The Sleeping Mistress

Le Rêve (The Dream), Pablo Picasso. Portrait of his then 22-years old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. It is said to have been painted in one afternoon, on 24 January 1932. The erotic content of the painting has been noted repeatedly, with critics pointing out that Picasso painted an erect penis, presumably symbolizing his own, in the upturned face of his model.


To Lucien Fabre

What heart’s hot secrets is my young girlfriend keeping
in soul that through the mask of flowers must breathe?
What vain food will natural warmth conceive
to make the radiance of woman sleeping?

The breath of dreams and silences is deepening
to peace more forcible than tears may leave
when heavy fullnesses of sleep receive
conspiracies that breast of foe is reaping.

A feared repose of shadows and surrenders
responds with golden gifts of sleep as hers.

A doe extended in its languorous clusters
where soul is lost and busy in infernos:
her form throws out a fluid arm, and musters
a wakefulness to tell me that it knows.

 Paul Valéry


La Dormeuse or The Sleeper appeared in Paul Valéry’s 1922 Charmes ou poèmes, the collection also containing Le Cimetière marin. La Dormeuse contrasts various aspects of a sleeping mistress: abstract beauty against carnal desire, the woman’s desire for love against the poet’s wish to remain detached and independent, the secrets being consumed by the dreamer just as the body takes nourishment.

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