The relationship and synergy between the artist and model was one of profound complexity, "the more Picasso painted this theme, the more he pushed the artist-model relationship towards its ultimate conclusion: the artist embraces his model, cancelling out the barrier of the canvas and transforming the artist-model relationship into a man-woman relationship. Painting is an act of love, according to Gert Schiff, and John Richardson speaks of 'sex as metaphor for art, and art as a metaphor for sex'" (M.L. Bernadac, "Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model" in Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 77).
Picasso often associated specific hats with particular models—Marie Thérèse sported a delicate beret while Dora Maar ported much more highly structured head gear, a reflection, one might infer, of their vastly different personalities. During the last days of May in 1965, Picasso depicted his seated female model in a rather jaunty hat, sitting squarely in the center of her head and curling out at each side. He completed two oils on May 31, the present work and Femme au grand chapeau. Buste (see fig. 2). Just six days earlier, a self-referential male in half-length, Homme au chapeau, is also bedecked in the same hat. This type of large topper would increasingly be incorporated in Picasso's musketeer-avatars in his final years, the forms becoming ever-larger and more flamboyant, even including showy feathers in specific instances (see fig. 3).
In his discussion of Picasso's late works, David Sylvester links the painter and model imagery to his early masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, both distinguished by the "raw vitality" which they have as their central underlying theme: "The resemblance of figures in the Demoiselles and in late Picasso to masked tribal dancers is as crucial as their scale in giving them a threatening force. It is irrelevant whether or not particular faces or bodies are based on particular tribal models: what matters is the air these personages have of coming from a world more primitive, possibly more cannibalistic and certainly more elemental than ours. Despite the rich assortment of allusions to paintings in the Renaissance tradition, the treatment of space rejects that tradition in favour of an earlier one, the flat unperspectival space of, say, medieval Catalan frescoes [see fig. 4]... At twenty five, Picasso's raw vitality was already being enriched by the beginnings of an encyclopedic awareness of art; at ninety, his encyclopedic awareness of art was still being enlivened by a raw vitality" (D. Sylvester, Late Picasso, Paintings, Sculpture, Drawings, 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 144).
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