Catalogue entry

Meraud Guevara 1904-1993

T02331 Seated Woman with Small Dog [Femme assise au petit chien] c.1937

Oil and pencil on canvas

890 x 650 (35 x 25 5/8)

Not inscribed

Back stamped in red 'Made in France', on stretcher centre top and centre bottom, and on fold-over edge of canvas centre top and centre bottom

Presented by Salander Galleries, New York 1979

Provenance:
Howard Dietz, the artist's brother-in-law, New York; Salander Galleries, New York

Exhibited:
Meraud Guevara, Valentine Gallery, New York, April 1939 (12, as 'Femme assise au petit chien', repr.)
First ABAC Exhibition: Paintings & Sculpture from England, Canada & America, American-British Art Center, New York, Jan.-Feb. 1941 (30a, as 'La Dame au petit chien blanc')
Meraud Guevara, Salander Galleries, New York, Oct.-Nov. 1978 (15, as 'Woman with Hat, c.1939')

Literature:
Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1978-80, London 1981, pp.96-7, repr.
Mireille Pinsseau Bine, 'La Peinture en Provence et sur la Cote d'Azur pendant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale Septembre 1939 - Mai 1945', unpublished thesis, Université de Paris IV - Sorbonne, 1993, p.413
Alladine Guevara, 'Meraud Guiness Guevara', unpublished typescript, c.1993, p.78

Seated Woman with Small Dog is one of a number of paintings of women which Meraud Guevara made in the late 1930s. It shows an impassive figure seated in an interior, furnished only with her chair and a rug, with her back to a flight of steps and an open door. Although the walls are grey, the whole composition has a warmth attributable to the chocolate brown priming layer. The effect of the smooth and careful technique has been lessened somewhat by the development of circular and spiral cracks in the paint and ground layers of the lower half. It is otherwise in good condition. In response to enquiries, the artist wrote to the Tate Gallery saying, 'I certainly made preparatory sketches which I did not keep'.1 Although the detail of the portrayal may suggest that these were made from an individual, she added that the final work 'was painted without a model'. This process would be consistent with her stated interest in 'the relationship between a Portrait and a Picture - when the identity of the sitter has no importance'.2 Inspection of the canvas has shown that pencil lines are discernible at the junction between the colours, confirming that the figure was carefully mapped out.

Seated Woman with Small Dog shares a number of incidental details with Guevara's contemporary paintings. The sitter's brown hat with its black feather is one of a range of unusual hats or hair styles, while the smothered dog is typical of a range of bird or animal companions. The artist recalled these details as 'mostly imaginative'. In the same letter she also explained that Seated Woman with Small Dog was painted in, and shows the interior of, her Paris studio at 30 rue Dauphine. However, the barren landscape was imaginary, and she wrote of the general purpose of such views as being 'a question of compositions and balance in a given space'.3

Although she also remarked, 'I give no special significance to the picture other than the composition', the painting has a disquieting atmosphere common to other works of the period. In 1939, Waldemar George remarked of Guevara's works that the 'volumes that give the sensation of weight detach themselves from space'.4 He also suggested that she 'gives reality and life to her manikins'. In Seated Woman with Small Dog the mulatto sitter is both impassive in her unfocused gaze and seductive in her slipped blouse. The steep angled floorboards and ceiling create a space which is wholly dominated by the figure and which could not contain her if she stood. The low window and its imaginary view exaggerate this while placing the room high above the landscape. A sense of mystery is suggested by the open doorway behind and the inexplicable, but deliberate, flash of orange beside the door.

These qualities reflect the context within which Guevara worked. In reply to a question listing artists with whom critics had compared her work of the late 1930s, she wrote: 'At the time I painted this picture I think the painters I most admired were Goya (specially portraits) also Ingres (portraits), Balthus, early Tal-Coat and my husband [Alvaro] Guevara.'5 Goya is here balanced by the sensuous classicism of Ingres, which was widely influential in inter-war Paris. Of the contemporaries, Alvaro Guevara is to be expected, although they were estranged and his work was more flamboyant than his wife's. However, the mystery of the figure may be compared to Balthus's disquieting portraits in bare interiors, such as Joan Miró and his daughter Dolores 1937-8 (Museum of Modern Art, New York).6 Perhaps closer still were the works of Guevara's close friend Tal-Coat. The fullness and dreaminess of Guevara's model parallel that of Tal-Coat's contemporary series of isolated and generalised women (1933-6), of which an especially close comparison may be found in his recumbent Femme au bol, 1934 (private collection).7

Seated Woman with Small Dog was sent to New York for Guevara's exhibition arranged at the Valentine Gallery in April 1939 by her sister Tanis Dietz. Although the catalogue included a reproduction of the painting, it was not correlated to any of the listed works; however, papers held in the Tate Archive confirm that the descriptive title Woman and Little White Dog became Femme assise au petit chien (12) in the catalogue.8 A related letter from Tanis Dietz to Caresse Crosby9 revealed that there were few sales, and that she had retained some works herself. In early 1941, the picture was exhibited alongside works by Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer and others, at the American-British Art Center, a wartime organisation, proceeds of which were 'used for relief of British artists'.10 Guevara's painting appeared behind the main gallery desk in a photograph of the ABAC in The Studio.11 It was still in the collection of Howard Dietz, Guevara's brother-in-law, when he wrote to her in 1955 sending twelve of her paintings back to Paris.12 He noted that he was retaining three, Three Negresses, a Madonna and 'a woman with a dog in her lap. These occupy special niches. Do you mind my holding on to them?'13 Dietz's long ownership meant that the artist inadvertently changed the title, to Woman with Hat, 'circa 1939', when the painting was exhibited at the Salander Galleries in 1978. In her ensuing letter to the Tate Gallery, Guevara corrected this and suggested that it was painted, 'a few years before the war probably around 1937'.14 This would be consistent with the claim in the Valentine Gallery catalogue that the works shown there in 1939 represented, 'her activity of no earlier than the last two years'.15

Matthew Gale
April 1996

1 Letter to the Tate Gallery, 16 Sept. 1979, Tate Gallery catalogue files
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Waldemar George in Meraud Guevara, exh. cat. Valentine Gallery, New York, 1939
5 Letter, 16 Sept. 1979
6 Repr. Jean Leymarie, Balthus, Geneva and London, 1982, p.23
7 Repr. Tal-Coat, exh. cat. Grand Palais, Paris, Feb.-April 1976, no.12, p.55
8 TGA 932.6
9 Dietz, letter to Crosby, 22 Feb. 1944, TGA 932.6
10 First ABAC Exhibition: Paintings & Sculpture from England, Canada & America, American-British Art Center, New York, Jan.-Feb. 1941
11 Studio, vol.122, no.581, Aug. 1941, p.25
12 Howard Dietz, letter to Guevara, 26 May 1955, TGA 932.6
13 Ibid.
14 Letter, 16 Sept. 1979
15 Meraud Guevara, exh. cat. Valentine Gallery, New York 1939