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Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil Analysis

Pablo Picasso’s painting, Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil (Woman Sitting in a Chair) 1941, depicts Picasso’s ability to manipulate space, planes, and color to show precisely what he wants the observer to see.  According to the paintings information card, the painting depicts his mistress, Dora Maar, sitting in a chair in Picasso’s small Paris apartment.  The painting was created in September of 1941, during the Nazi occupation of France.

The walls in his apartment seem to be collapsing in around Maar.  The shrinking space could relate to Picasso’s feelings about World War II. The place card at the Currier Museum states that, at the time, Nazis had taken Paris and had a significant occupation presence in the city.  Picasso was confined to his apartment for safety and because of curfew at the time. The result of this confinement could have been a form of claustrophobia, where everything seemed to be closing in around him. The window in the left of the painting also depicts the painter’s feelings about the war.  The background behind the window is red, a color that traditionally depicts war (Chapman).  At the same time, red is used to depict love or passion; therefore, the red could relate to his feelings about Maar just as much as they relate to the war. Opposite the red window is a white wall. White is often used as a color representing purity or calmness (Chapman). The red window, which represents Picasso’s anxiety over the war, and the white wall, which represents Picasso’s calm are separated by Maar. Maar could be the balancing force between his anxiety and his calm.

What is interesting about the collapsing space is, though the walls are clearly closing in, the space is still flat.  There is no vanishing point in the painting and there are not any objects whose shapes clearly show depth.  Despite this flatness, the viewer’s brain automatically adds depth to the painting.  Picasso has also given Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil a sculptural quality. On Maar’s dress there are a number of circles.  The paint that makes up some of the circles comes off the canvas a number of centimeters. This true depth, rather than the perspective depth the painting lacks, gives the painting an extra dimension that would not have been possible otherwise

Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil can be easily broken up into three district planes.  The back most plane includes the walls, ceiling, floor, and window.  The chair is located in the middle plane and Maar is located in the forward most plane. These planes, and the interaction between, them are very important. Picasso painted the planes in such a way that none of them interact with each other.  All three planes have a clear depth to them but, at the same time, none of the planes are touching each other. Maar does not interact with or touch, the chair. The chair does not interact with or touch the floor or the walls around it. The lack of interaction and touching could represent a certain amount of disconnect and isolation in Picasso’s world.  He also may have been trying to isolate Maar.  Maar already has an anxious expression and isolating her could better help show what she (and therefore he) is experiencing.

The way Picasso painted Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil shows that, unlike many of his other cubist paintings, it was emotionally charged rather than analytical. When looking at his earlier cubist paintings, such as Guernica, you can clearly see Picasso’s commentary on the event as well as the emotions in the event. The painting is dark and is only painted using an extremely limited set of muted colors; it is nearly monochrome.  Compare that to the brightness of Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil.  The painting is more colorful then his analytical work, containing large blocks of bright color that draw they eye.  Picasso also normally defined the different shapes of the painting using light. Through shading and variation in tone, he was able to show the angle and the changing of light overtime. Instead, with Femme Assise dans un Fauteuil, Picasso chose to use the various shapes of the painting to show movement.  The angles Maar is sitting at and the parts of her body showing at the same time show she is moving.  More specifically, because of how many ways she seems to be moving, it looks as if she is fidgeting.  The way he painted this painting is at odds with nearly all of the other paintings he did of women sitting in chairs in 1941.

Picasso, in many of his paintings, attempts to find a way to control women. In Freudian Psychology, castration anxiety is a male’s actual, or metaphorical, fear of loosing his genitals; his sense of power and pride and general “manliness.” For Picasso, a small man, one method of removing of removing this anxiety was controlling the women in his paintings.  In the case of this painting, Picasso controls Maar through positioning.  He shows her constantly moving and only paints the movements and the angles of her he wants to show. His control comes from the placement of the model. Despite this control, he does not seem to be treating her as just another part of the painting like he has done to her and other models in many of his other paintings.  In most of his paintings depicting women sitting on chairs, Picasso just uses the models as another object in the painting as a whole.  With this painting, Maar is the focus; she is he subject of the painting.

Maar’s face also relates to Picasso’s view of the world around him.  Picasso was anxious about the war and his anxiety is exemplified by the contortion of Maar’s face.  Her eyes are not lined up properly on her face; they are asymmetrical.  This gives her gaze a subtle underpinning of anxiousness to it. This could be Picasso using Maar to show his own emotion related to the war.






Works Cited

Chapman, Cameron. “Color Theory for Designers.” Smashing Magazine. N.p., 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 28 Oct. 2011.

Wellman, Donald. “Picasso Resources.” Faculty Home Pages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

“Woman Seated in a Chair by Pablo Picasso.” Currier Collections Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.


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