La Lecture by Pablo Picasso

La Lecture by Pablo Picasso (1932)

Check your finances.  Have you a little spare money to buy yourself a painting ?  I know of a bargain to be had on February 8th.  It was only painted seventy nine years ago.  It is highly colourful.  Lots of yellows and greens and I am sure it would blend nicely with the colour of your lounge carpet or the fabric of your settee.  So how much spare cash have you got ?  Is that all ?  Sadly you will need a little more than that as you will probably have to come up with at least £18 million and some reckon the final figure could triple that.

My Daily Art Display offering today and the painting in question, which is due to come up at the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in London this coming Saturday, is Pablo Picasso’s La Lecture.   The thing that fascinates me the most about this painting is the background story.  It was completed by Picasso in January 1932 in time for his exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich,  entitled Picasso by Picasso: His first Museum Exhibition 1932, and is a portrait of his muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, who it is said transformed the life of this great Modernist artist. This painting was among a series from the beginning of 1932, which introduced this young woman as an extraordinary presence in Picasso’s life and his art.

The story goes that the then forty five year old artist introduced himself to the seventeen year old girl outside a Paris Metro station.  On recounting the tale of the meeting, Marie-Thérèse said she remembered Picasso’s words as they came face to face:

“…I knew nothing – either of life or of Picasso… I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, ‘I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together’…”

Today, I am sure we would think this bold introduction of the Spanish artist was simply a very cheesy chat-up line and would nowadays probably get a middle-aged man a slap in the face!   However for that forty-five year old man standing outside the Metro station in 1927 those words and his possible charm won over the young girl.  For in that year Marie Thérèse Walter became the secret lover of Pablo Ruiz Picasso and their relationship lasted eight years despite the artist still living with and still married, if unhappily, to his wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-Ukrainian dancer whom he  met whilst she was on tour with Diaghilev.

Their liaison was a closely guarded secret for many years for two main reasons.  Firstly, because of Picasso’s marriage to Olga and secondly, because of Marie-Thérèse’s age.  Their secret liaisons took place in a chateau  he had bought at Boisgeloupe, near Gisors.  His studio here was much larger than the one he had in Paris and it enabled him to create monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that were later depicted in several paintings.

La Lecture belonged to a group of paintings, painted by Picasso in January 1932 in anticipation of the major retrospective he was planning that June.  Today’s painting is Picasso’s depiction of Marie-Therese and it was the first time that she had appeared in one of his works.  Earlier paintings of his showed her features implanted discreetly in the background and it was this unconcealed portrayal of his mistress which led his wife to realise that there was another woman in her husband’s life.

Picasso’s lover and muse’s potent mix of physical attractiveness and at the same time her sexual naivety had an intoxicating effect on him and his rapturous desire for her brought about a number of compositions that are amongst the most sought after of his long career.  In 1935, Marie Thérèse Walter had a daughter with Picasso, Maria de la Concepión, called Maya.  Sadly for Maria-Thérèse, a year later in 1936, Picasso switched his affections to a new love, Dora Maar a woman he met when he was painting Guernica.  Marie-Thérèse left Picasso and took their daughter to live in Paris. 

Picasso died in April 1973 and four years later in October 1977, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself.  For the young seventeen year old who first met the Spanish painter life with him was almost certainly exciting and fulfilling but alas, like Picasso’s wife Olga, she was to suffer the humiliation and sadness caused by her lover’s unfaithfulness but for Marie-Thérèse life was just never the same again and life was not worth living without her elderly lover.