Illustrated companion

The last phase of Picasso's career seems to have begun with a personal crisis: his companion of seven years, Fran?oise Gilot, left him, taking with her their two children. Simultaneously, a new love, Jacqueline Roque, came into his life and in 1961 became Picasso's second wife. It is her image, much transformed, which appears repeatedly in his late work, including probably this painting. Seemingly in response to this change of emotional circumstances Picasso embarked on a virtual frenzy of work, re-examining the basis of his art through a long series of drawings of the artist and his model and then a series of paraphrases, or reworkings, of celebrated paintings from the past, Manet's 'D?jeuner Sur L'Herbe' and 'Las Meni¤as' by Vel squez among them.

By about 1964 Picasso had forged what is generally now seen as a distinctive late style, of which this painting is an outstanding example. Picasso's late work is characterised by an extraordinary energy and freedom in the handling of both paint and form, and by his devotion to the central theme of the female figure. As has been widely pointed out, these paintings convey very powerfully the feelings of a great artist, acutely aware of approaching death but refusing to accept it, and defiantly affirming life by a virtually continuous act of creation of works which in every way are themselves emblematic of the will to live and create. These paintings seem to have flowed from Picasso's brush like some natural outpouring, as he himself remarked to the writer Pierre Cabanne: 'There is a time in life after one has worked a great deal, when forms come of their own accord. Everything comes of its own accord, death too.'

Not the least remarkable aspect of paintings such as this is the way in which Picasso, after a lifetime of re-inventing the human body, does so with renewed vitality, continuing to surprise. The vitality of this painting is further expressed in the cloud of white paint cascading upwards behind the figure like fireworks or sea spray. Overall the paint is applied in a wide variety of types of brushwork and always with a visible urgency and energy. The forms of the body are arranged in a dynamic interplay, paralleled by the interplay of the complementary red and green which are the principal elements of the colour composition. In the midst of this activity the face is calm and unmoved, looking out at the spectator with a challenging stare which, taken with the pose, strongly suggests that when he made this painting Picasso had somewhere in his mind Manet's 'Olympia', one of the foundation works of modern art, which so profoundly shocked the Paris public at the Salon of 1865 with its image of a sexually attractive young woman. completely confident in her nudity, coolly returning the prurient gaze of the visitor.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.209