Lot 10
  • 10

Pablo Picasso

16,000,000 - 20,000,000 GBP
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Tête de femme
  • signed Picasso (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 65 by 54cm.
  • 25 5/8 by 21 1/4 in.


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

Saidenberg Gallery, New York (acquired by 1963)

Mr & Mrs A. A. Juviler, New York & Palm Beach (acquired from the above in June 1965)

Walter P. Chrysler Jr., New York

Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York (acquired by 1980)

Private Collection, New York

Jan Krugier Gallery, New York

Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above. Sold: Sotheby's, New York, 6th November 2013, lot 22)

Purchased at the above sale by the present owner


Tokyo, Musée de la Ville de Tokyo; Nagoya, Musée Prefectoral d'Aichi; Fukuoka, Centre Culture de Fukuoka & Kyoto, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Exposition Picasso, 1977-78

New York, Acquavella Galleries, Inc., XIX & XX Century Master Paintings, 1980, no. 17, illustrated in colour on the cover of the catalogue

Palm Beach, The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum, A Group of Important Impressionist Paintings, 1981


Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, œuvres de 1932 à 1937, Paris, 1955, vol. 8, no. 269, illustrated pl. 125

M. Jardot, S. Hosoda & D. Rawson, Pablo Picasso: The Fantastic Period: 1931-1945, Tokyo, 1981

The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Surrealism, 1930-1936, San Francisco, 1997, no. 35-022, illustrated p. 255

Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 700, illustrated p. 214

Catalogue Note

Instantly recognisable as a portrait of Picasso’s celebrated muse Marie-Thérèse Walter, this serene, elegant and radiant composition belongs to the extraordinary group of canvases depicting the artist’s beloved mistress who marked his art of the early 1930s. The present painting is one of the most geometrically complex renderings of Marie-Thérèse, depicted as a bust on a pedestal and reminiscent of the large plaster sculptures of her that he created several years earlier (fig. 1). Picasso completed this canvas at the height of the Surrealist movement in 1935, when Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But Picasso's composition here, with the deconstructed appearance of the pedestal and the bust, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist's individualism. 


Tête de femme is constructed with the sharp, linear elements that were defining features of Picasso's early Cubist compositions, yet the colours are unlike any that Picasso had 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 (fig. 3), as well as his still-lifes from the 1920s. Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso's creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso's production. What distinguishes this work is the way in which Picasso was able to incorporate elements from various different parts of his own career – most notably the voluminous treatment characteristic of his plastic work, the grid-like background reminiscent of his ground-breaking collages, and the geometric distortions of the figure’s body and facial features borrowed from the Cubist canon.

With their rich colouration and their soft yet pronounced curves, Picasso's Marie-Thérèse pictures are renowned as being amongst his most inspired compositions, ranging in mood from dreamy to euphoric. In fact, of all the manifestations of Picasso's exceptionally prolific career, it is during the period dominated by Marie-Thérèse that his creative force was at its most powerful. Among the most significant of these paintings is Tête de femme, created when Marie-Thérèse was firmly at the centre of Picasso's emotional and artistic universe. The work’s unusually vibrant palette is similar to the one he used for his allegorical depictions of Marie-Thérèse reading or drawing, such as Deux femmes (fig. 4), executed several weeks earlier. By the time he painted the present composition, Picasso’s focus on new aesthetic and personal concerns were apparent. In March 1935 Marie-Thérèse was in the early stages of pregnancy with their daughter Maya, who would be born in September, and the composition bears specific references to the young woman’s 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. The simple yet 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. 

‘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 almost decade long seduction of Marie-Thérèse, the young woman who would forever be remembered as the artist’s golden muse. 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 tranquillity and physical acquiescence (fig. 5). In the present composition, however, his model is not engaged in any such activity. Instead, her elegant bust, seemingly looking into the distance, is depicted in its purest form – as a work of art to be revered by its creator and spectator alike.

Françoise Gilot, Picasso's companion from a later period of his life, recognised the tantalisingly 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’ (F. Gilot, quoted in L’Amour fou, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2011, pp. 71-72).

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. 

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 dramatically reduced his work on painting for nearly a year and instead devoted himself to poetry. Tête de femme, a rare oil created during this tumultuous time, is a testament to Marie-Thérèse’s transcendent importance as a source of inspiration and solace for the artist. Indeed, Marie-Thérèse would soon take on another role in the artist's life, giving birth to his first daughter Maya in September 1935. But it is in this image from earlier that year that her inspirational force and its impact on Picasso's art were at their most dramatic.