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1948-1960 Return to the mediterranean

In contrast to the painters known as “Orientalists” who sought out a supposedly exotic setting, Picasso was born in the south of Europe, a region where the community and light have always belonged by right to the generations who live there and where the harshness deriving from history does not ask to be desired but is granted to us by right as a gift. Following the artist’s decision to turn his studio and home into a place located among the pines and dawns of the Côte d’Azur his painting and his ceramics become more joyful and his symbolic fields fill themselves with fauns, nymphs and satyrs who smilingly regard the old tales told by the sailors of ancient times on their return from voyages around the classical isles.

“For me the role of painting, says Picasso, is not to depict movement, to show reality in movement. Its role, for me, is rather to halt movement.
You must go further than movement in order to halt an image. Otherwise you’re chasing after it. For me, only at that moment is there reality.”

[Hélène Parmelin. Picasso says… London: George Allen and Unwin, 1969, p. 39]

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Picasso and his future wife Jacqueline Roque Hutin met in 1952 at the Madoura factory, where she was working in the shop, and his earliest portraits of her date from 1954. In order to escape the small-town atmosphere of Vallauris, they moved in the autumn of that year to his rue des Grands Augustins studio in Paris. In the first two weeks of October he began a series of colourful portraits of his new muse, including Jacqueline Seated.

The placement of the seated Jacqueline in front of three bands of colour – red for the ground or floor, yellow for the space behind her, and blue for the sky above – suggests that she is out of doors in the sunny Mediterranean, although the work was painted in Paris. At the same time, Picasso was surely thinking about his dying friend Matisse, who typically set the women in his paintings against broad areas of flat colour.

Whenever Picasso came up with an image for a new woman in his life, he picked out those features which, for him, conveyed both her physical characteristics and also her temperament. Here, he began with the head, which visible underpainting reveals that he first placed in the centre, facing in the opposite direction. The cool, serene face of the final version, which reflects Jacqueline’s supportive role in their relationship, combines both profile and frontal views, emphasizing her large dark eyes and straight nose. Her abundant hair appears to be tied back behind her head, while the blue curve at the right could also stand for her hair gathered in a bun. In this work, in contrast to late, explicit paintings of her naked, Jacqueline’s compact body is rendered as an almost flat rectangular form, with the diamond pattern of her dress following the single curve of her knees.

Text: Marilyn McCully “Jacqueline Seated”. In Catalogue Museo Picasso Málaga. Collection, 2010, p. 44

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By looking carefully at this kind of work, we can see that one of Picasso’s fundamental aims and one his most successful aesthetic achievements, was to show that there were alternatives to the traditional rules of Renaissance perspective. Painting a picture did not have to mean copying reality. Simulating depth and creating effects that reduced the size of objects was a master formula that the Renaissance masters employed to deceive the eye with optical illusions.

Cubism put an end to this solid and widely accepted way of portraying the world. For centuries, it had determined the direction taken by the history of painting. Reducing to a minimum the number of lines used to depict an object and making organic forms elementary and geometric, were discoveries that opened up liberating options for Picasso.

 (PICASSO) “I strive only to put as much humanity as possible into my pictures. Too bad if this offends some of those who idolize the conventional human effigy. All they have to do is look at themselves more carefully in the mirror. What’s a face, after all? What’s in front of it? Inside it? Behind it? And the rest? Don’t we all see things in our own way?”

His last partner and muse, Jaqueline Roque, is sitting in this work painted in La Californie, on the Côte d’Azur in France. Against three bands of vivid colour, the serene female figure is clasping her knees. Her head, depicted with the same sketchy lines as the body, is the focal point of this composition, and features a double-angled gaze.

The body is geometric. Despite the simplification of the hands and feet, which are drawn in an almost childlike manner, her pose is very elegant. Once again, Picasso has made the supposedly real proportions of the model suit what he wanted to express as an artist. He has highlighted what we know to have been Jacqueline’s temperament and character. At the same time, he has conveyed serenity and pleasure with the colours, and formal tension in his handling of the profile, which contrasts with the frontal view of one of the eyes.