PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973) Femme au béret mauve 16 1/8 x 13 in (41 x 33 cm) (Painted on March 27, 1937)

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Lot 6
Femme au béret mauve

Sold for US$ 10,837,062 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

13 May 2021, 11:00 EDT

New York

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Femme au béret mauve
dated '27.3.37' (lower left)
oil on canvas
16 1/8 x 13 in (41 x 33 cm)
Painted on March 27, 1937


  • The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Claude Picasso.

    The artist's estate, no. 12769.
    Marina Picasso Collection (the artist's granddaughter; by descent from the above).
    Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne (acquired through Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva, no. 12769/JK3484 in October 1983).
    Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, no. M2736D.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984.

    D. D. Duncan, Picasso's Picassos, New York, 1961 (illustrated p. 222).
    The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Spanish Civil War, 1937-1939, San Francisco, 1997, no. 37-069 (illustrated p. 30; titled 'Portrait de femme').
    J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 916 (illustrated p. 294).

    "She has always done just what she wanted – strayed, wandered, changed her way of living... Her long neck carried her head like the moon racing through the clouds... like a ball, a satellite"
    - Pablo Picasso quoted in E. Cowling, Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks of Roland Penrose, London, 2006, p. 119.

    In Femme au béret mauve, Pablo Picasso captures his 'golden muse,' Marie-Thérèse Walter, in a rainbow of vibrantly rich colors and bold, volumetric shapes. As lover, model and mother to Picasso's eldest daughter, Marie-Thérèse had an intoxicating effect on Picasso, inspiring the artist's most glorious outpourings of his career. Picasso deployed a multiplicity of styles to find new modes of visual expression in the relatively condensed time frame of the 1930s, which is arguably his most innovative period for portraiture. Painted ten years after their initial love affair began, the present portrait is a testament to Picasso's boundless enchantment with Marie-Thérèse, and the perpetual creative inventiveness she inspired within him.

    Marie-Thérèse is widely considered Picasso's most mesmerizing muse. Brigitte Léal has written, "Marie-Thérèse incarnated a wild beauty, a sporty and healthy beautiful plant" (Brigitte Léal quoted in A. Baldassari, Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., New York, 1996, p. 387). While his earlier portraits of the blonde muse frequently depicted her reading, lounging, or gazing into a mirror against ornamental and decorative backgrounds, Femme au béret mauve portrays Marie- Thérèse in an intimately cropped composition, seated and devoid of any extraneous attributes. Whereas Picasso once characterized her by curvilinear shapes and voluptuous, dreamy forms, by March 1937, Marie-Thérèse was a mother to Picasso's child, a mature woman rather than a naive girl. This transition directly impacted Picasso's artistic treatment of her. As Judi Freeman observes, "By 1936 Picasso's depictions of Walter had shifted from being dual explorations of her personality and sensuality to straightforward recordings of her character" (J. Freeman, Picasso and the Weeping Women, exh. cat., Los Angeles, 1994, p. 166).

    Always attracted to Marie-Thérèse's alluring physicality, Picasso focuses the present composition on her distinctive physiognomy and facial features. Her strong Grecian nose and firmly contoured chin appear both face-on and in profile, attesting to Picasso's constant experimentation with abstraction and the reconstruction of the human face on his canvases. Here, he styles her in the realistic details of a fashionable brown fur collar (Picasso was always very attentive to Marie-Thérèse's attire and how it would characterize her). A purple beret sits atop her head, accentuating her sunny blonde tresses that rest right atop her shoulders. Her youthful spirit is illuminated in her creamy, lavender complexion and soft, rose-colored cheeks. Picasso attributed a lunar-like quality to Marie-Thérèse and favored these soft pastels in his treatment of her hair and flesh.

    Picasso and Marie-Thérèse's great love affair began nearly ten years earlier, in January 1927, when the then-seventeen-year-old was shopping for a shirt with a Peter Pan collar. Years later, Marie-Thérèse reminisced on their first encounter outside of the Galleries Lafayette Paris: "I was an innocent girl... I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together'" (Marie-Thérèse Walter quoted in J. Freeman, ibid, p. 142). At that time, Picasso's marriage to Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova was rapidly deteriorating. The youthful and naïve Marie-Thérèse, who was twenty-eight years Picasso's junior, offered the artist a jubilant escape from the heightened tensions he felt at home with Olga. Their affair became a well-guarded secret - while Picasso continued to live with Olga and son Paulo next door to his art dealer Paul Rosenberg (for whom his son was named) on the Rue la Boétie in Paris, Picasso hid Marie-Thérèse in a nearby apartment on the same street. Picasso's obsession with Marie-Thérèse only intensified, and he began to mask his erotic passion towards her through coded visual imagery. Picasso began incorporating curvilinear still-life objects such as the guitar to hint at his young muse's lush and voluptuous figure, foretelling the artist's evolving sensual style in color and form which revolved around his new muse. Five still life paintings from the late 1920s incorporate the monograms 'MT' and 'MTP,' a documentation of the early stages of their love affair.

    In 1930, Picasso purchased a chateau in Boisegeloup, forty miles north of Paris, where he set up a studio. An escape from Paris and Olga, it was in Boisegeloup that Picasso consumed himself with Marie-Thérèse, producing remarkable and monumental plaster busts between 1931 and 1934. The abstract simplifications of these plaster busts, which share strong similarities to Marie-Thérèse, were widely recognized. Françoise Gilot, a later lover to Picasso, describes the strong physical appeal of Marie-Thérèse to Picasso: "When he went out socially it was with Olga; when he came back bored and exasperated, Marie-Thérèse was always available as a solace...Hers was the privileged body on which the light fell to perfection... Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection... Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition. She was a magnificent model" (F. Gilot, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 235 & 241-242).

    The following year Picasso's marriage to Olga had become unbearable, and he yearned to manifest fully the creative impulse which Marie-Thérèse inspired within him. As a means to discharge the imprisonment he felt in his current marriage, Picasso painted violent and enraged portraits of Olga. Richardson claims this catharsis of sorts enabled the artist to shift his thoughts towards a "languorous, loving painting of a lilac-skinned Marie-Thérèse" (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. III, The Triumphant Years 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 466). Images of Marie-Thérèse reading, sleeping, or gazing, began to flood Picasso's imagery in a clear stylistic shift: "Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother... [Picasso] becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep" (Robert Rosenblum quoted in A. Baldassari, op. cit., p. 342). Picasso created serene and harmonious compositions of Marie-Thérèse, whose curvilinear shape, bright blonde hair, and clearly delineated profile rendered her instantly recognizable, as in the magnificent portrait, Le Rêve, from January 1932. By July, Picasso could no longer hide these canvases from public view, and he participated in an exhibition held at Galeries Georges Petit in which he revealed these vibrant and luscious portraits of his young lover. It was here that Olga finally became aware of Picasso's affair with Marie-Thérèse when she visited the exhibition and realized that the sunny and dreamy muse in Picasso's portraits were not of her.

    Despite the dramatic shift in Picasso's style and subject matter, the artist continued to attempt to conceal his affair from Olga until 1935; it was this year that Marie-Thérèse was pregnant and gave birth to their daughter Maya. Shortly after Maya's birth, Picasso began a new love affair with Dora Maar. Seduced by her quick wit and striking beauty, he spent the summer of 1936 with her. Although Picasso was seeing both Dora and Marie-Thérèse, Picasso's new love affair had no effect on his relationship with Marie-Thérèse. His love for her went unaltered, as Pierre Daix observed: "The mother of Maya – and Maya, too, of course – lost nothing... Dora would be the public companion, while Marie-Thérèse and Maya continued to incarnate private life" (Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, London, 1994, p. 239). For the next three years, the artist led a double life, shuttling between Marie-Thérèse and daughter Maya who were living in Ambroise Vollard's country home in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, and Dora who was living in Paris.

    1937 proved to be a challenging year for Picasso. Not only was conflict rife in his personal life between the competing Marie-Thérèse and Dora Maar, but political events of global magnitude in his native Spain were to affect the artist indelibly. Picasso responded powerfully to this turmoil with a tremendous outpouring of work – creating a series of female portraits that are among his most complex. Just a month after he painted the bright and ebullient Femme au béret mauve, the Luftwaffe conducted one of the first aerial bombings to capture worldwide attention, destroying the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This brutal attack compelled Picasso to create his monumental monochromatic oil painting Guernica in July 1937. Picasso engaged in a conscious blending of styles in this turbulent year, inspired by his own internal conflict and transitional emotions towards both Dora and Marie-Thérèse. Included in Guernica is a portrait of Marie-Thérèse as a distraught mother wailing over the body of her child. Picasso created several portraits of weeping women in response to the bombing of Guernica, becoming intrigued with the subject and revisiting it numerous times during the year 1937, as John Richardson describes:

    "Picasso had no hesitation in using Marie-Thérèse's image as the incarnation of peace and innocence at the mercy of the forces of evil in this supreme indictment of war as well as of totalitarianism... She is the desperate girl running from left to right across the foreground... She is also the light-giving girl clutching a lamp emerging from an upper window. The mother wailing over her dead child can also be identified with Marie-Thérèse... By contrast, Dora largely inspired the Weeping Women paintings...The source of Dora's tears was not Franco, but the artist's traumatic manipulation of her. Picasso's obsession with her had intensified, but to judge from portrayals of her, it precluded tenderness. Marie-Thérèse was submissive out of love; Dora out of a Sadean propensity" (J. Richardson, op. cit., pp. 45-46).

    The joyous palette of Femme au béret mauve belie the personal and political tumult experienced by Picasso at the end of the 1930s. The dynamic, sharp cubistic edges and thickly impastoed paint, packed with heightened emotional vitality, is a dramatic shift from the passive and peaceful portraits of Marie-Thérèse just five years earlier. The composition demonstrates the shift in Picasso's depiction of Marie-Thérèse in her new role as mother of his child, her strong central placement emphasizing her central importance to the artist. Femme au béret mauve embodies a revolutionary perspective which is simultaneously exaggerated and simplified. His continued obsession with Marie-Thérèse is evident in the perfect beauty of her face, her piercing blue eyes, and long blonde tresses, as well as the intense potency of the canvas. Picasso paints using the back of his brush, outlining the soft curves of her hair and enhancing the layers of pigment with a texturized dimensionality. Her pink lips are luscious in textured pigment, and particularly, Picasso paints her blush-colored cheek as a shiny textural element of pigment, an almost abstract oval. Her flesh is a variety of deliberate layers of pigment and glossy or matte brushstrokes. The use of contrasting colors is reminiscent of Picasso's lifelong admiration for and competitive feelings for Henri Matisse; While Picasso was the genius of line, and Matisse, the master of color, Femme au béret mauve flexes Picasso's muscles as a colorist who carefully composed a portrait of balance, peace, and tranquility – knowing well the effect his decisions would have on the viewer. Picasso's own entrancement with Marie-Thérèse, the sensuous and sexual excitement he felt for her, gave rise to the vigorous, frenzied energy in the present portrait. Picasso's passion for her is seen not only in the fractured form but also in the empathetic handling of paint, making the present portrait one of the most fascinating creations from this fruitful decade. Picasso renders Marie-Thérèse in a manner that transcends the physical and enters the psychological: a characteristic of his oeuvre that ultimately elevates his work to unparalleled importance in the history of twentieth century art.

    The present portrait belongs to a series of works painted in 1937 in which Picasso focuses on the figure's relationship to the space it occupies. Joseph Palau i Fabre describes this experimentation in another portrait, painted just two weeks before the execution of the present work: "During the month of March 1937 his eye realizes that the way we view a person in front of a wall covered with vertically striped wallpaper or strips of light is altered by these bands... And it is thanks to this, and not to the law of perspective, that the face is situated in front of the wallpaper and detached from it. To my knowledge, nobody had shown us this before" (J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso From the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, p. 292). In the background of the present work, Picasso ferociously applies bold hues of green, blue and black, emphasizing various textures by carving through the impasto with the bottom of his paint brush, alluding to the accentuated vertical lines of the window and blue wall behind her. This stands in dynamic contrast to the long curvaceous line of Marie-Thérèse's profile, featured in soft pastel hues. This juxtaposition is further enhanced by the bright white line delineating her exaggerated Grecian profile. Fabre continues: "Of course, Picasso expressed all of this in a language that is the antithesis of that used by the Impressionists. Instead of touches or brushstrokes that indicate the gradual transition of the light, he shows us the leaps, the power light has to transform things. His language at this time would not have been possible without Cubism" (J. Palau i Fabre, ibid., p. 294). The simplicity of the composition does not alter its power. Picasso used a simple framing device in blue and white to give the feeling of a window behind his sitter. Picasso certainly knew that this device would call to mind Italian Renaissance portraits, imbuing this painting with a timeless quality.

    Femme au béret mauve possesses an esteemable provenance. In Picasso's Picassos, photographed and published by David Douglas Duncan, the present work appears as one of the portraits that remained in Picasso's personal collection until the end of his life. After his death in 1973, Femme au béret mauve entered the artist's estate and ultimately was sold through Picasso's beloved friend and Swiss art dealer, Jan Krugier, to Galerie Karsten Greve in October 1983. In 1984, the portrait was purchased at the renowned New York art dealer Hirschl & Adler Modern by the current American owner, since then remaining in the same private collection for the last thirty-seven years. Never having been exhibited during this time, Femme au béret mauve arrives only now on the international market for the first time.

    Although Femme au béret mauve was executed towards the final years of Picasso and Marie-Thérèse's relationship, Picasso presents a vividly realized portrait of joy and celebration – a testament of his affection towards her. In a recent exhibition catalogue, Maya Widmaier Picasso's daughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, contrasts Picasso's vision of the 'horizontal Marie-Thérèse' and the 'vertical Marie-Thérèse': a reclining, sensual, passive figure versus an active, alert, and engaged figure. Femme au Béret mauve belongs to the latter group, emphasizing her place of stability and prominence. Letters from the late 1930s include continuous declarations of his love, and in 1938 and 1939, Picasso continued to portray Marie-Thérèse in her role as mother, cradling their daughter Maya, imbued with a sense of dignity and gravity. The present work incorporates harmonic curves and a chromatic register of multilayered hues which vibrate throughout the canvas, a complete embodiment of Picasso's happiness while with her. Fabre wrote: "A portrait, since the Renaissance, had been the embodiment of a personality as it was seen or perceived by the painter at that precise moment... Painting, then, is never static, it is never objective. It was, for Picasso, a form of action. He made these portraits as he would have talked to the woman, given her a gift, embraced her. The portrait was another physical act" (J. Palau i Fabre, ibid., p. 282).

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