This week marks a very special moment for art enthusiasts in Dubai. For the very first time in history, a vibrant Picasso painting — worth more than $120 million — comes to Dubai. The masterpiece in question is Femme á la Montre (meaning “Woman in Watch” in English), a bold creation that depicts Marie-Thérèse Walter, a most significant woman in the artist’s life, and will be open to viewing for the public today, September 25, until September 27, before embarking on a world tour and finally going on auction this November.
For the momentous occasion, Sotheby’s Head of Impressionist & Modern Art in New York, Julian Dawes, has accompanied the Picasso to Dubai. In a special interview, Dawes chats with Vogue Arabia about the painting on everyone’s radar right now, and the love story behind it.
Can you tell us a little about Picasso’s portraits and what they tell us about the women in his life? What role did these ‘muses’ play in his work?
Whilst his subject matters are varied and diverse, Picasso is particularly well known for his portraits of women. And to be more specific still, his attention was focused on the muses that played a deeply significant role in his life. These women were not merely models for the artist; he had relationships with many of the subjects of his paintings, the inner workings of which were often played out on canvas. And so Picasso’s portraits of his muses represent the most consistently innovative and expressive body of work in twentieth century art. From the cubist portraits of Fernande Olivier or the neo-classical depictions of Olga Khokhlova, to the acclaimed 1930s paintings of Marie-Thérèse and the final great works depicting Jacqueline Roque, the women of Picasso’s life are the fulcrum of his creative genius. His creative bond with each of his muses was characterized by a fervent obsession, which fed his exhaustive study, experimentation and dedication to his art.
What do we know about Marie-Therese herself?
In 1927 Picasso met a young woman outside the Galeries Lafayette; her name was Marie-Thérèse Walter and she would soon become his partner and most important muse. Over the decade that followed, she inspired paintings, drawings and sculptures — many of which remain among the best of his career. Describing the moment she met Picasso years later, Walter recalled: “I was an innocent girl. 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.'” Theirs was a great love, and they had their daughter, Maya, in 1935.
Marie-Therese Walter is often referred to as his ‘golden muse’ – could you tell us why this is?
Marie-Thérèse’s hair was golden blonde, yet that is not the only reason that you will often hear her referred to as Picasso’s ‘golden’ muse. She was also the inspiration for many of Picasso’s greatest and most joyous works, with 1932 — the year in which he was finally able to give full painterly voice to his passion — widely regarded as his ‘annus mirabilis’. So extraordinary was Picasso’s output that year, that an entire museum exhibition has been dedicated to it (“Paris 1932”, at Tate Modern in 2018). A decade of explosive creative output followed.
For Picasso, his time with her was one of happiness and fulfilment – and that is reflective in his portraits, which celebrate her “golden” beauty and the tenderness of his emotions for her whilst continuing to explore his distinctive, avant-garde style.
Why is this particular painting so special and how does it rank in his whole oeuvre?
1932 was perhaps the most significant year of Picasso’s career, both in terms of his personal and his professional life. His relationship with his “golden muse” Marie-Thérèse Walter had been clandestine since their meeting in 1927, but it was now fully maturing in terms of their mutual connection, and they would soon after have their only child, daughter Maya. This portrait was painted in August, a few months after Picasso’s first career retrospective in Paris. Though no longer a young artist at this point, it was still a mark of Picasso’s prowess to be honored with such an important exhibition. In the lead up to the show, not only did he create the most exquisite and enduring images of his career, but he also simultaneously revealed to the world (including his wife Olga Khokhlova) that his heart, mind and work were completely fixated on this unmistakable new muse.
Comparing this glorious work to earlier 1932 paintings he prepared for the retrospective, there is a clear demarcation between the mythical, dreamlike and surrealistic scenes that feature a recurring model, as opposed to the present work which is clearly a portrait of an actual person. That in itself elevates Marie-Thérèse to a new tier, in honor of their now public relationship status.
The work’s significance within Picasso’s oeuvre cannot be overstated: Its date, scale, subject, vibrancy and provenance are all exceptional.