PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
4 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Tête classique

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Tête classique
signed ‘Picasso’ (lower left); dated '12-2-23-' (on the reverse)
black Conté crayon, charcoal and estompe on rose tinted paper
24 7/8 x 18 3/4 in. (63 x 47.8 cm.)
Executed on 12 February 1923
The Zwemmer Gallery, London (acquired from the artist).
Rae H. Eckman, New York; Estate sale, Christie’s, New York, 7 November 1979, lot 33.
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s, London, 27 June 1995, lot 28.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
London, The Zwemmer Gallery, An Exhibition of a Collection of Fifty Drawings by Pablo Picasso, February 1937, no. 31.
Special notice
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Further details
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Lot Essay

“To me there is no past or future in my art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was” (“Picasso Speaks: A Statement by the Artist,” The Arts, New York, May 1923, in D. Ashton, ed., Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, New York, 1972, p. 4). Pablo Picasso made this statement in 1923, in the midst of his radical Neo-Classical period. Fusing a host of artistic sources and styles that spanned everything from Ancient Greek statuary to the art of French masters, Nicolas Poussin and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Picasso forged his own, distinctly novel idiom. Far from being a retrograde or atavistic reembrace of historical sources however, his plunder of the past enabled him to remain firmly at the forefront of the post-war avant-garde.
Since the years of the First World War, Picasso had been working simultaneously in both a cubist and a figurative, classically-inspired style, able to switch between these seemingly distinct artistic idioms. Within the immediate post-war period, this look backwards, to the art of antiquity and Classicism was prevalent across the European avant-garde. Known as le rappel à l’ordre or the “Return to Order,” a term coined by the poet Jean Cocteau, this cultural movement manifested itself through the increasing appearance of classical themes, motifs and styles, as a host of artists mined the past in order to fulfil the ideological need for unity, order and stability to counteract the horror and destruction wrought by four years of all-out war.
Executed in 1923, Tête classique is one of a group of classically-inspired female figures, Picasso’s own form of Roman and Greek goddesses, that dominated the artist’s work throughout the early 1920s. It was this year, however, that saw an emergence of monumental magisterial, elegant and enigmatic Neo-Classical portraits, often portrayals of his wife, Olga, to which the present work is closely related.
With these works, Picasso conceived a new pictorial idiom for the female figure. The garlanded woman of the present work is more evocative of Botticelli’s Flora or one of Poussin’s female figures than of ancient statuary. Her pose—head gently turned, and index finger raised to her ear—intrigued Picasso at this time. The origins can be found in the figure of Arcadia in the fresco, The Recognition of Telephus by Hercules, which Picasso saw in Naples in 1917.
In her statuesque portrayal and graceful handling, the protagonist of the present work also calls to mind the artist’s “Raphael-esque” depictions of the female figure at this time. These works transport the viewer from Paris to a long-lost epoch. As Joseph Palau i Fabre has described, “Picasso’s poetry verges on the unreal, in the sense that if often manages to situate the present in the past or the future, one step away from legend. Here we are not in rue la Boétie in 1923 but in Florence, or at least in the Italian Renaissance” (Picasso: From the Ballets to Drama, 1917-1926, Barcelona, 1999, p. 364).
Yet, while evoking various sources, Picasso’s figures defy exact identification with a specific antique or classical example. In the present work, the protagonist could just as easily be a contemporary woman as the first century image of the figure of Arcadia. As Elizabeth Cowling has written, “It is a case of visual metaphor or simile rather than imitation or pastiche; the modern woman is equated with a Greek or Roman goddess and embodies some indefinable state midway between actuality and the immutability of an ancient work of art” (Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, p. 411). As he played with all these sources, reconfiguring them with a powerful monumentality and simplicity, he created an entirely novel form of “Picassified” Neo-Classicism; a compelling amalgam that set the shape-shifting artist apart from his peers.

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