• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 1900

    Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale

    6 November 2007, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 43

    Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

    Tête de femme (Dora Maar)

    Price Realised  

    Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
    Tête de femme (Dora Maar)
    signed 'Picasso' (lower left); dated '25 mai 41' (on the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    16 1/8 x 13 1/8 in. (41 x 33.5 cms)
    Painted 25 May 1941


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    The raven-haired and dark-eyed woman in this haunting and powerful portrait is immediately recognizable as Dora Maar (fig. 1), Picasso's lover since 1936. In the fall of the previous year, at the Café Deux Magots, she made her famously unforgettable debut impression on Picasso by quickly poking a knife into the table between the spread fingers of her hand, nicking the flesh and drawing blood. The deepening intimacy of their liaison coincided with the Fascist uprising and ensuing Civil War in Spain; in fact, the entire history of their relationship, which lasted until 1944, was tragically and inescapably set against the backdrop of violence and war. Picasso's earliest portraits of Dora, while he was becoming familiar with her features, were naturalistic and flattering--Picasso's women always looked their best in his paintings within a grace period that extended only a short time after they entered his life. Some paintings reflected tender moments of happiness and repose, as when in the summer of 1937, following the completion of Guernica, Dora and Picasso vacationed with friends in the seaside town of Mougins (fig. 2).

    Brigitte Léal has described Dora as having the "face of an Oriental idol, with its marked iconic character, impenetrable, hard, and unsmiling, and whose haughty beauty is enhanced by makeup and sophisticated finery" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 387). Her mysteriously intense but inscrutably impassive visage seemed to reflect the ominous and troubled mood in Europe during the increasingly violent years that preceded the Second World War. Picasso likewise began to subject Dora's visage in his paintings to unsparing brutality; like some mad surgeon he would take her features under his knife and in the course of his experiments contrive some shocking new pictorial identity for her. Shortly after they arrived back in Paris from their Mougins holiday, he cast her most memorably as the distraught 'Weeping Woman' who lamented the slaughter of innocents in the Spanish Civil War (fig. 3). John Richardson has pointed out that "After World War II broke out, Picasso came to portray Dora more and more frequently as a sacrificial victim, a tearful symbol of his own pain and grief at the horrors of tyranny and war" (in "Pablo Picasso's Femme au chapeau de paille," Christie's, New York, sale catalogue, 4 May 2004, p. 113).

    The war, not yet two years old, had gone badly for the Allies, and there was no good news to be had anywhere for the peoples of Nazi-occupied Europe. In early April 1941 German armies invaded Yugoslavia, the country where Dora was born, and after fighting that lasted only twelve days, the government in Belgrade capitulated. Greece soon followed. A German army commanded by Field Marshall Rommel had entered North Africa and was already besieging the large British garrison defending Tobruk. After less than a year of Occupation, the citizens of Paris had a troubling idea of what they were in for; there were restrictions and shortages of all kinds. In April 1941 German officials had instituted a law that limited certain economic activities by Jews, and forbid them to possess telephones. In May French police arrested more than 3,000 foreign-born Jews living around Paris; within a year internment camps in the occupied zone held more than 30,000 Jews. Rumors were a constant source of concern. Matisse, then in Nice, received a letter dated 13 May from his son Pierre in New York, in which the latter mentioned having seen a newspaper article that reported Picasso in a concentration camp, awaiting extradition by Franco back to fascist Spain. Picasso was worried about Dora; there was a rumor circulating that she was part-Jewish, and might eventually be picked up by the police.

    It was perhaps for these reasons that Picasso painted during the early months of 1941. Or perhaps he was still preoccupied with the implications and meanings of a farcical play he written on 14-17 January, Le Désir attrapé par la queue (Desire Caught by the Tail). Characters he called Big Foot (the artist's alter-ego), Onion, Tart, Fat and Thin Anguish obsess with the lack of heat, the shortage of food, and the desire to find love. Kathleen Brunner has written, "What is really at issue here is the disruption, in a fallen, material world, of desire, the force of eros, that which brings the sexes together... Picasso stages a confrontation between classical art and the 'philosophy of existence' that precedes a dramatic 'fall' from the idealistic Big Foot's studio to the sewer that is Anxiety Villa. The absurdity is predicated on a world in which form and the classical view of art have collapsed. For Picasso the fall leads, not to collapse, but to a new focus on man" (in Picasso Rewriting Picasso, London, 2004, p. 98).

    It was not until 10 May that Picasso painted a major composition, in fact one of the finest of his wartime still-lifes, Nature morte à la saucisse (Zervos, vol. 11, no. 112; fig 4), which seems to recall the concerns of his recent play. A series of drawings then followed, depicting the reclining nude he eventually incorporated into the painting L'Aubade, which he completed nearly a year later, on 4 May 1942 (Z., vol. 12, no. 169; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). Then on 25 May 1941 he painted the present portrait of Dora, which inaugurated his first extended treatment on any subject since mid-1940.

    After the thinly brushed surfaces and the grisaille tonality of the 10 May still-life, Picasso appears to have been eager to work in a more painterly manner, and in this head of Dora he used a loaded brush to produce a thickly impastoed, Van Gogh-like surface. The chief effect that he aimed to create here is that of a figure silhouetted against a light background, as if she were standing before a window with daylight--or the light of a strong lamp--radiating from behind. To achieve this contrast, Picasso rendered most of the tones in Dora's hair, hat and dress with cobalt blue, green and black, set off against a stark white background, which Picasso has darkened at the sides with strokes of grayish yellow. The tones he chose for Dora's face are aptly warmer, and he has highlighted her features in strokes of brilliant yellow. Streaks of red emanate from her lower eyelids, as if her mascara were running, or if she were crying streaming tears of blood.

    Here Dora has again become the mirror Picasso uses to reflect on the events of the day, as he continued to alter and reshape her visage to express his anxious feelings. He made her nose even more prominent than before, with huge flaring nostrils; commentators have likened this elephantine proboscis to the long snout of Picasso's Afghan hound Kazbek, or those of the sheep's skulls seen in the still-life paintings done in the fall of 1939. Picasso has painted the upper part of Dora's head as a frontal view, while at the same time he had twisted the lower part of her face, with the mouth and jaw, to the left side, creating a composite image of frontal and three-quarter views. She actually possesses two right eyes, one of which was turned to the left as the artist rotated the lower part of her face.

    Dora's hat by now had become a regular feature in Picasso's depictions of her, functioning as a symbolic extension of her inner angst. Brigitte Léal has called the hat Dora's "most provocative emblem... In its preciousness and fetishistic vocation, the feminine hat was, like the glove, an erotic accessory highly prized by the Surrealists. Thus Paul Eluard [declared] 'A head must dare to wear a crown.' A crown of daffodils, an urchin's beret, or a cool straw hat for Marie-Thérèse, painted like a Manet; nets, veils and the great wings of a voracious insect for Dora: even their respective ornaments point to the glaring differences in the temperament between the two women" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, pp. 387, 389 and 392). Dora's hats acquired an especially belligerent aspect during the early months of the war: they sometimes resemble the silhouettes of warships seen on the horizon, or as seen here, a warplane's propeller, or the tail fins of a plunging high-explosive bomb.

    On the same day that Picasso painted the present head of Dora, he made a second portrait of her, in the more thinly brushed and more grisaille the manner of the 10 May still-life, this time without a hat (fig. 5). He twisted the upper and lower parts of her head so far around that they face in nearly opposite directions. Coming on the heels of the fallow period early in the year, the production of two such fine paintings in one day appears to have signaled Picasso's renewed interest in working on canvas. Eleven more portraits of Dora followed by 19 June, and about the same number by mid-summer. Most of these display the twisted face seen in the present painting, while Picasso painted some in a more naturalistic vein. In many Dora wears a hat, configured as seen here, elsewhere she is bareheaded. The culminating picture is this group is undated, but was probably done later that summer, Femme dans un fauteuil (Dora) (Z., vol. 11, p. 374; fig. 6). Mme Léal has written:

    "Their terribilità no doubt explains why the innumerable, very different portraits that Picasso did of her remain among the finest achievements of his art, at a time when he was engaged in a sort of third path, verging on Surrealist representation while rejecting strict representation, and, naturally, abstraction. Today, more than ever, the fascination that the image of this admirable, but suffering and alienated face exerts on us incontestably ensues from its coinciding with our modern consciousness of the body in its threefold dimension of precariousness, ambiguity and monstrosity. There is no doubt in signing these portraits, Picasso tolled the final bell for the reign of ideal beauty and opened the way for the aesthetic tyranny of a sort of terrible and tragic beauty, the fruit of our contemporary history" (in ibid., p. 385).


    (fig. 1) Dora Maar, circa 1941, photograph by Rogi André. Cabinet des Estampes et de la Photographie, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris. BARCODE 26007236

    (fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Dora Maar), 1937. Sold, Christie's, New York, 2 May 2006, lot 33. BARCODE 26007205

    (fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, La femme qui pleure, 26 October 1937. Tate Gallery, London. BARCODE 26007212

    (fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Nature morte à la saucisse, 10 May 1941. Private Collection. BARCODE 26007410

    (fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme, 25 May 1941. Národní Galerie, Prague. BARCODE 26007403

    (fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Femme dans une fauteuil, 1941. Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, Kunstmuseum, Basel. BARCODE 26007229

    Special Notice

    On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.


    Provenance

    Samuel Kootz, New York (acquired from the artist).
    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (1947).
    Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston, Michigan (acquired from the above, 12 November 1953).
    Lydia Winston Malbin, New York (by descent from the above).
    By descent from the above to the present owners.


    Pre-Lot Text

    Property from the Family and Collection of Lydia Winston Malbin

    Lydia Winston Malbin began collecting during the 1940s while living outside Detroit, Michigan with her first husband, Harry Winston, and their children. Mrs. Winston Malbin was at the vanguard as a collector based on her educated eye and as a woman who was largely collecting on her own terms. That she ultimately formed one of the world's foremost 20th century private collections was the result of her formidable energy, passion for the arts, and relentless pursuit of what appealed to her personally regardless of the norms of the day. In her own right, she was an accomplished ceramicist with a M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Arts in 1944.
    At the heart of the Winston Malbin collection was Italian Futurism, which she came to through personal friendships with artists such as Severini, and the families of Boccioni and Balla. Until then the movement which was founded in 1909 had been largely overlooked by collectors. Its glorification of speed and expression of dynamic motion in space strongly engaged the interest of Lydia Winston Malbin. Her relationship with Severini led to a friendship with Bendetta Marinetti, the wife of the founder of Futurism, which in turn led to a lifelong friendship with the daughter of Balla and Boccioni's sister. Through these relationships she was able to acquire major Futurist paintings, sculptures, drawings and original documents.
    The wider collection was built carefully and focused on the dialogue that was created between the various movements and styles - how they overlapped and informed each other. Her collection contained not only the great Futurist artists but additionally 20th century modern masters such as Picasso, Miró, Arp, Calder, Léger, Kandinsky, Mondrian and Pollock. Adding further dimension, she later included works from contemporary artists such as Frank Stella, Morris Lewis and Kenneth Noland. Her Pollock was acquired directly from Peggy Guggenheim's Art of this Century and was the first Pollock to enter a private collection. Her Brancusi was bought directly from the reclusive artist while visiting him in his studio in Paris.

    Throughout her life Lydia Winston Malbin counted many as her friends and mentors in the art world. She established relationships with many of the great dealers of the 40's and 50's, including Alfred Stieglitz Her close friendships included artists, collectors, and museum directors including Peggy Guggenheim, Alfred H Barr, Jr., James Johnson Sweeney, Clement Greenberg and Wilhelm Sandberg. According to her family, perhaps her greatest joy was to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with the innumerable groups of students who visited her home using her collection and documentation as a study tool.

    She also shared her passion by frequently lending her works for exhibitions. Among others, her collection was exhibited in its entirely in Futurism, A Modern Focus: Solomon Guggenheim Museum, 1973. She was a major lender to inaugural exhibition of the opening of the East Wing of the National Gallery in 1978 and to Boccioni: A Retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1988, one year before her death in 1989.

    Lydia Winston Malbin's philosophy of collecting is best reflected in her comments from an essay in the catalogue of Collecting Modern Art, Detroit Insitute of Arts, 1957

    In selecting works of art, we have proceeded on the basis of consistency. Sometimes we have displayed a spirit of daring or boldness. We have never feared criticism but respected it. On every occasion we have been honest in our preferences and this makes for coherence and unity. We select, first and foremost, that which definitely arrests us, - that contains elements and qualities which we believe will gain in interest as time goes on, - even though they do not immediately meet the eye. Quality counts above all else. The charming, the pretty, the decorative, the too appealing and popular, we do not trust. A work of lasting interest must go far beyond this.

    Christie's is honored to offer this work from The Collection and Family of Lydia Winston Malbin.

    (fig. 1) Lydia Winston Malbin. BARCODE 25010251
    (fig. 2) Mr. and Mrs. Harry L. Winston boarding Queen Elizabeth in 1951 with Gino Severini's Sea=Dancer. BARCODE 25010268
    (fig. 3) Malbin living room, 1969. BARCODE 26007137


    Literature

    H. and S. Janis, Picasso--The Recent Years, New York, 1946, pl. 73 (illustrated).
    C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1960, vol. 11, p. 58 (illustrated, pl. 144).
    D. Cooper, ed., Great Private Collections, New York, 1963, p. 292 (illustrated in color, p. 293).
    B. Mancewicz, "Birmingham Woman Has Outstanding Collection of Futurists," in The Grand Rapids Press, 13 May 1973 (illustrated).
    M.-L. Bernadac, Picasso vu par Brassaï, exh. cat., Musée Picasso, Paris, June-September 1987, p. 90 (illustrated).
    The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Nazi Occupation 1940-1944, San Francisco, 1999, p. 23, no. 41-057 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, 20th Century Painting and Sculpture from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston, October-November 1955, p. 15, no. 56.
    The Detroit Institute of Arts; Richmond, Virginia Museum of Art; San Francisco Museum of Art; Milwaukee Art Institute and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Collecting Modern Art--Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lewis Winston, September 1957-August 1958, p. 70, no. 86 (illustrated, p. 69).
    The Detroit Institute of Arts, The Varied Works of Picasso, May-June 1962.
    Forth Worth Art Center Museum and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Picasso Retrospective Exhibitions, February-March 1967, p. 96, no. 64.
    The Detroit Institute of Arts, Selections from the Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston Collection (Dr. and Mrs. Barnett Malbin), July 1972-April 1973.
    New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Futurism, A Modern Focus: The Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston Collection, Autumn 1973, p. 163, no. 84 (illustrated in color).
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art (on extended loan 1990-2007).
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Surrealism and its Affinities, October 1990-January 1991.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, European Modernism: Selections from the Permanent Collection, October 1992-February 1993. Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Picasso 1881-1973: Selections from the Collection, July-December 1993.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Modernism: European & American Art 1900-1950 from the Permanent Collection, January 1994-July 1995.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Painting Changes: Prendergast and his Contemporaries 1850-1950, August-May 1997.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Convulsive Beauty: The Image of Women in Surrealism, September-December 1995, no. 17.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Lessons for Looking at Women: Selections from the Permanent Collection, October 1996-February 1997.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Inventing the 20th Century: Selections from the Permanent Collection, June 1997-June 2000.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, The Edges of Impressionism, February 1998-June 2000.
    Williamstown, Williams College Museum of Art, Celebrating 75 Years: Masterpieces from the Collection, February 2001-August 2007.