This month, a painting by Picasso entitled Nude Woman in a Red Armchair will go on show at Tate Modern. No doubt security will be tight, but were you to sneak into the gallery, gently remove the painting from the wall and examine its reverse, you would see the inscription ‘Boisgeloup 27 juillet 1932’. The implication is that Picasso created this image of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter in just one day.
Picasso spent much of 1932 frantically working towards his first major retro-spective in Paris; once he had met the gallery’s requirements, his paintings became more relaxed. Nude Woman in a Red Armchair embodies this new-found lyricism and mastery of application.
The Tate’s conservation laboratory examined the painting and found evidence that it really was created in a day. Painted wet on wet, with no heavy reworking and no underdrawing, this is a work of ‘great ease and confidence’, says Nancy Ireson, curator of the Tate exhibition.
Marie-Thérèse met Picasso outside a department store in Paris in 1927, when she was just 17. He asked to paint her but she had no idea who the artist was, so he showed her an article written about him to prove his story. A week later, the married man was sleeping with the girl, who was 27 years his junior. By 1932, they were embroiled in a full-blown affair.
‘Marie-Thérèse marked a departure in Picasso’s work,’ says Nancy. ‘She prompted in him a visual language that is the opposite of Cubism, concerned with roundness, pattern and familiarity of form.’ Notably, Picasso did not use his lover as a model: this is a dream of Marie-Thérèse, not an actual representation.
Picasso soon moved onto other mistresses, including the photographer Dora Maar, whom he met two months after the birth of his and Marie-Thérèse’s daughter. Though the artist did not want the women to meet, they eventually did – the story goes that they fought in front of Picasso’s Guernica while he watched. Both women denied the tale, but in her book, Life with Picasso, Françoise Gilot (the mistress who would replace Dora) provides the artist’s version of events: ‘I kept painting and they kept arguing. Finally, Marie-Thérèse turned to me and said, “Make up your mind. Which one of us goes?” I was satisfied with things as they were. I told them they’d have to fight it out for themselves. So they began to wrestle. It’s one of my choicest memories.’
Picasso died in 1973. Four years later and 50 years after the couple met, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide.
‘Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy’ is at Tate Modern from March 8 to September 9; For more information visit