- Pablo Picasso
- Tête de femme
- Signed Picasso (lower left)
- Gouache and watercolor on paper laid down on board
Pierre Loeb, Paris and New York
Acquired from the above and thence by descent
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1937 à 1939, vol. 9, Paris, 1958, no. 384, illustrated pl. 182 (catalogued as gouache)
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Spanish Civil War, 1937-1939, San Francisco, 1997, no. 39-065(b), illustrated p. 234
Tête de femme belongs to Picasso’s celebrated series of paintings portraying his mistress and artistic companion, Dora Maar (1907-1997; see fig. 1). Picasso's love affair with Maar was a partnership of intellectual exchange as well as of intense passion, and Maar’s influence on the artist resulted in some of the most daring and most renowned portraits of his career. Among the best of them are the oils completed during the war years, when Picasso's art resonated with the drama and emotional upheaval of the era. Rather than displaying the explicit drama of Picasso’s Weeping Women, executed a few years earlier, in the midst of the Spanish Civil War, the present portrait is a calmer, yet psychologically intense and penetrating image, conveying Maar’s physical beauty and radiant personality, as well as a sense of anxiety and uncertainty of the times. Her beautiful features that Picasso greatly admired – her flowing dark hair, large eyes and strong nose – are distorted in a way that powerfully embodies all of the complex and conflicting emotions of life on the brink of Second World War.
Picasso met Maar, the Surrealist photographer, in early 1936, and was immediately enchanted by the young woman’s intellect and beauty and by her commanding presence. Although still involved with Marie-Thérèse Walter and still married to Olga at the time, Picasso became intimately involved with Maar by the end of the year, having spent the summer with her and a group of fellow Surrealists. Unlike the docile and domestic Marie-Thérèse, Maar was an artist, spoke Picasso’s native Spanish, and shared his intellectual and political concerns. She even assisted with the execution of the monumental Guernica and produced the only photo-documentary of the work in progress. As one of the most influential figures in Picasso’s life during this time, she also became his primary model between 1936 and 1944. What first caught Picasso's attention was Maar's transfixing beauty, which James Lord described upon meeting Maar in 1944: “Her gaze possessed remarkable radiance but could also be very hard. I observed that she was beautiful, with a strong, straight nose, perfect scarlet lips, the chin firm, the jaw a trifle heavy and the more forceful for being so, rich chestnut hair drawn smoothly back, and eyelashes like the furred antennae of moths” (James Lord, Picasso and Dora, New York, 1993, p. 31).
Fig. 1, Dora Maar, Mougins, 1937. Photograph by Lee Miller