Pablo Picasso’s Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) (1937) that depicts his ‘golden muse’ broke European auction records as the highest price paid for a work of art in pounds when it was sold for £49.8 Million ($69.2 Million) at Sotheby’s in London on Wednesday February 28, 2018.
Painted at the end of 1937 after Picasso had completed his career-defining work Guernica, Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) (1937) was created in one day and is a portrait of the Spanish artist’s lover and muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter.
‘Of all of the artist’s styles and decades, this is the one that most epitomises the legacy of Picasso as a portraitist of women – with this particular painting encompassing all of the key elements for which he is recognised and celebrated,’ said Thomas Bompard, Head of Sotheby’s London Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sales.
Echoing the same style and intensity as Picasso’s Weeping Women series made in the same year, this vividly powerful painting of Marie-Thérèse reveals the tension of the artist’s relationship with his muse and the presence of his new lover Dora Maar.
Both women had a profound impact on Picasso’s painting style. At the beginning of the 1930s, when Picasso was basking in the glow of his artistic successes, the young Marie-Thérèse was a constant source of inspiration for many works, particularly in 1932; these are currently the subject of an international touring exhibition opening at Tate Modern this month. Yet come the end of the decade, Picasso seems to be at odds with both his stylistic approach and the focus of his affection.
The portrait perfectly captures this tension by blurring the two styles that each muse had inspired. The passionate curves Picasso once used to depict Marie-Thérèse have been replaced by sharp edges, rendered in thick impastoed paint. The composition and green tears, similar to the Weeping Women series, reflects a sadness of the muse Picasso met 10 years earlier when she was only 17. Does the painting mark the end of their intense affair? A crucial aspect of the work that might go unnoticed is the presence of a silhouetted ‘other’. Whether it is the profile of Maar or a self-portrait, it reveals the disruptive nature of Picasso’s personal circumstances.
Being such a key work from a pivotal period in Picasso’s career, it’s no wonder the painting that until now has been in one private collection, garnered such a high winning bid. Another Picasso painting also sold at the sale. Created over thirty years later and just three before the artist’s death, Le Matador (1970) reveals another of Picasso’s life-long obsessions, this time not women, but rather the bullfighter. Here, the complexities of the artist and his varied styles are wonderfully married in a vibrant work of a heroic figure.
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