For three months that began in December of 1954, Picasso worked on a series of 15 canvases depicting a harem scene based on Eugene Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger (1834), a painting he had been fascinated with ever since he came to Paris as a young man to admire it in the Louvre. The series, also titled “Les femmes d’Alger,” was created to honor his recently deceased friend (and rival) Henri Matisse, who had been greatly influenced by Delacroix. With his own version of the harem scene, Picasso wanted to carry Matisse’s legacy forward and reflect on the works of earlier artists who had been inspired by Delacroix’s painting. As Picasso told his close friend Hélène Parmelin, “I have a feeling that Delacroix, Giotto, Tintoretto, El Greco, and the rest, as well as all the modern painters, the good and the bad, the abstract and the non-abstract, are all standing behind me watching me at work.”
Simply put, Les femmes d’Alger, (Version “O”) is the most significant Picasso from the latter half of his career that is still privately owned—and thus able to be purchased. As Brooke Lampley, international director of Christie’s Impressionist and modern department, told Artsy, “Of the 15 works dedicated to this subject, this is the most fully realized, detailed, and compact one.” It comprises all the influences present throughout his career in one canvas. Resplendent with colors and textures, it perfectly synthesizes Picasso’s formal experiments from the early part of his career with the attraction to sensual female forms that dominates the latter portion of his oeuvre.
All this has led the painting to accumulate an enviable lineup of museum appearances in Picasso retrospectives across the globe—among them, New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1957 and 1980, London’s National Gallery in 1960, Paris’s Grand Palais from 1966 to 1967, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968. In more recent accolades, Les femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) was included in the Louvre’s “Picasso et les Maîtres” survey, which opened in 2008, made a reappearance at London’s National Gallery in 2009 for “Picasso: Challenging the Past,” and hung in the Tate Britain’s exhibition “Picasso & Modern British Art” in 2012.