100 Days of Art History Jinjins


Woman With A Book

Picasso was an extremely skilled, bold artist who behaved atrociously, was a horrible chauvinist, and left a trail of destruction in his wake. I grew up thinking of him as one of the greats, bold enough to shock all us normies into accepting non-representational art. That's pretty much as far as my thoughts went until I watched Nanette, which convinced me he was actually a terrible person who didn't need any more glorification or attention. These days I'm not fully ascribed to either point of view on him. Now, when I go to museums, I look at his work holding all these thoughts in my mind. I see mastery of drawing and composition, skills that I wish I could command. I also see a tortured, immature guy grappling with sexuality. And I see his fear, awe, and ignorance of femininity. Picasso's beloved younger sister died when she was 7 and that seems to tangle all of this up as well.

This painting depicts Picasso's lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. He met her when he was 45 and she was 17, and had an affair with her while he was still married. Once she got pregnant, his wife left him. Then he moved on to another lover and muse. Marie-Thérèse Walter was totally taken advantage of, treated badly, and ultimately discarded by Picasso. This painting of her is also visually lovely and immortalizes her as sensual, beautiful, and peaceful. It is both sweet and sinister once you know the context.

Picasso's collector Gertrude Stein wrote a short description of another painting of his which sums up how I feel most of Picasso's art, including this piece: "a solid thing, a charming thing, a lovely thing, a perplexing thing, a disconcertiing thing, a simple thing, a clear thing, a complicated thing, an interesting thing, a disturbing thing, a repellent thing, a very pretty thing."

Anyway, I don't really need to psychoanalyze him. I watched Nanette not too long after drawing this entry and never did another Picasso for this project. As I spent time on each entry, I realized that I was paying tribute to them with my time and by elevating them to my followers (even as I also critiqued them by replacing their subjects with myself). I didn't want to do that with Picasso. He had enough attention.

One other note--I covered up the bared breasts for my copy. I was just not comfortable drawing myself like that and putting it on the internet. I don't think Picasso cared about that for his models. In his paintings, his figures don't seem to be specific people necessarily, but more archetypes of sensuality and mystery.

This painting is now at the Norton Simon museum.

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