Picasso's portrait of his last muse could fetch US$18m at Christie's London

Praised today as one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Picasso's relationship with women are intricately woven into his art – each would represent a new phase and a further development in his artistic style. Of all the women associated with him, Jacqueline Roque, his last great love and second wife, held a special place as he created more pieces of art centered on her than on any other. 

On 28 February, Christie’s will offer the Cubist master’s loving portrait of Jacqueline, Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), in London with an estimate between £15 and 20 million (around US$18 and 24.1 million).

The work last hit the auction block in 2007, going to the present owner for £2.48 million (around US$4.88 million). If the work sells for its low estimate, it will have increased sixfold in 16 years.

Lot 16 | Pablo Picasso | Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), Oil on canvas
Created at La Californie on 25 March 1956
194.5 x 130.1 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Galerie Louise Leiris [Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler], Paris, until at least 1958
  • Private collection, United States, by whom acquired from the above, and thence by descent;
  • Sale, Christie’s, London, 6 February 2007, lot 44 (Sold: £2,484,000)
  • Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

Estimate: £15,000,000 - 20,000,000 (around US$18 - 24.1 million)

Auction House: Christie's London
Sale: 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale
Date: 28 February 2023

Jacqueline Roque came into Picasso's life in 1952, when she was working as an assistant at the Galerie Madoura in Vallauris, the pottery where the artist spent significant time to make his ceramics. Immediately Picasso was struck by her classical, faintly oriental beauty. At the time, Jacqueline was in her late twenties, and Picasso in his early seventies. 

Though Picasso was still in a relationship with Françoise Gilot then, with whom he shared a home in Vallauris, it did not stop him from pursuing the young lady. In the fall of 1953, Gilot decided to end their decade-long love affair, taking with her their two children back to Paris. Soon after, Picasso began to date Jacqueline in earnest.

For the rest of his life, the well-known philanderer stayed only with Jacqueline, the woman who became his second wife in 1961 and served as the greatest muse in his prolific late artistic career, being painted by Picasso over 400 times in 20 years. 

Jacqueline Roque seated in a rocking-chair

Jacqueline Roque was Pablo Picasso's final muse and second wife

The rocking chair was a constant fixture in Picasso's studio

Painted in 1956, the present lot bears witness to the beginning of their relationship, when the couple had just bought a new love nest in the hills above Cannes.

It was a large home, and Picasso turned the sunlit ground floor rooms into his studio, where he created several paintings showcasing his lover. In such artworks, Jacqueline was often depicted seated in Picasso's best-loved rocking chair, a constant fixture in his studio which he brought with from home to home.

While Picasso had a fondness of featuring woman sitting cross-legged or clasping her knees, in Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), Jacqueline is presented as authoritative and impressive, sitting up straight in her throne-like chair. Such pose is instantly reminiscent of court and society portraiture, particularly the renowned Pope Innocent X by Diego Velázquez, the artist who Picasso had long admired. 

Eugène Delacroix | Women of Algiers

Diego Velázquez | Portrait of Pope Innocent X

Pablo Picasso | Femme Accroupie | Sold: HK$191,651,000, October 2021

In fact, Jacqueline's classic facial features had provided an untapped source of inspiration for Picasso. When he first met Jacqueline, Picasso’s acute visual memory immediately connected her face to Eugene Delacroix’s famed Femmes d’Alger dans leur appartement (Women of Algiers in their Apartment). The woman sitting with one knee raised on the right side of the French Romantic artist’s painting has a classic Mediterranean charm very similar to Jacqueline’s.

Picasso once tenderly explained this coincidence, “Delacroix had already met Jacqueline.” Although Picasso had been contemplating the women of Algiers as a motif for quite some time, it wasn't until Jacqueline entered his life that he finally found a way to reinterpret the masterpiece. 

In October 2021, another portrait of Jacqueline which also contain references to Delacroix, Femme Accroupie, set the artist's auction record in Asia at HK$191 million (around US$24.6 million) – let's see if the present lot would bring us surprise as well.