Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Tête de femme

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Tête de femme
dated '16. Mai 52' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
18 x 15 in. (45.7 x 38.1 cm.)
Painted on 16 May 1952
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Galerie Claude Bernard, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 27 May 1980.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1965, vol. 15, no. 206 (illustrated, pl. 122).
W. Rubin, ed., Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 438 (illustrated in color).
B. Léal, C. Piot and M.-L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 390, no. 966 (illustrated in color).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Fifties I, 1950-1955, San Francisco, 2000, p. 84, no. 52-032 (illustrated; incorrectly dated 17 May 1952 and numbered Z. 207).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

She may not be immediately recognizable in this profile view as she stands facing the light streaming through a window, but the date of this Tête de femme indicates that the subject of this portrait is Françoise Gilot, Picasso's lover and companion from 1946 to 1953, and the mother of his children Claude and Paloma. There is a tell-tale signifier: the subject possesses a luxuriant mane of hair, pulled back and gathered behind her head, flowing in thick locks as they fall her shoulders. Françoise's glorious hair, framing a glowing moon-like face, is the familiar aspect of her famous early portraits (fig. 1). The prominence that Picasso gave to her hair was then a new development in his female portraits. Both Dora Maar and Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistresses during the previous two decades, normally wore their hair in abbreviated or various fastened styles. Picasso's first wife Olga kept her hair long, but would gather it up to fit beneath a hat when she appeared in public. Françoise is the first of Picasso's women to wear her hair in a casually loose and long manner more typical among young women of the postwar generation, a fact that the artist appears to have seized upon as an attractive change in current fashion. Brassaï recalled Picasso telling him "He wants hair, like cats, to be wild and free. If it were up to him, every woman in the world would wear her hair unkempt, falling on her neck, in her face and onto her breasts" (Conversations with Picasso, Chicago, 1999, p. 134). Picasso relished this look when painting his pictures of Françoise.

Hairstyles were but one outward sign of the changing times in which Picasso found himself after the end of the Second World War. Since his 1939 exhibition Picasso: Forty Years of his Art, curated by Alfred H. Barr, Jr., at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Picasso had been regarded in America as the greatest and best-known of living artists. After he took the controversial step of joining the French Communist Party following the Liberation of Paris in 1944, Picasso became more popular in the Soviet Union and Red China than any other western painter. Admirers clamored at his door: "Yes, it's an invasion!" Picasso remarked, "Paris was liberated, but me, I was, and I am, continually under siege. Visitors came every day in packs" (quoted in ibid., p. 205). Michael C. FitzGerald has written:

"With the end of World War II, Picasso was overwhelmed by an outpouring of admiration that swept away the cold, dark silence of the war years and raised him to a level of public acclaim never before experienced by a vanguard artist... Picasso became the first modern artist to step from the relative isolation of the avant-garde into the mainstream of society and assume a role of moral conscience in contemporary life... Picasso, already in his sixties, also fought to renew his art and cultivate his private life." ("A Triangle of Ambitions: Art, Politics, and Family during the Postwar Years with Françoise Gilot," exh. cat., op. cit., 1996, p. 409).

In May 1943, during the Occupation, while dining with friends at a small restaurant frequented by artists on the left bank called Le Catalan, Françoise Gilot spied Picasso with members of his circle--including Dora Maar--at a nearby table. Picasso recognized one of Françoise's companions, walked over and was introduced. When he learned that Françoise was an aspiring painter, he invited her to his studio, which was located nearby on the rue des Grands-Augustins. After a few days, Françoise made the first of several visits, during which she hoped Picasso would offer some useful comments about her work. Brassaï wrote about Françoise in December 1943, echoing the very qualities Picasso must have seen in her: "Very young--seventeen or eighteen years old--passionate about painting, eager for advice, impatient to prove her talent... I was struck by the vitality of this girl, by her tenacity to triumph over obstacles. Her entire personality radiated an impression of freshness and restless vitality" (Brassaï, op. cit., p. 136).

As the war ended, Françoise found herself in the position of having become the most likely candidate for Picasso's next love interest; his relationship with Dora Maar was drawing to a close, while Marie-Thérèse remained in touch with him as a devoted dependent and the mother of his daughter Maya. Picasso especially appreciated Françoise's intelligence and her knowledgeable interest in art; it was important for him to have a woman who was both beautiful and with whom he could talk about the things that mattered to him. John Richardson has pointed out that Françoise "was not just a gifted art student when she met Picasso, but already an accomplished artist with a fully developed style of her own" (Picasso and Françoise Gilot, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2012, p. 11).

Françoise resisted Picasso's initial entreaties to come live with him. He nonetheless persisted, and made a convincing case to her that his relationship with Dora was in fact over. In the spring of 1946 he persuaded her to stay with him in Golfe-Juan while she was convalescing from a broken elbow. Following their return to Paris in late April, she finally took the decisive step of moving in with him. "The more time went by, the more I realized I truly needed him. Sometimes it seemed to me...physically impossible to breathe without him" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 289).

Picasso and Françoise spent increasing periods of time on the Côte d'Azur, first in Golfe-Juan, and then in Vallauris, where the artist purchased a house known as La Galloise in her name. Their son Claude was born on 15 May 1947, and daughter Paloma followed nearly two years later on 19 April 1949 (fig. 2). Increasing strain, however, had begun to unsettle their parents' relationship by 1950. Picasso was of course deeply involved in his painting, and he devoted almost all of his spare time to the French Communist Party's pro-peace activities. Picasso was in Paris for a peace conference when Paloma was born. Françoise neither desired nor assumed any active role in this public aspect of his life. She remained at home, fully immersed in raising the children. After a hiatus of several years, Françoise had begun to take a renewed interest in furthering the cause of her own painting, especially after an exhibition of her drawings in 1951 at Galerie Louise Leiris--the gallery backed by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso's long-time friend and dealer--met with a favorable response. She detected Picasso's ambivalence in response to this development; he seemed more interested in expanding their family, and pressured Françoise to have a third child, which she firmly refused to do. Finally, rumors had been circulating that while Picasso and Françoise were living together, he had also been seeing another woman, who had been identified as Geneviève Laporte, then in her mid-twenties. Françoise took her own lover, with whom she had an affair that ended after only three months, but not before she left Picasso, taking the children with her and moving into new quarters on rue Gay-Lussac, Paris, at the end of September 1953.

Picasso completed the present portrait of Françoise on 16 May 1952. On the next day he executed an aquatint, La femme à la fenêtre (Baer, no. 891 II; the steel-faced copper plate is illustrated here as fig. 3). The relationship between these two works illustrates the interaction during this period between Picasso's graphic and painting techniques--seen in drawings, oil paintings, aquatints, lithographs and linocuts--by which he describes and fills out forms using a flattened baroque tracery, which Picasso has rendered here in paint in a sculptural manner, as if the linear elements were twisting strands of wrought ironwork. He painted a portrait of Paloma, three years old, on 23 May 1952 in a similar manner (Zervos, vol. 15, no. 209; fig. 4). But more interesting here than his stylistic means, in terms of events in both the lives of Picasso and Françoise, is the presence of a subtext to which the aquatint quite possibly alludes, and by association, the present painting as well. Françoise wrote at the very end of her memoir of life with Picasso:

"Pablo told me, that first afternoon I visited him alone, in February 1944, that our relationship would bring light into both our lives. My coming to him, he said, seemed like a window that was opening up and he wanted it to remain open. I did, too, as long as it let in the light. When it no longer did, I closed it, much against my own desire. From that moment on, he burned all the bridges that connected me to the past I shared with him. But in doing so, he forced me to discover myself and thus to survive. I shall never cease being grateful to him for that" (F. Gilot, op. cit., p. 367).

Françoise Gilot drawing at La Galloise, Vallauris, 1953. Photograph by Lee Miller. c Lee Miller Archives, England.
Barcode: 2885 3053

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Femme au collier jaune, 1946. Private collection.
Barcode: 2885 3039

(fig. 2) Picasso and Francoise Gilot with their children, Claude and Paloma, in the garden at La Galloise, Vallauris, 1953. Photograph by Edward Quinn. Musée Picasso, Paris.
Barcode: 2885 3022

(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, La Femme à la fenêtre, 17 May 1952. Steeled copper plate. Museum Ludwig, Cologne.
Barcode: 2885 3046

(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Paloma, 1952. Private collection.
Barcode: 2885 3015

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