Jacqueline Picasso, Mougins (acquired from the above in 1973)
William Rubin, New York (a gift from the above in 1984)
Giraud, Pissarro, Ségalot, New York
Acquired from the above in 2007
Tête de Marie-Thérèse may be counted among the most painterly and expressive of these pictures, created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the center of Picasso's artistic universe. Picasso began work on the picture on June 4, 1932 and completed it in March 1934, revisiting and retooling to its richly-painted surface over the course of two years. Thickly impastoed, it is also one of the most daring renderings of his lover, depicted with a swirling assembly of vibrantly colored panes reminiscent of stained glass. It bears mentioning that he completed these works at the height of the Surrealist movement, when his palette was at its most vibrant and when Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But the present composition, with the deconstructed bust positioned confrontationally at the forefront of the picture plane, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist's individualism, even incorporating elements of his groundbreaking Cubist compositions of the 1910s. Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso's creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso's production.
By the time the present work was painted, the girl who once "knew nothing of Picasso" had come to define the artist and his production. Marie-Thérèse's features were readily identifiable in Picasso's painting at this point, and Robert Rosenblum wrote about the young woman's symbolic unveiling in these works: "Marie-Thérèse, now firmly entrenched in both the city and country life of a lover twenty-eight years her senior, could at last emerge from the wings to center stage, where she could preside as a radiant deity, in new roles that changed from Madonna to sphinx, from odalisque to earth mother. At times her master seems to worship humbly at her shrine, capturing a fixed, confrontational stare of almost supernatural power; but more often, he becomes an ecstatic voyeur, who quietly captures his beloved, reading, meditating, catnapping, or surrendering to the deepest abandon of sleep" (R. Rosenblum in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 342). His reverence is nowhere more apparent than in the depictions of his lover reading, sleeping or writing, the embodiment of tranquility and physical acquiescence. Her passivity in these pictures makes her body all the more pliant to Picasso's manipulations and distortions. Indeed, in accordance with the artist’s interest in Surrealist themes, exaltations of sexual deviance and grotesque manipulations of form fanned the flames of Picasso's creative and physical desire, resulting in some of the most extraordinary interpretations of his lover.
Tête de Marie-Thérèse directly relates to monumental plasters busts of Marie-Thérèse that Picasso created in the early 1930s. While molding wet plaster into the likeness of his lover offered Picasso a way to caress her in absentia at this early stage in their relationship, it also allowed him to transform her body into a fully-exploitable object. These bright white forms, gleaming amidst the darkness of his Boisgeloup carriage house, were an irresistible spectacle, inciting Picasso’s Cubist fascination with the dimensionality of form in space. By the end of 1931 he began to feature images of his plaster sculptures into his paintings, and it is Marie-Thérèse’s highly tactile and plasticized form that defines these magisterial paintings of 1932.
Elizabeth Cowling has written on Picasso’s incorporation of sculptural imagery into his paintings of this era: "Here, as in many paintings, drawings and prints of the Marie-Thérèse period, Picasso reflects on the relationship in his work between paintings...and sculpture.... The style of the painting as a whole seems intended to dramatise the oppositions between pictorial flatness and sculptural mass in the oppositions between pure line and bold areas of color on the one hand and gradations of light and dark on the other. The sculpted head is a synoptic reference to the earlier series of plaster heads inspired by Marie-Thérèse. The same head, raised on a tall plinth and sometimes garlanded with vines, is an object of veneration in several of the etchings in the 'Vollard Suite'" (E. Cowling in Picasso: Sculptor/Painter (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 272).
In later years, Françoise Gilot, another of Picasso's lovers and an artist herself, recognized the tantalizingly sculptural possibilities presented by Marie-Thérèse's body during this feverish period: "I found Marie-Thérèse fascinating to look at. I could see that she was certainly the woman who had inspired Pablo plastically more than any other. She had a very arresting face with a Grecian profile. The whole series of portraits of blonde women Pablo painted between 1927 and 1935 are almost exact replicas of her.... Her forms were handsomely sculptural, with a fullness of volume and a purity of line that gave her body and her face an extraordinary perfection. To the extent that nature offers ideas or stimuli to an artist, there are some forms that are closer than other to any artist's own aesthetic and thus serve as a springboard for his imagination. Marie-Thérèse brought a great deal to Pablo in the sense that her physical form demanded recognition."
Tête de Marie-Thérèse was part of Jacqueline Picasso’s private collection of paintings drawings and sculptures that her late husband had bequeathed her. A couple of years before tragically taking her own life, Jacqueline generously gifted this work to William Rubin, director of prestigious department of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A gifted curator with a discerning eye, Mr. Rubin played a crucial role in defining the museum's collections and exhibitions throughout the 1970s and 80s.
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