The period surrounding 1930 has long been recognized as one of the many high points in Picasso's career. Stark jagged forms clustered his canvases as the serene neo-classical figures previously favored, faded. Picasso was approaching the age of fifty and a darker tonality began to filter into both his private life and art. His relationship with his wife Olga was floating on troubled waters and Picasso found new companionship in the form of Marie-Thérèse Walter, a girl still in her teens.
Figure, from 1929, could be viewed as testimony to Picasso's emotional turmoil regarding the end of one relationship and the beginning of another. The long sweeping lines give the impression of hair and, as a result, evoke Marie-Thérèse--the apparent, yet frequently disguised, subject of many works at this time. Outside the home, the currents of Surrealism--closeup the prevailing avant-garde movement of the day--were rippling into the work of many artists, not least Picasso, who had long maintained distance from officially joining any group. Yet the Surrealist desires to dive into the unconscious and find new forms of expression were compellingly relevant to Picasso's own aims. On this subject Michael FitzGerald has written: "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" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 324).
In 1943 Picasso himself told his friend André Warnod, "I am always trying to observe nature. Likeness is important to me, a deeper likeness, more real than reality, to the point of being surreal. This is how I imagined Surrealism, but the word was used in an entirely different way" (quoted in B. Léal, et al., The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 249). Inspired by his love for his mistress, Picasso would reach an extraordinary fever of creativity in the following few years for which Marie-Thérèse would be his focus and muse.