The woman depicted is Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s lover from 1945 to 1953 and mother of their children Claude and Paloma. Picasso has tenderly portrayed his young lover as she gazes distractedly out of a window. The dark composition and her somber expression reflect Françoise’s general state of mind at the time (their relationship was quickly deteriorating—she would leave Picasso the following year). The abstracted hairstyle and face are emblematic of the disjointed, overlapping, geometric approach to depicting the figure that Picasso developed in the 1930s, refined in the 1940s, and reinvented in the 1950s.
Though Picasso favored lithography in the postwar years, he worked increasingly in intaglio in the early 1950s. Sugarlift aquatint, a difficult technique that he had mastered in the mid-1930s under the tutelage of Roger Lacourière, was his chosen approach. The process is quite delicate and is easily thwarted at any stage—perfection is achieved only through experience and utter sensitivity to the materials. Though challenging, mastery of sugarlift allows great fluidity of expression. Picasso created a number of masterworks in this technique in the 1950s and 1960s, some of which are highly ambitious in their scale, including La Femme a la Fenêtre and L’Égyptienne.
Picasso built the image in two states: in the first, he blocked out the composition and the plate was etched lightly to a medium gray with a course-grained rosin powder; and, in the second state, he refined the composition with details that were etched deeply to a darker black with a fine-grained powder.