The woman behind the portrait that made history

The woman behind the portrait that made history
The woman behind the portrait that made history

His profound scholars Picasso they say that 1932 was a pivotal year in his art. “Annus mirabilis” or “year of miracles” is described by John Richardson, the biographer of the demon painter. The reason was not an artistic encounter like that with Braque that ignited the Cubist movement, nor certainly a flash of the Spaniard in the workshop.

Life is what drives art and in the case of the “bullfighter” red cloth has always been a woman. Among the iconic works of the year, “The woman with a watch(Femme à la montre) is a “child” of his passionate relationship with his muse and mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter.

That year Picasso was well-known everywhere, fifty years old, a fifty-year-old who had permanently left behind the bohemian life in Montmartre for the grand apartment on the rue La Boétie. He had a seemingly enviable family life with his wife Olga Khokhlova and their son Paulo. However, the creator was seething. In 1927, a chance meeting outside the famous Galeries Lafayette department store with the then seventeen-year-old Marie-Thérèse would bring one of the greatest loves of his life.

In times when political correctness was not even hinted at, Picasso blurted out to the girl “I am Picasso! You and I will do great things together.” Shortly thereafter, the two began a relationship that would define a golden decade of the painter’s artistic output.

His love for the girl took on mythic proportions, with Marie-Thérèse’s face stamping on the artist’s paper, canvas and sculptures. Due to the large age difference and his marriage to Olga, their relationship remained a secret, even from the artist’s inner circle. As a result, ID card is hidden from her in Picasso’s first works, is concealed by the surreal versions of, is denoted in dark profiles or still lifes which hide the initials ‘MT’.

As Picasso’s other muse and painter François Gillot would later write, Thérèse was “the bright dream of youth, always in the background but always alive, which fueled his work…Marie Thérèse, then, was precious to him, as he lived with Olga, because it was the “dream” while the “reality” was someone else.”

Picasso and Marie – Therese Walter

The furtive meetings of the two gave birth in the studio to dozens of coded images of his mistress, which finally culminated in the bold and sensual portraits of 1932. The powerful combination of physical attraction and sexual flowering of his muse had an intoxicating effect on Picasso and his lust for the young woman he brought a wealth of images that have been praised as the most erotic compositions of his career. Each 1932 work resembles a diary entry, recording the couple’s evolving relationship.

In June 1932, a huge retrospective of the artist (Galeries Georges Petit) sparked developments. Picasso participated in its organization and himself chose the works to be hung, including the unknown to the public, large-scale portraits of Marie-Thérèse.

It was then that Olga, seeing Picasso’s numerous references to the face and figure of another woman, realized the presence of another woman in her husband’s life. Until the exhibition, Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse was a secret affair, the details of which he kept sealed in his studio in Boisgeloup.

In the seclusion of his country house and the large studio he created there, the voluptuous figure of the young mistress flooded the retreat. From a stable that it was, the new workshop provided the necessary space for the painter’s transition to sculpture. The monumental plaster works that emerged from this period, in turn inspired increasingly dynamic biomorphic figures that defined the painting of 1932.

The portrait ‘Femme à la montre’ was created in August of that year and depicts a woman seated in an armchair, in front of a striking blue background. Marie-Thérèse with a face that conveys calmness and confidence, is rendered with geometric volumes demarcating her dress and chair.

Her gaze is directed at the viewer, the illuminated half of her face is mirrored and joined by the shadowed half, like the sun and the moon. The brilliant blue background against which she poses is bold so that it spreads out on a large scale, although some see the same use as the golden plain in Byzantine icons, alluding to the Madonnas of Western painting.

Pablo Picasso, “The Woman with a Clock” (Femme à la montre). Photo source: Platform X (formerly Twitter) / Sotheby’s

The work is characterized by the clean lines and geometric forms of the armchair and the beautifully patterned dress, while each element is carefully offset by contrasting colors and shapes. The green checkered blouse of the subject can be read as a direct reference to the tapestries and designs that feature Matisse’s works from exactly the same period, such as the 1927 “Femme à l’eveil”, which included in the painter’s retrospective the Museum of Modern Art in 1931.

Therefore, “Femme à la montre” functions not only as an ode to the painter’s personal “Madonna”, but also as a direct response to his greatest artistic rival.

What is its significance clock; They say it has special symbolism, as the clock refers to long period of secrecy while the lovers waited for the end of the artist’s marriage. At the same time, it is also a nod to the era – a wristwatch was then considered a man’s accessory – as well as a reference to the object that Picasso gave to the portrait model.

In order to understand the meaning of the gift, it is enough to go back to its painting. One of the first appearances of the watch in Picasso’s paintings is in a portrait of Olga in 1917. Twenty-five years later, the motif in ‘Femme à la montre’ is repeated, but the owner of the watch has been replaced by a new mistress.

Olga Khokhlova sculpted by Pablo Picasso, 1917. Photo source: platform X (formerly Twitter)

In the newer portrait, Marie-Thérèse symbolically borrows the watch from Olga, just as she has borrowed the creator’s affection (in Picasso’s case it only counts as a loan). But unlike Olga, he never married her. Her time stopped on October 20, 1977, four years after Picasso’s death, when Walter committed suicide.

Until a few months ago, the work belonged to the wealthy New York collector Emily Fischer Landau, who died earlier this year at the age of 102. Yesterday it was sold at a Sotheby’s auction in New York for a price 139.9 million dollars. This is the second highest price ever paid for a Picasso painting.

Center photo: The painting “Femme a la montre” (1932) by French artist Pablo Picasso is on display during a press preview of the Sotheby’s auction in London, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023. Photo credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

The article is in Greek

Tags: woman portrait history


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