Lot 4
  • 4

Pablo Picasso

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Tête de femme
  • signed Picasso (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 22 by 14cm.
  • 8 5/8 by 5 1/2 in.


Valentine Gallery, New York

Richard Feigen Gallery, New York & Chicago

Private Collection, New York

Galerie 27, Paris

Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1997


Robin Langley Sommer, Picasso, New York, 1988, illustrated in colour p. 109

Jesse McDonald, Pablo Picasso, New York, 1993, p. 74

Catalogue Note

Combining vivid, primary colours with a striking angularity, Tête de femme epitomises Picasso’s Surrealist painting of the late 1920s. Much of his work of this period is centred on the two women in his life; in 1929 Picasso was still married to Olga but he had met Marie-Thérèse two years previously and, although their relationship remained secret, they had managed to spend much of the summer of 1928 together at Dinard. This complex ménage – with its many undercurrents of emotion – surfaces repeatedly in the painting of this period; Picasso alternates between sensual portraits inspired by his young lover and works that express his growing frustration at being apart from her and the corresponding deterioration of his relationship with Olga. In a number of works from 1928 and early 1929 Picasso imagines a monstrous double-faced figure, often superimposed over his own silhouette and presenting an undeniably threatening countenance. In the present work he adopts the same device, seemingly adapting it to refer more explicitly to his personal circumstances; the left-hand profile has the sharp-toothed angularity that is associated with Olga, whilst the right-hand profile’s softer palette and lines might allude to Marie-Thérèse. The two halves certainly combine to create a compelling dynamic that captures something of the tension that Picasso must have felt as he balanced these opposing forces.

However, whilst there is a tendency to read the work of this period through a purely biographical lens, Michael C. Fitzgerald argues convincingly for a more nuanced reading that takes into account Picasso’s engagement with Surrealism: ‘Although Picasso’s increasingly troubled relationship with Olga probably provided raw material for these images, their conception and sequence suggest that imaginative transformation quickly overran representation. Rather similar to Picasso’s procedure in the earlier Neo-classical pictures, his process of transformation subordinated direct experience to broader thematic concerns. The silhouettes may symbolize his emotional distance from Olga, but they also affirm a classical order that is threatened with destruction. The predatory females are obviously fantastic constructions; they derive at least as much from the Surrealists’ often demonic conception of women as from any personal circumstances. As if darkly mirroring the consonance of Picasso’s Neoclassicism with the early years of his marriage to Olga, his immersion in Surrealism corresponded to the dissonance of their subsequent relationship’ (M. C. Fitzgerald in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation (exhibition catalogue), The Museum of Modern Art, New York & Grand Palais, Paris, 1996-97, p. 324).