By Pincus-Witten, Robert
Artforum International , Vol. 47, No. 5
"Picasso's Marie-Therese" is a dream show, and not only because its key work is The Dream, an iconic portrait of Marie-Therese Walter. The sitter, depicted in what is widely overinterpreted as a masturbatory reverie, enjoys a prominent place in Picasso's long succession of muses. Even if not every i has been dotted and not every t crossed regarding that fateful meeting on January 8, 1927, between the forty-five-year-old cruising titan and the seventeen-year-old girl he picked up in front of the Galeries Lafayette, we do know that, on crossing paths with Picasso, she had no idea of his sensational fame.
But what is not in doubt is that this chance meeting--how very Dada of them--inaugurated one of the great philanderer's supreme thematic suites, running from 1927 through 1939, by which time Marie-Therese had been fully supplanted by the intellectual photographer Dora Maar. But the Marie-Therese years were marked by stupendous achievements in painting, sculpture, and graphics (not to mention the birth of a daughter, Maya, in 1935). From that long (pro)creative run, the Acquavella exhibition pulled a dozen paintings, of which at least four can be counted among the painter's greatest works; two drawings; and a great sculptute, the plaster Bust of a Woman of 1931.
In the catalogue, Picasso scholar Michael Fitzgerald thrillingly elucidates the sequence and meaning of the Marie-Therese paintings, while also clarifying their role in the complex, lifelong Picasso-Matisse rivalry. He shows how these paintings became foils to marginalize Matisse's midcareer academic portrayals of Ingriste themes, particularly that of the odalisque.
In June and July of 1931, Matisse was accorded a major overview at the Galeries Georges Petit, a survey that included too much of the egregiously weak Nice material of the 1920s and too few significant Fauve paintings, let alone his even more consequential works revealing his struggle with Cubism between 1912 and 1917. By contrast, Picasso, showing at Georges Petit in 1932, arranged for a comprehensive survey, and daringly hung it not chronologically but according to a sense of dialogue between works of various periods; the new Marie-Therese paintings as well as epochal masterpieces such as Les Demoiselles d' Avignon, 1907, were included. …