During the first part of Picasso’s stay in Gósol, his subjects and perspectival techniques were deeply influenced by the compositions of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who had been the subject of a major retrospective exhibition in Paris the previous year. This Ingres-inspired aesthetic is apparent in Tête de Femme (Fernande) in the spatial relationship of her features and in her sensuous gaze. Perhaps even more influential on the imposing presence of the present work, however, was the Louvre’s exhibition of fifth- and sixth-century B.C. Iberian Sculpture. As John Richardson writes: “In addition to their atavistic spell, their brutality and lack of distinction commended them to someone who was anxious to demolish traditional canons of beauty. For the time being Picasso did not see how to harness their primitivism to his work. The months he was to spend in Spain in the summer would show him how to do so” (John Richardson, A Life of Picasso, vol. I, New York, 1991, p. 428). In the almost life-size present work, this notion comes to fruition in the juxtaposition of the smooth skin of Fernande’s face emerging from the roughly hewn bronze of her hair, and in the carefully modeled nose and lips which stand in contrast to the vast expanse of her cheeks and forehead. Picasso emphasizes the sheer mass of the work as well as the unusual and almost ethereal beauty of Fernande deftly immortalized in bronze.
Picasso’s Gósol figures foreshadow the stylistic shift that occurred the following year in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Robert Rosenblum explains how Picasso’s production during his time in Gósol would redirect the course of his artistic development: “The serene and earthy equilibrium, often described as classical, that marked much, though not all, of this summer productivity might appear to be the last gasp of traditional order before the detonation of 1907. But far from being buried forever in the rubble, the wide and experimental range of paintings, drawings, and sculpture from the Gósol months launches a wealth of fresh ideas that would be amplified in the new era inaugurated by the Demoiselles and would have many afterlives in Picasso’s post-Cubist career" (Robert Rosenblum, Picasso The Early Years, 1892-1906, Washington D.C., 1997, p. 263).
Conceived in 1906, the present work was cast in an edition of nine in 1906. Four of these casts now belong to museum collections: the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Kunsthaus in Zurich, the Musée Picasso in Paris and the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College in Ohio.
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