Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 18811973)
Oil on canvas; 63 7/8 x 51 3/8 in. (162.2 x 130.5 cm)
Bequest of Florene M. Schoenborn, in honor of William S. Lieberman, 1995 (1996.403.1)
© 2011 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
In 1927, when he was forty-five, Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter, a seventeen-year-old French schoolgirl who became his mistress. In retrospect, their relationship seems the happiest and least public of Picasso's many amatory alliances, and no other woman is more intricately woven into the fabric of his art.
In this painting of Marie-Thérèse, the time is night and the scene is intimate: she sits reading at a table in a room illuminated by only a small lamp. One hand gently holds open the pages of her book while the other touches her garland-crowned head with fingers that resemble feathers. The space of the room is compressed, but the resulting distortions are never severe. Sinuous rhythms absorb the straight linear accents of the table, and the exaggerated height of both table and plant emphasizes the young woman's childlike appearance. Her pale blond hair and blue-white skin make her look especially ethereal within this dark and deeply colored interior. The canvas, one of several similar compositions Picasso painted of his mistress, is a poem by a man in love.