This week marks Picasso’s birthday. Art critic Louisa Buck reflects on Picasso’s Nude Woman with Necklace, on display at Tate Modern

Pablo Picasso, 'Nude Woman with Necklace' 1968

Pablo Picasso
Nude Woman with Necklace 1968
Oil on canvas
support: 1135 x 1617 mm frame: 1181 x 1663 x 62 mm
Purchased 1983© Succession Picasso/DACS 2002

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Picasso made this painting in a single day, just before his eighty-seventh birthday, when he was beating off old age with urgent, angry brushstrokes. The energy pours out of this massive female figure. She’s a living landscape, a life force, a human mountain range, with a river gushing from between her legs, a gust of wind erupting from her backside, and an explosion of white spray rising up behind her to join the clouds. Yet she’s many other things as well. She’s an ancient green goddess, whose mask face looks both at and beyond us; she’s an exotic bejewelled concubine, baring all and toying with her breast as she lounges flatulently on cushions of red and gold; and she’s also Picasso’s wife Jacqueline, whom he both worshipped and resented for her youth and beauty. I can never decide whether her expression is ferociously defiant or heart-wrenchingly vulnerable.

‘Bigger Picture’ captions are wall captions written by renowned figures about works on display