Lot 7
  • 7

Pablo Picasso

6,000,000 - 8,000,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Pablo Picasso
  • TĂȘte de femme
  • Signed Picasso (lower right); and dated 8-21 (lower left)
  • Red and black chalk on paper
  • 25 1/4 by 19 3/8 in.
  • 64.1 by 49.2 cm


Mr. and Mrs. Justin K. Thannhauser, Paris & New York (acquired by 1939)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (acquired from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 18, 1983, lot 52)

Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, œuvres de 1920 à 1922, vol. IV, Paris, 1951, no. 354, illustrated pl. 142 (as measuring 79.5 by 68 cm)

The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, Neoclassicism I, 1920-1921, San Francisco, 1995, no. 21-278, illustrated p. 256 (as measuring 79.5 by 68 cm)

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Ballets to Drama, (1917-1926), Barcelona, 1999, no. 1119, illustrated p. 301 (as measuring 79.5 by 68 cm)


Please contact the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at (212) 606-7360 for the condition report for this lot.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Gorgeously rendered in sanguine and black chalk, Tête de femme was conceived at the height of Picasso's Neo-Classical phase (1917-1924).  This was the period when Picasso's style consciously evoked the elegance and grandeur of Greco-Roman art and of the French 19th-century Neo-Classical paintings by Ingres.  His emphasis during these years was on the strength of line and the monumentality of form, and his figures often resembled the classical sculpture that he encountered on trips to Italy and Fontainebleau during those years.  When he applied this particular style to more intimate renderings, the results were often stunning.  In this exquisite work on paper, he records the soft flesh of the figure's face and the shadows around her eyes and nose.  These subtle details are all captured here with the most skillful and precise draftsmanship, creating a work of art that is at once distinctly modern and eternally beautiful.  As Picasso once said about his own work, "To me there is no past or future in art.  If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all.  The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was" (quoted in Picasso: The Classical Period [exhibition catalogue], C&M Arts, New York, 2003, p. 21).  

Picasso's focus on the Classical age was a product of a movement, or 'call to order,' that dominated the avant-garde in France after World War I.  This movement promoted linear precision and clear draftsmanship in art akin to the artistic style of Western antiquity.  Its overarching socio-political goal was to cast France as the center of the new 'golden age' of civilization.  This post-war cultural preoccupation could not have come at a better time for Picasso, who had all but exhausted Cubism by this point and was looking for a new way to challenge himself.  Together with Jean Cocteau, Picasso traveled to Italy in 1921 to study the Latinate origins of art in Naples and Pompeii.   According to John Richardson, one of the objects that had the most profound effect on him was the head of the Farnese Juno, whose solid features appear in several of his head studies from the early 1920s.  Richardson explains, "Picasso occasionally gives her idealized classical features a look of Olga, or his American friend Sara Murphy, or his former fiancée Irène Lagut, or conceivably, one of the nannies Olga hired and fired....  References to the Farnese marbles would recur whenever Picasso's imagery took on a classical tinge" (J. Richardson, ibid., p. 13).  

Although Richardson tells us that the women in Picasso's pictures from this period were basically an amalgam of many influences in Picasso's life, one cannot help but relate Picasso's biography to his art when looking at Tête de femme.  One of the possible inspirations for the present work was, of course, the artist's wife Olga. Olga's sturdy bone structure – her long straight nose, the sweeping arch of her brow and the graceful oval shape of her face – were perfectly suited to the type of linearity and solidity that characterized Picasso's Neo-Classical undertaking and had provided the inspiration for several of Picasso's paintings in the early 1920s. 

The first owner of this work was Justin K. Thannhauser, a prominent German art dealer who is considered a pillar of the Modern Art movement in Europe. This work was also in the collection of the esteemed Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York prior to its deaccession and sale to A. Alfred Taubman in 1983.