Lot 189
  • 189

Pablo Picasso

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Tête à l'oiseau
  • Dated 9.4.71 II (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 21 7/8 by 18 1/4 in.
  • 55.5 by 46.3 cm


Estate of the artist
Jacqueline Picasso, Mougins
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Sale: Sotheby's, London, March 29, 1988, lot 50
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)


Avignon, Palais des Papes, Picasso 1970-1972, 1973, no. 51


Rafael Alberti, Picasso, Le Rayon ininterrompu, Paris, 1974, no. 126, illustrated in color n.p.
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1971 à 1972, Paris, 1978, vol. XXXIII, no. 55, illustrated p. 20
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculptures, The Final Years 1970-1973, San Francisco, 2004, no. 71-128, illustrated p. 153


Canvas is unlined. Surface retains a richly textured impasto. A few fine lines of horizontal craquelure scattered throughout. There is a layer of varnish on the canvas. Under ultraviolet light no inpainting is apparent. This work is in very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Picasso's mistresses were the inspiration for many of the paintings and drawings of women that he completed throughout his career. Usually, the identity of the individual on whom he based his picture can be deciphered by the particular physical characteristics or objects that he commonly associated with each of his lovers. This striking picture from 1971, however, seems to be a composite of the many women who enriched the artist's life while also suggestive of the artist's own personage. At the time he painted it, Picasso was involved with Jacqueline, his second wife and final love interest before his death in 1973 (see fig. 2). The curves of Jacqueline's dark eyebrows and almond-shaped eyes are recognizable in this picture, but the swoop of blonde hair evokes the image of Marie-Thérèse Walter, Picasso's lover in the 1930s and the mother of his daughter, Maya. During the late 1960s and 1970s Picasso painted many musketeers in brightly-plummed hats, and it is possible that the figure's wears a cap or headdress of some sort rather than hair. One can only guess that Picasso, who would turn ninety in September of that year, may have been driven by nostalgia to incorporate into this painting all of the great loves of his life.

Gert Schiff wrote about these compositions from the end of Picasso's career, pointing out that they were the gleenings of nearly a century of his life's work: "To the last, he poured all his impassioned humanity into his art. Thus, his last works teach us something that cannot be deduced from the more detached works of other giants in their old age. By pushing the limits of our self-awareness a little further, Picasso undermines our moral complacency in the name of his own honest and fearless humanism. Quite often, he does so with disarming naiveté and exquisite humor. For all of these reasons, his last period has a special place within his development.  It is not a 'swan song' but the apotheosis of his career" (Picasso, The Last Years, 1963-1973 (exhibition catalogue), Grey Art Gallery & Study Center, New York University, New York, pp. 11-12).

Picasso painted the present work on April 9, 1971, the final in a series of four related works painted over a three day period. Interestingly, the works become progressively more androgynous, the first showing unmistakable flowing locks and a bonnet of the sort Dora Maar was often depicted wearing (see fig. 3). Writing about Picasso's pictures of women, Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot and Marie-Laure Bernadac have noted, "One of Picasso's characteristics, compared to Matisse and to many other twentieth-century painters, was that he used his own wife as model and muse. He rarely used a professional; it was the woman he loved, with whom he shared his daily life, who was his model. What he painted, then was not a 'model' woman but the woman-as-model. This difference had consquences in both the emotional and the pictorial realm, for the beloved woman is the painting and the painted female is the beloved woman; thus no distance is possible.  Picasso never painted from life, however; Jaqueline did not pose for him, but she was there, everywhere, always present. Every woman of those years was Jaqueline, and at that time, they were rarely portraits. The image of the woman he loved was a model inscribed deep inside himself, one that emerged every time that he painted a woman" (Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot & Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 444).

Shortly after Picasso's death in 1973, Jacqueline arranged for Picasso's last great works to be exhibited at the Palais des Papes in Avignon.  The exhibition, which hung in this great Gothic ediface in the south of France, included many of Picasso's paintings of muskateers and portraits of nude women, including the present work (see fig. 4).