La Lecture is an oil painting by Pablo Picasso, created in 1932. It is one of a series of portraits of Picasso’s mistress and muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, which also includes ‘Nude, Green Leaves and Bust’(1932). The painting
The painting, oil on panel, measures 65.5 by 51 cm and depicts Walter asleep in an armchair, a half-read book resting on her lap.
The portrait exhibits the classic curves, swirls and Arabesques Picasso was renowned for.
This bright and bold work is symbolic of his regular portrayals of sex, love and desire. The depiction of a sleeping woman was described by Picasso as an attempt to ‘understand’ his subject.
Picasso stated that he painted subjects seated in armchairs to portray old age or death, or alternatively protection. It is thought that the latter is conveyed in this picture.
The painting was one of a number Picasso created of his younger lover. They met in 1927, when Picasso spotted Walter outside of a Paris Metro station.
Taking her arm, he declared, “I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together”.
Their relationship underpinned and inspired one of Picasso’s most fertile and creative periods. At first Walter was represented subtly in Picasso’s work, but as his obsession with her intensified, he felt compelled to openly depict her.
Their affair stood in stark contrast to Picasso’s stormy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. This tension contributed to Picasso’s prolific creativity during the 1930s.
Provenance and exhibition
‘La Lecture’ was exhibited in 1932 in the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris and the Kunsthaus in Zurich. It was acquired sometime before 1940 by the Valentine Dudensing Gallery of New York, and displayed there.
The painting passed through the hands of several owners, including Keith Warner, Paul Rosenberg & Co and David Lloyd Kreeger. It was sold to its last owner in 1996.
On February 9 2011, ‘La Lecture’ was sold for £25,241,250 at Sotheby’s, London. The painting was the centrepiece of their ‘Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale’.
After a frantic auction involving six bidders, the initial estimate of £12m-18 was surpassed in only six minutes. It was purchased over the telephone by an anonymous buyer.