Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
This watercolor study by Pablo Picasso of a mask-like female head has been traditionally ascribed in the literature to the early summer of 1907, when the artist was reworking the large canvas he had begun painting in late May or early June, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 18). Picasso had first conceived and developed all five nudes in a primitivist Iberian manner, but in early July he decided to “Africanize” both the standing and crouching nudes on the right-hand side of the composition. He ceased work on this painting by mid-month. The artist then turned his attention to another important picture, Nu à la draperie (vol. 2*, no. 47), which he had already planned, having made some preliminary studies, while still working on Les Demoiselles.
With his exploratory efforts on Les Demoiselles having paved the way, Picasso made swift progress on his new painting and finished it in a few weeks, by the end of August. Les Demoiselles had ended up as a hybrid of primitive styles, with dissimilar Iberian and tribal forms squaring off against each other to create a jarring, dissonant effect. Nu à la draperie, on the other hand, is Picasso's first fully integrated and unified effort in the unprecedented, sharply angular, primitive idiom he had first revealed in the two African figures of Les Demoiselles, carried in the subsequent composition to an even further extreme. The present Tête is a preparatory study for Nu à la draperie, to which it is clearly related.
Tête is among the ten sheets that Pierre Daix and Joan Rosselet recorded as comprising Carnet 10 (op. cit., 1979, pp. 203, 207-208, nos. 67, 86-91; see also exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, pp. 260-263, nos. 1-10, dated to June-July 1907). John Richardson has revealed that the contents of Carnet 10 were executed earlier than previously assumed, in the spring of 1907, well before Picasso began to restyle the two women on the right side of Les Demoiselles in a tribal manner—indeed, even before he had begun painting the canvas (op. cit., 1996, pp. 24-27). The heads in Carnet 10 are, as Richardson points out, the direct outcome of Picasso’s visit to the Ethnographical Museum at the Trocadero in Paris, where he experienced the momentous revelation of African tribal and Oceanic sculpture that altered the course of his art.
Most Picasso specialists, including Daix and William Rubin, believed the Trocadero visit to have occurred in June 1907, noting it was soon afterward that Picasso undertook his final campaign, by introducing tribal elements, to bring Les Demoiselles to a satisfactory conclusion. This crucial event, Richardson has demonstrated, actually took place several months earlier, in early March. Tête and the other studies in Carnet 10 represent the very first manifestation of the impact of tribal and Oceanic art in Picasso’s work. These potent images are indeed “genesis” works of art. Picasso created them at the very beginning of a new phase in his thinking about form and expression, as he developed a profoundly radical and primitive stylization of the figure—utterly unprecedented in Western art—that within a few months would become apparent both in Les Demoiselles (in part) and in Nu à la draperie (fully integrated and whole).
A prescient work, this Tête carries within it Picasso's basic conception of the revolutionary and liberating stylistic ideas that would soon lead him to Cubism—remarkably, there is in Tête an anticipation of things to come in the block-like forms of the woman’s bust. From the moment he drew Tête and its companion studies, Picasso forever changed not only the outward appearance, but the inner emotional content as well, of the human visage and figure, as they would henceforth be represented in modern art.
The questions about precisely when Picasso first viewed African art, and how it affected him and his work, are largely the consequence of the artist’s own erratic dissembling. There were times when Picasso went so far as to deny any such influence at all in Les Demoiselles. The artist told Christian Zervos, while the latter was compiling his catalogue raisonné of this period, that it was only after he was done with Les Demoiselles that he happened to discover the tribal rooms in the Trocadero.
It was not until years later, in 1937, that Picasso finally revealed, in conversation with André Malraux, the shock of recognition he had experienced when he first came into the presence of African art while visiting the Trocadero. “The masks weren’t just like any other pieces of sculpture. Not at all. They were magic things... The Negro pieces were intercesseurs, mediators... They were against everything—against unknown, threatening spirits... I understood... I too believe that everything is unknown, that everything is an enemy. Everything! ...Les Demoiselles d’Avignon must have come to me that very day, not at all because of the form; because it is my first exorcism painting—yes absolutely!” (quoted in, A. Malraux, Picasso’s Mask, New York, 1994, pp. 10-11).
"On the strength of Malraux’s testimony and another useful crumb of evidence, Picasso must have visited the Trocadero months earlier,” Richardson has averred. “As well as being ill lit, filthy, smelly and chaotically cluttered, he complained to Françoise Gilot, the museum was very cold—no heating... The visit must have taken place around early March, when Derain—not only the instigator of Picasso’s visit but also (according to Gilot) his companion—returned from a month away from Paris.”
“Further support for an earlier date,” Richardson continues, “is a sketchbook of major studies [Carnet 10, including the present Tête] which are Oceanic or tribal in inspiration and must have been executed after the Trocadero visit...before Picasso started work on the big painting [Les Demoiselles]. Sometime in April Picasso sold this sketchbook to Leo Stein, who dismembered it. Because the paper is very thin and many of the pages are heavily worked in ink, gouache and even oil paint, Stein took the precaution of having the more thickly painted ones marouflés sur toile, mounted on canvas. Picasso was so stunned that the Steins had thought these sketches precious enough that he decided to have the same thing done to the Demoiselles” (op. cit., 1996, p. 25).
Tête and the related sheets in Carnet 10 were not drawn directly from tribal objects in the Trocadero, but depict Picasso’s recollections of them, worked to suit his own expressive ends. Rubin and others have found resemblances between Picasso’s African heads and actual masks or sculptures that he might have seen in the Trocadero; Elizabeth Cowling has pointed to an Oudombo reliquary figure from Gabon as a possible source (Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 183).
The impact of the present Tête and the other studies in Carnet 10 may be seen in both Les Demoiselles and Nu à la draperie, most clearly in Picasso’s adoption of an elongated oval face with a long wedge-shaped nose, in striated modeling, as the most salient features of the Africanized visage. While not fully realized in the two tribal heads of Les Demoiselles, this sharpened oval shape served as the definitive, generative formal principle that guided the composition of Nu à la draperie, lending this later painting the complete, overall formal unity that Les Demoiselles had ended up lacking.
The Steins first viewed the finished Nu à la draperie when they returned in September 1907 from their holiday in Italy. Contrary to listings in Daix and elsewhere, they did not purchase this painting from Picasso—the Russian collector Sergei Shchukin is the first owner of verifiable record, having acquired it from Ambroise Vollard in 1912 (The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg). The Steins, however, did buy four studies in watercolor or gouache on paper that Picasso had painted in preparation for Nu à la draperie, and a medium-sized oil on canvas showing the head (Zervos, vol. 2**, no. 44).
Because of the Stein provenance, and the sheets’ relation to the ten studies in Carnet 10, in terms of size and the formal elements, the curators of the 1988 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon exhibition at the Musée Picasso, Paris, raised the possibility that these four studies on paper for Nu à la draperie had also been detached from Carnet 10, Picasso having executed this entire group in June-July 1907 (exh. cat., op. cit., 1994, pp. 264-265, nos. III, 2-5). In light of Richardson’s assertion that the Steins acquired the ten sheets known to have constituted Carnet 10 in April, this connection is unlikely.
The Steins hung the studies from Carnet 10—including the present Tête—along with the four studies for Nu à la draperie, in their pavilion at 27, rue de Fleurus. Some of them appear in photographs taken by Cecil Beaton in 1938 showing a vertical installation with Gertrude standing before them, in her 5, rue Christine residence. Her abiding fondness for these works stemmed from their connection to the most exciting period of her career as a collector, those extraordinary, adventurous years when she—and Leo, for a brief time—were Picasso's first and most dedicated supporters during his journey to Cubism.
Tête remained in Gertrude Stein's possession until her death in 1946, after which the collection was left to her three great-nieces and nephews, subject to a lifetime interest from her longtime companion, Alice B. Toklas. Following Toklas’s death in 1968, Stein’s three heirs sold the collection to a syndicate of interested buyers in New York organized by David Rockefeller. Tête was not chosen during the first syndicate selection by lottery in 1968, but David Rockefeller decided four years later to acquire the study by exchanging for it a still-life that had also been part of Picasso’s Carnet 10 of 1907 (Daix and Rosselet, no. 67; subsequently in the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, and thereafter in other private hands).