Private Collection (acquired from the above in the 1980s)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2001
The 1930s were of pivotal importance for Picasso. The decade began with the wonderfully sensual portraits of Marie-Thérèse that document his new love for her and his great retrospective at the Galeries Georges Petit. However, by the second half of the decade the mood had changed. The worsening political situation in Picasso’s native Spain and in the whole of Europe was combined with momentous disruptions in the artist’s personal life. As Neil Cox observed: ‘For Picasso the question of “modernity” was acute in the 1930s and 1940s, since modernity in this period meant a personal life, a nation, a Europe and indeed a world in crisis. This period in Picasso’s art is marked by a succession of shattering events in his personal life that no doubt appeared to him mirrored by the disasters in the world at large […]. Personal events include the death of his mother in 1939; the slow breakdown of his marriage to Olga Khokhlova (they eventually separated in 1935); his ongoing secret affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter (from 1927) leading to the birth of his daughter Maya, in 1935; and new relationships with the artist and photographer Dora Maar’ (N. Cox in Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 88).
Picasso’s response to this turmoil was to work, painting both the great masterpiece of his career, Guernica, and a series of female portraits that are among his most complex and adventurous. The artist often referred to his work as acting as a diary of sorts, but that is particularly true of the works from this decade and Tête de femme au chapeau orange shows the same instinctive need to channel emotion and experience through art. By 1939 the situation for Picasso had intensified and he found himself occupying a difficult middle-ground. Marie-Thérèse – the ‘golden muse’ of the early 1930s - continued to be of central importance to Picasso, but in 1936 he met Dora Maar. Maar represented a change; as an educated, established artist in her own right, she provided an irresistible contrast to Marie-Thérèse and increasingly she must have had the additional attraction that her political engagement paralleled Picasso’s own concerns and involvement with wider political causes. Yet Marie-Thérèse was the mother of Picasso’s child and the artist continued to see and paint her regularly. Relations between these two women in his life were understandably fraught and to Picasso this turmoil must have appeared mirrored by world events. As Josep Palau i Fabre observes: ‘the two things were closely linked at this time. The artist sought to camouflage one problem with the other, but both subsisted. Added to his double private life was the problem of the Spanish Civil War, which was itself bound up with international politics’ (J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso 1927-1939. From the Minotaur to Guernica, Barcelona, 2011, p. 409).
Picasso’s conflicted emotions are reflected in his work. Whilst he continued to depict both women individually, increasingly his female portraits conflate Marie-Thérèse and Maar, representing both women simultaneously. In Tête de femme au chapeau orange there are elements that are unmistakeably Marie-Thérèse – the distinctive yellow hair, the voluptuous curve of her breasts – but in the angularity of the features and the jaunty red and orange hat there is also an unmistakeable allusion to Maar. Conceived on a scale that emphasises both the intimacy and the intensity of his feelings for the two women, this work also employs another device that Picasso introduced at this time. Ever the stylistic innovator, Picasso evidently sought a formal means through which to express his divided loyalties, as Palau i Fabre suggests: ‘The artist conceived and executed a female face divided in an even more anguished fashion, with the two halves pulling away in opposite directions’ (ibid., p. 421). There is a compelling central tension in Tête de femme au chapeau orange that is caused by the sense that the central figure is in fact two figures and that these two figures are working against one another. In this way the composition – as with much of Picasso’s best work from this period – transcends its immediate subject and becomes a meditation on the wider context of its production.
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