- Pablo Picasso
- Tête de femme
- Signed Picasso (lower left)
- Oil on canvas
- 25 5/8 by 21 3/8 in.
- 65 by 54 cm
Saidenberg Gallery, New York (by 1963)
Mr. & Mrs. A.A. Juviler, New York City & Palm Beach (acquired from above June 11, 1965)
Walter P. Chrysler Jr., New York
Acquavella Gallery, New York (by 1980)
Private Collection, New York
Jan Krugier Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above
Acquavella Galleries, Inc. New York, XIX & XX Century Master Paintings, 1980, no. 17, illustrated in color on the cover of the catalogue
Palm Beach, The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, A Group of Important Impressionist Paintings, 1981
Pablo Picasso: The Fantastic Period - 1931 - 1945, Tokyo, 1981
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, 1930-1936, Surrealism, San Francisco, 1997, no. 35-022, illustrated p. 255
Tête de femme is constructed with the sharp, geo-linear elements that were defining features of Picasso's early Cubist compositions, yet the colors are unlike any that Picasso has ever used before -- pulsating red, shrill orange and yellow, and soothing marine tones of green and blue. One of the more unexpected elements of the composition is the thickly-painted latticework, reminiscent of Picasso’s chair caning collages from the early century and still-lifes from the 1920s. In her correspondence with Sotheby's about this painting, Diana Widmaier Picasso observed that her grandfather clearly had other media on his mind while he was completing this composition. "What makes this painting so exceptional," she said, "is that it shows again the dialogue between painting and sculpture, as a culmination point following his great monumental works from Boisgeloup. Not only the vibrant colors and voluptuous shapes of Marie-Thérèse can be instantly recognized but one can see that Picasso uses his model to explore further his earlier cubist experimentations, playing with the contrast of geometric forms and plane surfaces. It also appears to be supposedly the last painting made before Marie-Thèrèse gave birth to my mother Maya. He will then concentrate on the great print La Minotauromachie, symbol of the tumult in his personal life, that starts in March 1935."
Distinguished by their rich coloration, harmonic curves and sweeping arabesques, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse pictures are renowned as Picasso's most euphoric, sexually-charged, and inspired compositions, and they rank among the most instantly recognizable works of 20th century art. In fact, of all the manifestations of Picasso's exceptionally prolific career, it is during his 'Marie-Thérèse period', when his creative force was at its most powerful. Among the most significant of these pictures is Tête de femme created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the center of Picasso's artistic universe. Picasso’s unusually vibrant palette in this composition is similar to the one he used for his allegorical depictions of Marie-Thérèse reading or drawing by candle light, Fille dessinant à l’intérieur, painted that February. By the time he painted the present composition, his focus on new aesthetic and personal concerns are apparent. Marie-Thérèse was just ending her first trimester of pregnancy when Picasso painted this picture on March 12, and the composition bears specific references to the young woman’s fertile state, from the swell of her breasts rising in the foreground to the crescent moon - symbol of the Roman fertility goddess Diana - that shadows her face which could be interpreted as the tell-tale “mask of pregnancy.” The bold outline of the breasts and the green latticework in the background also forecast the linear direction of Picasso’s work in the weeks to come. On March 23, he would begin work on his famous engraving Minotaure, with its elegiac presentation of a young Marie-Thérèse leading a Minotaure out of darkness with a lit candle. In the context of his personal life, one might conclude that the light in this elaborate etching represents Picasso’s unborn child, whereas in the present work Marie-Thérèse radiates with the promise and hope of future happiness.
“You have an interesting face. I would like to do a portrait of you. I feel we are going to do great things together.” It was with these words that Picasso began his near-decade long seduction of the Marie-Thérèse, the young woman who would forever be remembered as the artist’s golden muse. Marie-Thérèse's potent mix of physical attractiveness and sexual naïvete had an intoxicating effect on Picasso. His rapturous desire for the girl gave rise to a wealth of images that have been acclaimed as the most erotic and emotionally uplifting compositions of his long career. Picasso's 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. It must be remembered that Marie-Thérèse came into Picasso's life when the avant-garde was enthralled by Surrealism. 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.
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."
Picasso first saw Marie-Thérèse on the streets of Paris in 1927, when she was only seventeen years old and while he was entangled in an unhappy marriage to Olga Khokhlova. "I was an innocent girl," Walter remembered years later. "I knew nothing - either of life or of Picasso... I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together' "(quoted in Picasso and the Weeping Women (exhibition catalogue), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles & The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1994, p. 143). The couple's relationship was kept a well-guarded secret for many years, both on account of Picasso's marriage to Olga and Marie-Thérèse's considerably young age. But the covertness of the affair only intensified Picasso's obsession with the girl, and many of his pictures, with their dramatic contrasts of light and dark, allude to their secret interludes held under cover of darkness.
By the time the present work was painted in March 1935, 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).
Soon after learning of Marie-Thérèse’s pregnancy on Christmas Eve 1934, Picasso promised to file for a divorce from Olga, and his lawyers told him that he needed to separate from his lover during the proceedings. Picasso was devastated by this forced separation during this intimate moment in their relationship. In the spring of 1935, he ceased all work on painting for nearly a year and instead devoted himself to poetry. The present picture, which is the last major canvas completed before this hiatus, is a testament to Marie-Thérèse’s transcendent importance as a source of inspiration and solace for the artist in the midst of a bitter marriage to Olga. Indeed, Marie-Thérèse would soon take on another role in the artist's life, giving birth to his first daughter Maya in September 5, 1935. But it is in this image from earlier that year that her creative succor and its impact on Picasso's art is at its most dramatic.