Boasting a convivial color palette and fluid curves, Femme à la montre (Woman with a Watch) (1932) was created during an exceptional year in Picasso’s career. The painting, portraying Marie-Thérèse Walter, is hailed as one of the artist’s great masterpieces.
“Picasso’s voluptuous and sensual pictures of Walter mark a departure from his Cubism phase,” explains the Pérez Art Museum Miami. “This portrait shows the young woman from the front and side, more or less clothed, unlike many of the nudes he made of her. An exposed breast perhaps hints at the erotic quality of many of his portraits of her. Here, he synthesizes the softness of the figure and the hardness of the chair into one full picture. But, it is her single, unmistakably clear eye that gazes out at us that suggests the inner life of the sitter, lover, and muse.”
The year in which Picasso painted Femme à la montre also marked the artist’s first major (and wildly successful) retrospective at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. In fact, what would come to be known as Picasso’s “year of wonders” was crucial enough to prompt a modern-day retrospective of over 100 artworks titled The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932—Love, Fame, Tragedy at the Musée National-Picasso in Paris. The exhibition has traveled to Tate Modern in London, where it is currently on view through September 9, 2018.
Picasso met and ignited his affair with 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1927. At the time, he was married to the Ukrainian dancer Olga Khokhlova, to whom he would remain married until her death in 1955. The artist’s relationship with Khokhlova was notoriously tumultuous. The even-tempered Walter provided a calming reprieve from his acrimonious marriage, which would worsen with the years and as Khokhlova gleaned knowledge of her husband’s innumerable affairs.
In an attempt to quell his wife’s intensified neuroses, Picasso kept his affair with Walter under wraps until Khokhlova confirmed her suspicions in 1934, when Walter became pregnant. Picasso’s child with Walter—a girl named Maya—was born in September 1935. Only months following his daughter’s birth, Picasso was introduced to the French-born Surrealist photographer Dora Maar, whose renowned beauty and suave character swept Picasso off his feet—again.
Maya Widmaier-Picasso would serve as the primary link between the artist and Walter until his death in 1973. While Picasso remained married to Khokhlova and he would never wed his “golden muse” (he eventually proposed to Walter following Khokhlova’s death but she declined), the artist produced a large number of portraits lovingly depicting Walter.
Walter committed suicide in 1977, and her demise has been largely attributed to the death of her great love. On loan from Emily Fisher Landau, the temporary exhibition of Femme à la montre will provide Miami museum-goers with the rare opportunity to see this important work in person.
Femme à la montre will be on view from July 4 through September October 16, 2018 at the Pérez Art Museum Miami.