One important element of this period was his renewed interest in the painters of the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age. It is from the 1960s that Picasso repeatedly depicts the character of the Mousquetaire, casting himself as the dashing soldier, a stock figure from seventeenth-century painting. In like manner, the present work evokes arguably the most famous female portrait of all time: the sixteenth-century painting Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci (see fig. 2). Jacqueline—like da Vinci’s subject—is depicted in half profile, with cascading dark hair and the iconic half-smile on their lips. As with his images of musketeers, Picasso self-consciously places himself in an art historical narrative by drawing upon canons of the past and adapting them to his own ends. In doing so, he masterfully exalts the importance of Modern art—and more specifically his art—as the culmination of creative exploration.
In a strange turn of events, Picasso was even suspected of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Musée du Louvre, Paris, upon its disappearance in August 1911. Picasso had earlier knowingly purchased Iberian sculptures that had been stolen from the Louvre and once this indiscretion was discovered, authorities willfully made a connection between these and the stolen Mona Lisa. Picasso was brought to the magistrate’s court and ultimately released, but not until after an intense and stressful court case. Picasso was known to have been deeply ashamed by the whole affair and his then-lover Fernande speculated that the artist never forgave her for having seen him so upset. The present work—painted some fifty years after the case—demonstrates a different kind of ownership of the work and emphatically marks his recovered pride.
In addition to its particular place in Picasso’s thematic evolution, the present work is significant for impressing upon the viewer a particularly personal sentiment. Jacqueline is depicted in soft, curvilinear lines and swirling brush strokes. The palette is one Picasso frequently employed for paintings of his second wife; in his painting of the same year Le Peintre et son modèle (see fig. 3) Picasso chooses similar hues of green and yellow. These colors are bright and exuberant, evoking the verdant tones of the natural world. Indeed, in a later painting of 1969, Picasso paints the pair encircled by floating leaves, symbolic of the generative role she played in his life.
Jacqueline was distraught following Picasso’s death in 1973; she struggled to cope without him and, though active in arranging exhibitions of his works, she eventually took her own life in 1986.
The loves of Pablo Picasso had long exerted a strong influence on his creative output and their various portraits feature throughout his seventy-year career. At times reflecting discord, at times exultant joy, these portraits always offer a significant insight into the emotional workings of an artist hailed the father of Modern art. Jacqueline more so than any other was a spur to his creative genius; he painted more pictures of her than any other muse. The present work is therefore not only a fascinating testament to Picasso’s continual engagement with art history and his self-promoted role in it, but also a wonderful example of a theme that sustained throughout Picasso’s life and a subject that dominated the last twenty years of it.
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