Pablo Picasso's 'portrait of love' leads Sotheby's upcoming exhibition

He loved her, as did she him, and together, for a while, it was perfect. Pablo Picasso met and fell hard for Marie-Thérèse Walter. The feeling was mutual, cosmic, life affirming and, for Picasso, pure inspiration. His portraits of Marie are colourful depictions of true love and how it feels to be so utterly consumed in another human being.
It is this subject that leads Sotheby’s forthcoming Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in February, as one of the Spaniards emblematic depictions of love, sex and desire is up for sale, provisionally estimated to sell between £25 million and £35 million. Marie. Muse. Magic.
Femme assise près d’une fenêtre, which was executed in 1932, is reflective of the brilliance that is prevalent in all of the famous portraits of his lover. Bold colours and biomorphic body shapes come together to celebrate the sensuality of Marie, of Picasso’s unashamed intoxication with his subject and how she inspired him to paint what he felt.
These works are often described as being the “emblem of love, sex and desire” in the twentieth century, good or bad. After all, when the great modernist embarked on his affair, he was still married. For further controversy, Picasso was 45 when he met Marie. She was 17.
Even then, these paintings are tinged with deceit, of the idea that while true love feels right in the moment – there can be no one else in my life – suddenly, in the most unexpected of circumstances, in walks someone else who takes your breath away.
Kept in the dark for a while was the artist’s first wife, the Ukrainian-Russian dancer Olga Khoklova. She only found out when Picasso’s portraits of Marie were displayed at a major retrospective of his work at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris, the very same year that Femme assise près d’une fenêtre was produced.
Olga didn’t see her face, as she had done in some of his earlier works, but that of a stranger. While many artists have numerous subjects that sit for them, subjectively and without any direct emotional attachment, it was unmistakable that the figure meant more. The paintings are incapable of containing themselves. It was as if she had read his intimate thoughts.
For her then, they symbolise betrayal. It was as if everyone else was in on the charade. These are beautiful paintings, groundbreaking in the history of art, described as being evocative of that very human and irrational feeling known as love, but for the rest of her life, Olga was reminded that perfection is a myth.
Picasso might have been one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century, a charming and conversational intellectual, but he left behind him many broken hearts. Does that taint his image? Not at all, for he lived as he believed, ultimately, in the idea of love, a foolish thing, but hard to resist. The heart cannot think; nor should it ever.
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