Picasso and His Last Muse

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‘Picasso & Jacqueline’ at Pace Gallery in New York. 

“We’ve seen so much about Picasso as a misogynist,” said Arne Glimcher, the founder of Pace Gallery in New York. “But someone who has so many women in his life doesn’t hate women. I think that’s ridiculous. Maybe he was not very good at maintaining relationships with women, but he seems to have found it with Jacqueline.”

From 1954 until his death in 1973, Picasso lived with Jacqueline Roque, whose face and figure dominated his work in those years — just as the previous women in his life had served as his primary muses during the time he was with them. “Picasso & Jacqueline: The Evolution of Style,” which includes 139 paintings, sculptures, works on paper and ceramics, charts the transformation of Picasso’s late work entirely through portraits of Roque. The show opens on Oct. 31 at Pace’s branches in Midtown Manhattan and Chelsea. It is the eighth exhibition on the artist that Mr. Glimcher has organized at the gallery.

“It’s a kind of journey through Picasso’s psyche as well as an analysis of his last gift to art history,” Mr. Glimcher said. He borrowed close to half the works — many highly personal and not previously exhibited — from members of Picasso’s family and from Catherine Hutin, Roque’s daughter from her first marriage. Mr. Glimcher has collaborated with the family since his 1981 exhibition, “Picasso: The Avignon Paintings.” That show was the first reassessment after the artist’s death of his later work, which until then had been almost universally dismissed as “the ramblings of an artist who had lost control,” Mr. Glimcher said. Scholars including the Picasso biographer John Richardson have since come to embrace this period.

“People don’t like change, and Picasso was always changing,” said Carmen Giménez, a curator at the Guggenheim Museum, where she organized “Picasso Black and White” in 2012, which included a number of his late works of Roque. “When you work on an exhibition, you cannot judge Picasso’s private life — not just with Jacqueline. The result of that relationship is intact and very important. What he wanted to do was work, and Jacqueline facilitated that for him. He became free.”

The last two decades of Picasso’s life were by far his most prolific. “I attribute it to Jacqueline making a place for him to work that was absolutely compatible, without any distractions,” Mr. Glimcher said. He noted that Roque had often been perceived negatively for keeping people away from Picasso, but Mr. Glimcher said he viewed that in a positive light. “She felt the most important thing for him, for his benefit, was to make his work,” he said. “I’ve seen that with many older artists. What they want most in the world is to get out the work while they have a limited amount of time.”

Picasso made more than 400 individual portraits of Roque and incorporated her into his “Artist and His Model” series and into his obsessive reinventions of masterworks by his artistic heroes — including Édouard Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” and Eugène Delacroix’s “Les Femmes d’Alger.”

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“Picasso was in competition with the history of art, which I think this exhibition shows,” Mr. Glimcher said.

Picasso first saw Roque in 1952, when she was working as a saleswoman at a pottery studio in Vallauris in southern France, where he made ceramics. Picasso, then 70 and still living with Françoise Gilot, found a resemblance between Roque, who was 25, and one of the four exotic women in Delacroix’s painting. “Jacqueline immediately fits into a relationship through vision with this painting that’s already part of his thought process,” said Jonathan Fineberg, an art historian who has contributed an essay to the exhibition’s catalog.

The Pace show reconstitutes a large portion of the “Les Femmes d’Alger d’après Delacroix” series, which Picasso began in late 1954 after Roque moved in with him and after the death of Henri Matisse. Matisse was the only contemporary of Picasso whom Picasso considered to be in his league. Shifting rivalry to homage through this series of reworkings of Delacroix’s scene, Picasso depicts Roque as a reclining Matissean odalisque and combines his signature Cubism and wild distortion with Matisse’s vibrant sense of color and decorative patterning.

“These have a relationship to daily life with a directness that his work never had before,” Mr. Fineberg said of the series. “Picasso’s whole life, he’s kind of aloof. This relationship with Jacqueline changes everything. He has a warmth toward his model whom he’s treated rather sadistically in the past.”

His early portraits of Roque are quite classical and beautifully drawn. Even when Picasso puts her face through his exercises in distortion, she never appears monstrous. And her form becomes more and more sensuous. As the nude in Picasso’s 1960 remake of Manet’s picnic scene, Roque has white flesh spilling over her outlines into the green field. “This nude is just limitless,” Mr. Fineberg said. “The sexuality of that is so pervasive, and yet she’s sweet. She’s not terrifying.”

With Roque, Picasso does seem to break his lifelong pattern with women. Rather than shut down his house and move on to a new relationship, which, Mr. Fineberg pointed out, the artist did about every seven years, Picasso married Roque in 1961 — at that seven-year mark — and they stayed together. He commemorated their secret civil ceremony with an extraordinarily sensitive aquatint of her full face, dressed as a bride, which he gave to her as a present. The work is included in the Pace exhibition.

Canvases from the “Artist and His Model” series done over his last decade suggest a self-contained, self-sustaining world that Picasso and Roque created together. In “The Couple” (1969), the two sets of eyes search each other with an intimacy and empathy that is startling. “It’s like one body with two heads — they merge into one organism,” Mr. Glimcher said. “I think that’s finally the way he saw her.”


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