Portrait of Picasso's beloved muse for auction

22 May 2018 - 12:45pm

Pablo Picasso’s Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant is the highlight of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on June 19.

In a press release, Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art department global co-head & Sotheby’s Europe chairman Helena Newman says, “This tender and romantic vision of Marie-Thérèse is a remarkably intimate portrait of the woman who has come to embody the heart and soul of the most celebrated year of Picasso’s oeuvre."

She adds that Buste de femme de profil. Femme écrivant have remained unseen in public for more than 20 years and this auction marks the third consecutive season this year where an exceptional Picasso from the 1930s has headlined Sotheby's flagship evening sale. "It is all the more wonderful to offer this painting created in the spring of 1932 at a time when we are enjoying a world-class exhibition devoted to this year at Tate Modern in London.”

The painting depicts Marie-Thérèse in the act of writing, evoking a private moment from the artist’s clandestine relationship with his most beloved muse. Awake or asleep, writing or reading, Marie-Thérèse appears in manifold guises throughout Picasso’s oeuvre.

In this painting, Picasso focuses on her innocence and youthfulness, depicting her serenely penning her thoughts. The work depicts Marie-Thérèse’s unmistakable profile and sweep of blonde hair, silhouetted in front of a window at the Château de Boisgeloup, the grand house outside of Paris acquired by Picasso in 1930. Her sensual curves are echoed by the diffused green light emanating from the gardens beyond the window – the deliberate juxtaposition of the horizontal and vertical lines of the window frame with the soft curves of her body masterfully emphasising her form.

The palette is characteristic of Picasso’s key depictions of Marie-Thérèse during this year. The composition recalls both his celebrated Cubist paintings and the series of monumental sculpted heads that he created in 1931, again inspired by Marie-Thérèse. It is the intensity and passion of the paintings from 1932 that marks them as unique amongst the artist’s body of work.

Marie-Thérèse Walter entered Picasso’s life one day in January 1927, capturing his attention at first sight on the streets of Paris at a time when his turbulent relationship with his wife Olga was floundering. An intensely passionate and creatively inspiring relationship, this chance meeting with Marie-Thérèse galvanised his life and art. She quickly became a source of creative inspiration and veiled references to her appear in his art from that point on. However, it was only five years later in 1932 – following a landmark exhibition at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris – that the artist announced Marie-Thérèse as an extraordinary presence in his life and art through his paintings.

Picasso almost never painted his muses from life, his depictions being inspired by the memory of them and the metamorphic power of his erotic imagination. With Marie-Thérèse in particular, the artist’s inspiration reached fever pitch in the long periods they were forced to spend apart. Here, he evokes her in a quietly contemplative mood – perhaps picturing her lover as she writes.