Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) was also an opportunity for Picasso to pay tribute to his contemporary rival and friend, Henri Matisse, as well as the leading nineteenth-century French Romantic artist, Eugène Delacroix, whose work is credited as heavily influencing Matisse himself. “For years, Picasso had an homage to Delacroix on his mind, and the advent of Roque, just as importantly as the idea of a tribute to Matisse, induced Picasso to undertake his own series of odalisques,” relates Fertig. “The artist had become intrigued at Roque’s resemblance to the odalisque crouching at lower right in the Louvre version of Delacroix’s harem scene, whose face is seen in left profile.”
Roque’s characteristic habit of sitting cross-legged, with her legs drawn up to her chest, eventually prompted Picasso to create his Les Femmes d’Alger series (of which one painting went on to set a new world record in 2015 as the most expensive painting ever to be sold at auction, at just over US$179 million) as a tribute to the Delacroix-inspired odalisques of Matisse, and a declaration of the artist’s enduring affection for Roque. “Her source of inspiration was really two-fold,” says Fertig. “It was her unwavering commitment and love without tumult that served as a constant subject, available to be revisited and explored in endless ways.”
“And then, it was her draw stylistically. During his lifetime, Picasso had come no closer to North Africa than when as a youth, he lived among the relics of the old Moorish civilization in Andalucía, “Fertig adds, “In Roque, Picasso saw a subject made to be painted, and in her features, Africa had come to him. She possessed a classic Mediterranean appearance – jet-black hair, dark eyes and a long, narrow nose. She fully looked the part of Delacroix’s Algerian odalisque. Hélène Parmelin, a close friend of Picasso during his later years, observed, ‘Jacqueline has the gift of becoming painting to an unimaginable degree. She has within her that wonderful power on which the painter feeds. She flows. She unfurls ad infinitum. She invades everything… All the portraits resemble her, even though they may not resemble each other. All the heads are hers and there are a thousand different ones.’”
The eyes of the art world will no doubt be on Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in New York on 13 November, when the magnificent Femme accroupie (Jacqueline) comes up for auction for the very first time.