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Femme au Fauteuil songeuse, La Joue sur la Main (Bloch 218)

1934 (March 9, Paris)

Engraving printed on laid Montval paper with Picasso watermark
From the Suite Vollard (S.V. 21), edition of 260
Dated "Paris 9 Mars XXXIV" in reverse in plate, upper right
Inscribed "375/218" in pencil, lower left
Stamped "HMP S.V." (Estate of Henri Petiet), lower right verso
Printed by Lacourière, 1939
Published by Vollard, 1939
Image: 11 x 7 7/8 inches
Sheet: 17 1/2 x 13 3/8 inches
Framed: 22 1/8 x 18 1/8 inches
(Bloch 218) (Baer 423)
 

 

When Picasso created this abstracted portrait of his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, he had been involved in an intense and covert affair with her for over seven years. While Picasso initially shied away from literal depictions of his mistress, at this point his inhibitions have faded and she is to be found everywhere in his art, both in group scenes and in portraiture. Though a majority of Picasso’s etchings from the 1930s center around Classicizing scenes in which she is featured prominently, he also made several abstracted portraits of Marie-Thérèse during this period.

 

This particular engraving was included amongst the one hundred plates of the Suite Vollard, though many of Picasso’s heads and busts of Marie-Thérèse stand alone. It is the only true portrait of her in the Suite (she is more generalized, idealized, or symbolic in other plates) and it is also set apart in its style. While he used a loose and flowing line in a majority of the images, here he employed a more rigorous geometric approach that borrows elements from Cubism, the breakthrough movement Picasso founded with Georges Braque earlier in his career. By the mid-1930s, when this print was made, Surrealism was the dominant force in the Parisian art scene. Picasso was friends with many of its leaders, but he generally distanced himself from the movement and followed his own path during this period. Still, he was not averse to borrowing from their ideas when it suited his purpose.

 

Picasso mingles elements of both movements in this image. The fragmented and flattened space that defined Cubism is apparent in the armchair upon which she sits, which is shown from a number of angles. In addition, its outer edges establish an illusionistic frame that focuses our attention on the subject. The overlapping lines in Marie-Thérèse’s face suggest volume, movement and the passage of time—the influence of Surrealism resides in Picasso’s choice of subject: a dreaming woman who is both awake and asleep. As noted by Museum of Modern Art curator emerita Deborah Wye, this “duality conjures up realms of the conscious and unconscious, central preoccupations of the Surrealists at this time”.i Though Picasso’s work is not intimately connected with the Surrealist movement, he was close with many of its leaders and incorporated some of their ideas into his work of the 1920s and ‘30s.

 

The current impression is one of fifty deluxe impressions with large margins printed on Montval laid paper, outside of the edition of 260 (there was also a small edition of three). It was printed by Roger Lacourière in late 1938 or early 1939. The untimely death of Ambroise Vollard in the summer of 1939 delayed their commerce until 1948 when the prints were acquired by dealer Henri Petiet through the Vollard estate.

 

i A Picasso Portfolio: Prints from The Museum of Modern Art [New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2010], 126.