"Marie-Thérèse Walter" Pablo Picasso (1937)
Now more than 80 images of Picasso's great muse are on view in “Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour Fou” at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. It isn't the greatest Picasso exhibit I've ever seen but it is quite interesting.
Marie-Thérèse was striking looking—tall with natural blonde hair, a Roman nose, and athletic build. In the exhibit, a series of black and white photos, run together like a flip book, show her dressed in black beret, white shirt, black leather jacket, and white gloves—a fashion plate of late 1920s Paris. In others she appears on the beach, bronzed and posed with a ball. No wonder Picasso wanted to paint her.
"Marie-Thérèse Coiffee d'un Beret" Pablo Picasso (1927)
Even as Picasso's depictions of Marie-Thérèse evolve from straight forward renderings into grotesque distortions—face split in two, body twisted like a sea creature, nose turned into a phallus—there is still a beauty to them, something that is not always found in Picasso’s other portraits of women.
Picasso once said that Marie-Thérèse saved his life and indeed one cannot deny the importance she had on his work. It was after their affair began that Picasso began to leave Classicism behind and explore Surrealism and other forms, resulting in his great masterpiece “Guernica” (in which Marie-Thérèse shows up three times).
In the end, I think that perhaps one of my favourite pieces was a simple pencil sketch at the beginning of the exhibit which shows Marie-Thérèse wearing her customary black beret (berets and other headpieces pop up repeatedly in the paintings). There is no contorted body, no overt sexual symbolism, just the clear gaze of a young woman whose life was going to be changed forever.
“Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L’amour Fou” is at the Gagosian Gallery through June 25.