- Pablo Picasso
- Tête de femme au chignon
- dated Mardi 8 Fevrier 72. on the reverse
- mixed media on canvas
Bernard Picasso, Paris (by descent from the above)
Pace Gallery, New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above on November 23, 1988
New York, The Pace Gallery, Pablo Picasso, The Avignon Paintings, January - March 1981, n.n., illustrated in the catalogue p. 32
Mildred Glimcher, ed., Adventures in Art, 40 Years at Pace, Milan, 2001, p. 223, illustrated in color
Tête de femme au chignon is one of Picasso’s last painted portraits of his beloved wife and muse Jacqueline Roque, created in the penultimate year of his life. Jacqueline was Picasso’s devoted second wife who remained with him until the time of his death in 1973, and his renderings of Jacqueline constitute the largest group of images of any of the women in his life. The artist first met Jacqueline in 1952 at the pottery studio in Vallauris, while he was still living with Françoise Gilot. By 1954 Gilot had left the scene, and the unmistakable raven-haired beauty began to appear in Picasso's paintings. Unlike Gilot, Jacqueline was accepting of the notoriously temperamental artist and his blind obsession with his art. Her unflappable support won the artist's heart, and Picasso married her in 1961. The photographer David Douglas Duncan, who knew Picasso and Jacqueline well during these years, observed that the couple “lived in a world of his own creation, where he reigned almost as a king yet cherished only two treasures - freedom and the love of Jacqueline.” (D. D. Duncan, Picasso and Jacqueline, New York, 1988, p. 9)
Although Jacqueline never posed for Picasso, with her large eyes, strong nose and the characteristic chignon, the woman depicted in the present work bears the features with which the artist usually portrayed his last muse. As in the present work, Picasso often depicted Jacqueline in “double-profile,” a stylistic device invented in his portraits of Dora Maar, but the roots of which go back to his cubist experiments with multiple view-points. While borrowing elements from his own artistic past, Picasso here created an image with a force and freedom he only achieved in the last decade of his career. At the same time, the expression of anxiety on the sitter’s face suggests that the work can also be seen as a self-portrait, reflecting the vulnerability and a sense of mortality towards the end of his life.
John Richardson wrote about Picasso’s depictions of Jacqueline: “The brilliant series of portraits that record Jacqueline’s triumphant rise as Picasso’s maîtresse-en-titre reveal not only the splendors but also the miseries of her new role. Picasso and Jacqueline were more or less the same height (5 feet 4 inches), and they could easily be mistaken for father and daughter in that they both had strikingly larger features, notably very large eyes... In his portraits of Jacqueline, Picasso often gave her his eyes – enormously magnified, but nonetheless submissive; infinitely loving, but sometimes sick or scared.” (J. Richardson in Picasso, The Mediterranean Years, 1945-1962 (exhibition catalogue), Gagosian Gallery, London, 2010, pp. 29 & 33) The emotional complexities of this stage of the artist’s life are poignantly rendered in this portrait.
Tête de femme au chignon was included in the now-legendary exhibition of Picasso’s last great works, organized by Jacqueline at the Palais des Papes in Avignon shortly after the artist’s death in 1973. Painted with an extraordinary sense of energy and urgency, the present work bears witness to the creative force that characterized Picasso's late years. Having gone through many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, by this time Picasso’s painting displayed a confidence and freedom of execution that enabled him to paint large-scale works executed in bold, sweeping brushstrokes.