Femme au corsage
Femme au corsage (Bloch 847)

1958 (December 27, Cannes)

Lithograph printed on Arches wove paper
From the edition of 50
Signed by the artist in pencil, lower right
Numbered 44/50 in pencil, lower left
Printed by Mourlot
Published by Galerie Lousie Leiris
Image: 24 3/4 x 18 3/4 inches
Sheet: 26 x 20 inches
Framed: 33 1/2 x 27 5/8 inches
(Bloch 847) (Mourlot 307)

Femme au corsage à fleurs is one of an extended series of lithographic portraits that Picasso made of his second wife, Jacqueline Roque (1927-86) during 1957-8. According to the master printer Fernand Mourlot (1895-1988) who printed all the artist’s lithographs, Picasso accorded great importance to this particular suite of images, in which he used his subject’s beautiful and exotic profile as the basis for an intensive focus on the representational possibilities of different kinds of mark-making in the lithographic process (Fernand Mourlot, Picasso Lithographs, Editions du Livre, Paris 1970, p.244). A succession of variations in themselves, the plates were each taken through several states, resulting in a sequence of remarkable proofs. They represent an important development of the technical skills that Picasso had begun learning a little over ten years previously with Mourlot in his Paris workshop, which he discovered through his old friend the painter Georges Braque (1882-1963).


Picasso met Jacqueline in summer 1952 in the Madoura pottery workshops in Vallauris, where she was working as a sales assistant and he was painting plates, having relocated from Paris to the Côte d’Azur several years previously. Forty-five years Picasso’s junior, she shared his short stocky build and his large and brilliant dark eyes. By this time the artist’s relationship with his young mistress Françoise Gilot (born 1921) was deteriorating, and Jacqueline quickly replaced her in his affections, becoming his lover, muse and eventually his wife – the last major female presence in Picasso’s life and the subject of innumerable paintings and prints produced during the 1950s and 1960s. Jacqueline first features in Picasso’s drawings in his series of the Painter and his Model, created in early 1954. Later that year, the artist began a series of canvases and lithographs based on Eugène Delacroix’s Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement (1834, Louvre Museum, Paris), featuring an odalisque who bore an uncanny resemblance to Jacqueline. An icon of oriental subservience, her crouching pose in Delacroix’s painting evokes the submissiveness in which Jacqueline took great pride, while her long straight nose was remarkably similar in shape to Jacqueline’s.


In summer 1955, Picasso and Jacqueline moved into a villa named La Californie on the outskirts of Cannes, where he embarked on a series of portraits of Jacqueline, including Portrait de femme à la robe verte (John Richardson, Picassso: the Mediterranean Years, Gagosian Gallery, London 2010, p.207) and Femme assise près de la fenêtre (ibid, p.219). Her striking profile features repeatedly – in his prints, she is almost always portrayed viewed from the side. As with all Picasso’s love affairs, this new relationship sparked an intensive spate of innovative creativity, which in the late-1950s led him to pitch himself against the great Spanish court painter of the seventeenth century, Diego Velàsquez. In summer 1957, he began working on more than 40 variations of Las Meninas (1656, Prado Museum, Madrid), which occupied him to the end of the year. That December, he created the first state of six of the series of prints to which Femme au corsage à fleurs belongs. The plates were transported to Mourlot’s workshop in Paris so that proofs could be printed and then taken back to Picasso in the south for his scrutiny. More than a year passed before he completed his final work on the plates, picking them up on December 27, 1958 when he developed them all on one day, taking some of them through as many as three states. The labor of reworking so many plates in a single day earned special mention from Mourlot, who comments, ‘The evening of December 27 1958, Picasso’s right hand must have been hurting, because zinc is very hard to engrave, especially with any old tool, which is probably what he used’ (Mourlot, p.247).

 

As is indicated by the succession of dates visible in reverse at the upper right corner of the image, this impression of Femme au corsage à fleurs is the third state of the plate that was begun on December 17, 1957 and worked successively on February 1 and December 27 the following year. Picasso began his composition with a wash drawing made using a brush directly on the zinc, permitting him to create a clear outline of his lover’s striking profile and large almond-shaped dark eyes – eyes which look with penetrating intensity towards the right. Her black hair tied in a bunch behind her ear is similarly painted in above the floral blouse of the title. The flowers of this are mere silhouettes in the first state; in the second their detail is added using a finer brush, while a sharply pointed instrument served to scratch further patterning into the blackened garment. According to Mourlot, Picasso used a crayon wash to darken his background and Jacqueline’s hair and bust in this state. The final state of this print shows an increased use of both these tools: the crayon has permitted shading to be added to her face and neck, creating the effect of volumetric modeling which is heightened with further delicate white lines scratched into dark areas using the pointed instrument. These lines serve equally to delineate more clearly the folds in Jacqueline’s garment above her left elbow, as her arm now emerges to cross her chest beneath her bust. Fine white lines appear in Jacqueline’s dark hair, describing its downwards flow and the band restraining it, while the exquisitely elegant line of her profile is delicately refined.

 

The third state of Femme au corsage à fleurs was printed on Arches wove paper in an edition of 50 and several additional artist’s proofs by Mourlot and published by the Louise Leiris Gallery, Paris. One of the edition, this impression is numbered 44/50 at the lower left and signed by the artist at the lower right, both in pencil.