Nude in an Armchair

Pablo Picasso Spanish

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 908

Beginning in spring 1909 and continuing through the winter of 1910, Pablo Picasso produced a remarkable group of paintings, drawings, and a sculpture devoted to the subject of his companion, Fernande Olivier. The key works were made in the hilltop village of Horta de Ebro (present-day Horta de Saint Joan) in Catalonia, Spain, which Picasso knew well from his youth. Fernande is most recognizable in the earliest works in the series: her signature topknot sits on her rounded head of hair and her cheeks and neck are described with soft, fleshy folds.

Picasso began to harden these forms into more angular planes and divided facets by summer 1909. In Nude in an Armchair, Fernande is shown seated in a chair with a rounded back. A white cloth hangs over the back and side of the chair on the left while it runs along her neck and upper arm on the right, and then wraps around her wrist. The enveloping drapery also serves to fix her within the shifting space of the background. When compared to The Oil Mill (Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection), a rare landscape of Horta de Ebro also painted in summer 1909, the background can be understood as Picasso’s effort to deeply identify Fernande with the Horta de Ebro landscape—nestling her beyond the mountains and into the forest on the left side of the canvas, and closer to the hilltop structure on the right.

The repetition of Fernande’s pose in the works the artist made that summer suggest that the present canvas and others in the series were not painted in direct observation but from Picasso’s memory. Together, the works enable us to chart the artist’s preoccupation with Fernande’s form as a subject of experimentation and his singular drive to dissect and complicate spatial construction. While Picasso’s works that summer were produced in two-dimensional formats, his depictions of Fernande’s face and body were quite sculptural in appearance, emphasizing, as in this painting, the planes and ridges, protrusions and valleys of her physiognomy. Within weeks of his return to Paris in mid-September, the artist had redirected his summer experiments into the production of a life-size Cubist bust of Fernande, which he modeled in clay and which was later cast in bronze.

Nude in an Armchair, Pablo Picasso (Spanish, Malaga 1881–1973 Mougins, France), Oil on canvas

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