparently very close. Boris Friedwald writes, “As of 1960, Lump [Picasso’s dachshund] had a new companion, Kaboul, named after the Afghan capital—and rightly so, because he was an Afghan Greyhound. Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso had married in 1961, was in love with Kaboul. And soon the animal, which was to accompany Picasso up to the end of his life, was appearing in several portraits of Jacqueline Roque. No wonder the features of Kaboul can be subtly traced in her visage” (B. Friedewald, Picasso’s Animals, New York, 2014, p. 56). To this point of visual similarity between hound and human, Picasso himself described the difficulty of separating the two in his mind: “Often, if he comes into my mind when I am working, it alters what I do. The nose on the face I am drawing gets longer and sharper. The hair of the woman I am sketching gets longer and fluffy, resting against her cheeks just as his ears rest against his head” (quoted in ibid., p. 51). In all, Picasso would paint six oils of Jacqueline seated with Kaboul. These range from the most fully worked examples including the present work and Femme et chien sous un arbre, now at The Museum of Modern Art, New York to more instantaneous, looser compositions where the shape and execution of both Jacqueline and Kaboul is less precise (figs. 2 & 3).
The present picture, which Picasso began in November 1962 and completed the following month, belongs to a series of depictions of Jacqueline in an armchair. The motif of a seated woman in an armchair occurred repeatedly throughout Picasso’s oeuvre. While varying in style and depicting different women that marked each period of the artist’s life, these figures, seated and fully attentive, generally served as a vehicle for expressing the palpable sexual tension between the painter and his model. From soft, voluptuous curves of Marie-Thérèse Walter, to the fragmented, near-abstract nudes of his surrealist work and the exaggerated rendering of his later years, Picasso’s seated nudes have a monumental, sculptural presence, and are invariably depicted with a powerful sense of psychological drama. It is perhaps no accident that the present work features prominently in the background of a portrait of the couple taken in 1962 (see fig. 4).
Unlike many other figural artists who employed professional models or negotiated with strangers and slight acquaintances to sit for them, Picasso’s figures always revolved around those who inhabited the closes portions of his personal life “It is characteristic of Picasso,” writes Marie-Laure Bernadac “… that he takes as his model—or as his Muse—the woman he loves and who loves with him, not a professional model. So what his paintings show is never a ‘model’ of a woman, but woman as model. This has its consequences for his emotional as well as his artistic life: for the beloved woman stands for ‘painting’, and the painted woman is the beloved: detachment is an impossibility. Picasso never paints from life: Jacqueline never poses for him; but she is there always, everywhere. All the women of these years are Jacqueline, and yet they are rarely portraits. The image of the woman he loves is a model imprinted deep within him, and it emerges every time he paints a woman” (Late Picasso. Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London & Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, 1988, p. 78). It was not just the women in his life who dominated his canvases. In his years with Olga, Marie-Thérèe and Gilot their children with Picasso take pride of place in his artwork. Jacqueline is depicted with the beloved hound Kaboul and, two years later, in a series of images, both clothed and nude, with their cat. This is not to say the animals take the place of children in these works—Gilot was depicted with dogs in various instances (see fig. 5), but rather belie the daily surroundings of life and the prime actors within their world at this time.
By 1962, Picasso and Jacqueline had decamped from the increasingly chaotic Villa La Californie in Cannes. After a brief period of time spent in the too-remote Vauvenargues Castle, near Aix-en-Provence, they settled in Notre Dame de Vie, a Mas in the town of Mougins, perched in the hills high above the coast. “Notre Dame de Vie,” Gert Schiff relates, “is a spacious eighteenth-century farmhouse surrounded by cypresses and olive trees, with a view extending down to the Bay of Cannes. The artist’s wife Jacqueline organized his life for him. She provided him with unlimited time for his work—and with inspiration” (G. Schiff, Picasso. The Last Years, 1963-1973, New York, 1983, p. 12). Femme au chien, in its bold use of color, complexity and completeness of composition and monumental scale ensure that his canvas is one of Picasso’s most evocative portraits of his wife during their years at Notre Dame de Vie and a masterpiece of the artist’s late period.
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