PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
3 More
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
6 More
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, sold to benefit the Acquisition Fund
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Tête de femme (Fernande)

Details
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Tête de femme (Fernande)
signed ‘Picasso’ (on the side of the neck)
bronze with dark brown patina
Height: 16 1⁄2 in. (41.9 cm.)
Conceived in 1909
Provenance
(possibly) Ambroise Vollard, Paris.
(probably) Henri Kaeser, Lausanne.
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (probably acquired from the above, 12 July 1949).
Samuel A. Marx and Florene May Schoenborn, Chicago (acquired from the above, 7 May 1951).
Bequest from the above to the present owner, 1995.
Literature
G. Stein, "Pablo Picasso" in Camera Work, August 1912, pp. 29-30 (another cast illustrated, pp. 41 and 43).
C. Zervos, "Sculptures des peintres d'aujourd'hui" in Cahiers d'art, 1928, p. 286 (another cast illustrated).
G. Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 1933, p. 23.
J. González, "Picasso Sculpteur" in Cahiers d'art, 11 January 1936, p. 189.
C. Giedion-Welcker, Moderne Plastik: Elemente der Wirklichkeit. Masse und Auflockerung, Zürich, 1937, pp. 36-37 (another cast illustrated).
G. Stein, Picasso, Paris, 1938, p. 9.
C. Zervos, Histoire de l'art contemporain, Paris, 1938, p. 298 (another cast illustrated).
J. Cassou, Picasso, New York, 1940, p. 159 (another cast illustrated).
H.F. Mackenzie, Understanding Picasso: A Study of His Styles and Development, Chicago, 1940 (another cast illustrated, pl. VI).
A.M. Frankfurter, "341 Documents of Modern Art: The Chrysler Collection" in Art News 39, 18 January 1941, p. 18 (another cast illustrated).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1942, vol. 2**, no. 573 (another cast illustrated, pl. 266; titled Tête).
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 69 (another cast illustrated).
R. Gaffé, "Sculpteur, Picasso?" in Artes, 1947-1948, 2nd series, nos. 3-4, pp. 36-37.
J. Gómez Sicre, "Picasso" in Norte 8, March 1948, p. 17 (another cast illustrated).
D.-H. Kahnweiler, Les sculptures de Picasso, Paris, 1949 (another cast illustrated, pl. 8; dated 1910).
M. Gieure, Initiation à l'oeuvre de Picasso, Paris, 1951, p. 337 (other casts illustrated, figs. 131 and 132; titled Tête d'homme and dated 1907).
A.C. Ritchie, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, New York, 1952, pp. 130-131 (another cast illustrated).
G.C. Argan, Scultura di Picasso, Venice, 1953, pp. 10 and 26 (another cast illustrated, pl. VI).
W. Boeck and J. Sabartés, Picasso, Stuttgart, 1955, p. 462, no. 54 (another cast illustrated).
C. Gideon-Welcker, Contemporary Sculpture: An Evolution in Volume and Space, New York, 1955, p. 40 (another cast illustrated, p. 41).
J. Camón Aznar, Picasso y el Cubismo, Madrid, 1956, pp. 660 and 731 (another cast illustrated, fig. 540; titled cabeza de hombre and dated 1907).
F. Elgar and R. Maillard, Picasso: A Study of his Works, New York, 1956, p. 65 (another cast illustrated).
H. Read, The Art of Sculpture, New York, 1956 (another cast illustrated, pl. 191).
S. Hunter, Picasso: Cubism to the Present, New York, 1957 (another cast illustrated).
R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and His Work, New York, 1958, p. 240 (another cast illustrated, pl. VI-4).
J. Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914, New York, 1959, pp. 81-83 and 169 (another cast illustrated, pl. 6).
C. Giedion-Welcker, Contemporary Sculpture: An Evolution in Volume and Space, New York, 1960, pp. xi and 46 (another cast illustrated, p. 47).
J. Padrta, Picasso: The Early Years, New York, 1960, no. 11 (another cast illustrated in color).
R. Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth-Century Art, New York, 1960, pp. 262, 265 and 324 (another cast illustrated, p. 269, fig. 188).
H.L.C. Jaffé, Pablo Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 17 (another cast illustrated, fig. 15).
H. Read, A Concise History of Modern Sculpture, New York, 1964, p. 62 (another cast illustrated, p. 60, pl. 54; dated 1909-1910).
A.H. Barr, Jr., Picasso: Fifty Years of his Art, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966, p. 69 (another cast illustrated).
H.L.C. Jaffé, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1967, p. 17 (another cast illustrated, fig. 15).
F. Licht, Sculpture: 19th and 20th Centuries, New York, 1967, p. 332, no. 219 (another cast illustrated).
M. de Micheli, Picasso, New York, 1967, p. 33 (another cast illustrated, p. 17).
R. Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, p. 41 (another cast illustrated, p. 56).
B. Farrell, "His Women: The Wonder is that He Found so much Time to Paint" in Life Magazine 65, 27 December 1968, p. 64 (another cast illustrated).
J. Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914, London, 1968, pp. 81-83 and 169 (another cast illustrated, fig. 6).
A.E. Elsen, "The Many Faces of Picasso's Sculpture" in Art International 13, summer 1969, vol. XIII/6, p. 26 (another cast illustrated).
R. Goldwater, What is Modern Sculpture?, New York, 1969, pp. 42-43, 45 and 145 (another cast illustrated, p. 42).
A.M. Hammacher, The Evolution of Modern Sculpture: Tradition and Innovation, New York, 1969, p. 102 (another cast illustrated, fig. 108).
N. Wadley, Cubism, New York, 1970, p. 119, no. 130 (another cast illustrated).
H. Greenfeld, Pablo Picasso: An Introduction, Chicago, 1971, p. 96 (another cast illustrated).
W. Spies, Sculpture by Picasso, with a Catalogue of the Works, London, 1971, p. 302, no. 24 (another cast illustrated, pp. 42-43).
P.W. Schwartz, Cubism, New York, 1971, p. 150, no. 102 (another cast illustrated).
F. Minervino and F. Russoli, L'opera completa di Picasso cubista, Milan, 1972, p. 102, no. 296 (another cast illustrated, p. 101).
W. Rubin, ed., Picasso in the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art, including Remainder-Interest and Promised Gifts, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1972, p. 61 (another cast illustrated).
J. Warnod, Washboat Days, New York, 1972, p. 195 (plaster version illustrated).
J.-L. Daval, Journal de l'art moderne, 1884-1914, Geneva, 1973, p. 268 (another cast illustrated).
C. Justice, "Picasso's Art Sheds Life" in Ledger Star, 16 June 1973, p. A7 (another cast illustrated).
M. Kozloff, Cubism/Futurism, New York, 1973, p. 61 (another cast illustrated, p. 62, fig. 19).
R. Penrose and J. Golding, eds., Picasso in Retrospect, New York, 1973, p. 129, no. 212 (another cast illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, Origins of Modern Sculpture: Pioneers and Premises, New York, 1974, p. 46, no. 62 (another cast illustrated).
D. Porzio and M. Valsecchi, Understanding Picasso, New York, 1974, p. 62 (another cast illustrated).
F.A. Baumann, Pablo Picasso: Leben und Werk, Stuttgart, 1976, pp. 58 and 206 (another cast illustrated, p. 57, pl. 98).
R. Johnson, The Early Sculpture of Picasso, 1901-1914, PhD. Diss., University of California, Berkeley, 1976, pp. 101-105, 112-113, 167 and 231, no. 23 (another cast illustrated, fig. 84).
R. Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth Century Art, New York, 1976, p. 343, no. 188 (another cast illustrated).
D. Thomas, Picasso and His Art, New York, 1978, p. 38 (another cast illustrated, pl. 26).
P. Daix and J. Rosselet, Picasso, The Cubist Years, 1907-1916: A Catalogue Raisonné of the Paintings and Related Works, Boston, 1979, p. 67 (another cast illustrated).
R. Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 154, no. 4 (another cast illustrated, pl. VI).
P. Daix, Cubists and Cubism, New York, 1982, p. 49 (another cast illustrated).
W. Spies and C. Piot, Picasso: Das plastische Werk, Bonn, 1983, p. 373, no. 24(II) (other casts illustrated, pp. 48-49 and 327).
H.H. Arnason, History of Modern Art: Painting, Sculpture, Architecture, Photography, New York, 1986, p. 152, no. 217 (another cast illustrated).
M.-L. Bernadac and P. de Bouchet, Picasso, le sage et le fou, Paris, 1986, p. 81 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 80, fig. 1).
W. Fleming, Arts & Ideas, New York, 1986, p. 432, no. 490 (another cast illustrated).
G. Boudaille, M.-L. Bernadac and M.-P. Gauthier, Picasso, New York, 1987, p. 46, no. 66 (another cast illustrated).
J. Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907-1914, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1988, p. 81 (another cast illustrated, pl. 10).
A.M. Hammacher, Modern Sculpture, Tradition and Innovation, New York, 1988, p. 102, no. 108 (another cast illustrated).
F. Olivier, Souvenirs intimes: Écrits pour Picasso, Geneva, 1988, pp. 128-129 (another cast illustrated).
R.L. Sommer, Picasso, New York, 1988, p. 14 (another cast illustrated in color).
A. Podoksik, Picasso: La quête perpétuelle, Paris, 1989, pp. 104, 108-109 and 184 (other casts illustrated, pp. 108 and 184).
J. Gutiérrez Burón, Las claves del arte cubista: Cómo interpretarlo, Madrid, 1990.
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Cubism, 1907-1917, New York, 1990, p. 502, no. 433 (another cast illustrated, p. 152).
P.-G. Persin, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler: L'aventure d'un grand merchand, Paris, 1990, p. 57 (another cast illustrated; dated 1910).
R. Bernier, Matisse, Picasso, Miró As I Knew Them, New York, 1991, pp. 168-169 (another cast illustrated, p. 169).
C.-P. Warncke, Pablo Picasso 1881-1973, Cologne, 1991, vol. I, p. 184 (another cast illustrated).
C. Poggi, In Defiance of Painting: Cubism, Futurism, and the Invention of Collage, New Haven, 1992, pp. 33-34, no. 30 (another cast illustrated, p. 33).
A. Brighton and A. Klimowski, Picasso for Beginners, New York, 1995, p. 61 (another cast illustrated).
P. Cooper, Cubism, London, 1995, p. 14 (another cast illustrated, fig. 5).
P. Daix, Dictionnaire Picasso, Paris, 1995, pp. 145, 199, 322, 331, 339, 560, 608, 695, 821, 822, 864, 865 and 867, no. III.
P. Daix et al., Picasso et le portrait, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, pp. 276-278 (another cast illustrated, p. 276).
C. Einstein, Die Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts, Berlin, 1996, p. 270 (another cast illustrated).
H.L.C. Jaffé, Pablo Picasso, New York, 1996, p. 17, no. 15 (another cast illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: Cubism (1907-1917), Barcelona, 1996, p. 153, no. 433 (another cast illustrated, p. 152).
A. Podoksik, Pablo Picasso: The Creative Eye (from 1881-1914), Bournemouth, 1996, p. 136 (another cast illustrated).
J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, 1907-1917, New York, 1996, vol. II, pp. 139, 141, 308, 454, notes 4-6 and p. 467, note 44 (another cast illustrated, p. 138; plaster version illustrated, p. 141).
C. Vogel, "32 Works of Art by Masters Left to Met and the Modern" in The New York Times, 25 November 1996, p. C12.
N. Cox, Cubism, London, 2000, p. 122, no. 66 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 123).
M. Schneckenburger, Art of the 20th Century, New York, 2000, vol. II, p. 429 (another cast illustrated).
W. Spies and C. Piot, Picasso Sculpteur, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2000, p. 395, no. 24(II) (another cast illustrated, p. 347).
I.F. Walther, Pablo Picasso: Genius of the Century, New York, 2000, p. 46 (another cast illustrated).
P. Cabanne, Le Cubisme, Paris, 2001, p. 42 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 43).
E. Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, New York, 2002, pp. 212-213 and 220 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 213, no. 182).
M. del Carmen González and S. Harwood Rubin, Looking at Matisse and Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2003, pp. 64-65 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 66).
P. Karmel, Picasso and the Invention of Cubism, New Haven, 2003, pp. 64, 66-69, 73, 123, 168 and 207, notes 34 and 40 (another cast illustrated, figs. 78 and 79).
V.J. Fletcher, "Process and Technique in Picasso's Head of a Woman (Fernande)" in Picasso: The Cubist Portraits of Fernande Olivier, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2004, pp. 166-191 (this specific cast discussed, p. 186; plaster versions and details of the plaster versions illustrated in color, p. 167, figs. 1 and 2, p. 169, figs. 3, 4a and 4b, p. 170, figs. 5a and 5b, p. 174, fig. 8, p. 182, fig. 10; plaster version illustrated in situ in the artist's studio, p. 182, fig. 9; another cast illustrated in color, p. 188, fig. 12; underside of another cast illustrated in color, p. 188, fig. 11).
P. Štepánek, Picasso en Praga, Madrid, 2005, p. 80, no. 18 (another cast illustrated in color, fig. 12).
S. Gohr, Ich suche nicht, ich finde, Pablo Picasso: Leben un Werk, Cologne, 2006, p. 20 (another cast illustrated).
G. Clemenz-Kirsch, Die sieben Leben des Pablo Picasso, Halle, 2007.
P. Dagen, Picasso, New York, 2009, p. 80 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 81).
B. Schaefer, ed., 1912 Mission Moderne: Die Jahrhundertschau des Sonderbundes, Cologne, 2012, p. 126 (another cast illustrated in color, fig. 9).
R. Smith, "A Trans-Atlantic View of Modernism" in The New York Times, 9 January 2015, p. C30.
A. Temkin and A. Umland, Picasso Sculpture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2015, p. 51 (plaster version illustrated in color, p. 59, fig. 15; another cast illustrated in situ at the Third Exhibition of the Skupina Výtvarných Umelcu in 1913, p. 59, fig. 16 and p. 60, fig. 18; another cast illustrated in Camera Work in 1912, p. 59, fig. 17; another cast illustrated in color, pp. 69, no. 11).
R. Leonardi and D. Pullen, Picasso’s Sculpture 'Head of a Woman (Fernande)' 1909: A Collaborative Technical Study (www.museepicassoparis.fr/fr/colloque-picasso-sculptures-processus-creatifs-de-la-sculpture), 2016, pp. 1-9 (plasters illustrated in color, p. 8, fig. 1; details of plasters and other casts illustrated in color, p. 8, figs 3 and 4; another cast illustrated in color in situ in La Californie studio).
O. Widmaier-Picasso, Picasso: An Intimate Portrait, London, 2018, p. 31 (another cast illustrated in color, p. 30).
M. Hollein, Modern and Contemporary Art in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2019, p. 15 (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Sculpture of the Twentieth Century, April-September 1953, p. 46, no. 89 (titled Woman's Head).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (on extended loan, 1985-1995).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest: 12 Artists of the School of Paris, February-August 1997, no. 15.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Painters in Paris: 1895-1950, March 2000-January 2001.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cézanne to Picasso: Ambroise Vollard, Patron of the Avant-Garde, September 2006-January 2007, pp. 101, 112, 117, note 37, pp. 182-188, 301, note 213 and p. 393, no. 163c (another cast illustrated in color, p. 185, fig. 198; another cast illustrated, p. 392; another cast illustrated in situ in Vollard's gallery, p. 208, fig. 221).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, April-August 2010, p. 141, no. 50 (illustrated in color, pp. 142 and 143).
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.
Post lot text
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Sale room notice
Please note that this work has been requested by The National Gallery, London, for its exhibition After Impressionism, which will be shown 25 March-13 August 2023.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Senior Vice President, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

The first major sculpture of Pablo Picasso’s career, Tête de femme (Fernande) stands as an icon of twentieth-century art. Executed in clay in 1909, it not only marks the culmination of an important series of portraits of the artist’s first great love, Fernande Olivier, produced over the course of the summer, but stands as a key moment in the development of Cubism, as the artist’s intense explorations into the nature of pictorial representation were synthesized into three-dimensional form. This work also solidifies the coexistence of painting and sculpture in Picasso’s art. For the rest of his career he would move effortlessly between these two practices, adopting sculpture as he needed in his voracious pursuit of an artistic concept. Tête de femme, “as magnificent as it is momentous,” as Werner Spies has described, introduced an entirely new form of sculptural modeling (op. cit., 1971, p. 57). Breaking down and reconstructing solid forms, with this work, Picasso paved the way for many of the developments that would follow throughout the twentieth century.
Taking the distinctive features of Fernande—her wide, deep-set almond-shaped eyes, sturdy neck, and perhaps most importantly, her hair styled into a great wave atop her head—in this work Picasso transformed her into a striking, monumental construction of both geometric and organic faceted forms. The artist captured Fernande with her head tilted slightly downwards, as if in the midst of turning to the side. As result, her neck is rendered as an almost pyramidal form, the activated musculature conveyed with dynamic ridges that thrust upward towards her head. The back of Fernande’s swoop of hair is rendered with softer, teardrop or petal-shaped forms that ascend like waves, undulating forwards towards the more angular construction of her face. An assortment of ridges and recessions, facets and hollows constructs Fernande’s visage. Everything from her eyes, their sockets and brows, as well as her hair line and the entire shape of her face take an arch-like form, imbuing this radical work with a rhythmic dynamism.
While the work is recognizable as the form of a human head, the play of light across the fragmented construction means that from some angles, certain parts look totally abstract. Though cast in weighty bronze, the originally carved, fragmented forms paradoxically create a sense of shimmering, fleeting movement—as if capturing a momentary reflection caught on her hair, an expression moving across her face, or the stretch of a tendon in her neck.
Tête de femme was born out of an intense period of creative production that Picasso enjoyed over the summer of 1909. Together with Fernande, the couple had traveled to the rural, hilltop Catalonian village of Horta de Ebro (today known as Horta de Sant Joan), arriving there in early June. An artists’ model who had fled to Paris to escape her abusive husband, Amélie Lang, as she was born, had been the artist’s companion since 1905. “La belle Fernande,” as André Salmon described her in his memoirs, she played an important role in the development of Picasso’s work. Her image was translated into the various stylistic pursuits Picasso explored in these critical years: in 1906 she appeared as if an archaic Greek statue, before her body morphed into the Iberian-inspired, statuesque forms of 1907.
This summer in Horta de Ebro was critical in the development of Picasso’s art—and indeed to Cubism as a whole. Over the course of 1909, Picasso and Braque—who, the year prior, had become united in their shared aesthetic explorations—made a series of radical pictorial leaps. In particular, the artists began to decisively deconstruct the pictorial illusion of mass. A world apart from the bohemian world that Picasso inhabited in Paris, Horta provided a crucible for him to explore this concept without distraction, resulting in what William Rubin has described as “the most crucial and productive vacation of his career. There in the pellucid Mediterranean light of his native Spain, he distilled from the material he had been exploring during the previous two years his first fully defined statement of Analytic Cubism” (exh. cat., op. cit., 1972, p. 56).
The landscape of Horta itself helped to inspire and inform the new pictorial language that Picasso was forging at this time. Surrounded by the jagged, mountainous landscape marked by rocky crags and crevasses of this corner of Catalonia, Picasso employed an increasingly faceted pictorial vocabulary to depict the world around him. Marrying the objective geometricization of forms that he had learned from Paul Cézanne, with the abstracted stylization gleaned from his intensive study of African and Oceanic art, Picasso painted landscapes, still lifes, and most importantly, portraits of Fernande, with this new idiom.
Over the course of his stay in Horta, Picasso painted eight portraits of Fernande, according to Jeffrey Weiss (Zervos, vol. 2a, nos. 165, 167, 169, 170, 172, and 174; vol. 6, no. 1071; vol. 24, no. 419), as well as a number of drawings (exh. cat., op. cit., 2004, p. 8). These join part of a larger group of works in a variety of media inspired by Fernande that Picasso produced over the course of 1909. In many of these Horta portraits, Fernande appears somewhat somber, her head downturned and her expression slightly morose, a reflection perhaps of the illness—and boredom, as she wrote to Gertrude Stein—that plagued her on this trip. Yet, Picasso was not out to distill aspects of Fernande’s psyche or inner life in these portraits; he was driven by purely formal pursuits in this intensive series. It is unlikely that she actually sat for Picasso; her presence was all he needed to transcribe her image through his own artistic lens. Some portraits feature just her head, others include her shoulders or torso. Additional variations that Picasso explored were the incline of her head, her hairstyle and clothing, as well as the setting, its lighting and handling.
These portraits are unified by the distinct artistic style with which Picasso developed to portray his melancholic muse. In contrast to the mask-like visages and broad, rigid bodies of his figures of the previous year, the rounded, three-dimensional forms of Fernande’s head and body, as well as her setting, are shattered—splintered into shard-like, multipartite arrangements. The angular configuration of these facets, and the deft chiaroscuro with which they are rendered, instead create the volumetric mass of the figure. This fragmented, fractured language nevertheless lends the figure a wholly sculptural appearance: one that is no longer rendered with consistent tonal shading, as if smoothly, fully modeled, but instead presented as if it is in parts carved, hewn, crenelated and cut from stone. Picasso had found a new way of conveying a sense of three-dimensionality and the tangible experience of objects in paint upon the flat surface of the canvas. This breakthrough was a vital step in Picasso’s systematic deconstruction of the tools of illusionism—the process that lay at the heart of his cubist adventure.
Picasso and Fernande returned to Paris in September 1909. They left the Bateau Lavoir, the famous ramshackle building with its maze of studios that had been the home of the artist, and moved into a new studio at 11 boulevard de Clichy. Unlike his returns from previous summertime sojourns, when he turned away from the work he had created and turned to a different concern, Picasso continued to immerse himself headlong in the paintings and drawings he had made of Fernande in Horta. It was likely in late September or early October that he borrowed the studio of his close friend, the Catalan sculptor, Manolo (Manuel Hugué) so that he could model the Tête de femme.
With Tête de femme, Picasso brought to a climax the formal discoveries he had made over the preceding months. “Uncannily close to the drawings and paintings that preceded it,” Ann Temkin and Anne Umland have written, “the angular sculpture reimagines the rounded form of a turning head, the curved features of a face, and the soft shape of pulled-back hair. It is as if the sharp inclines and steep ridges of the portraits had transferred themselves into three dimensions. The model for the sculpture was, in effect, the Olivier created by the paintings of the summer and not the flesh-and-blood woman with whom Picasso shared his life” (exh. cat., op. cit., 2015, p. 51). Working in three-dimensions, Picasso was not only able to condense in a single work the new artistic language he had invented to describe mass and volume, but he could now render his subject from every angle, something which he could not full achieve in painterly form.
The dealer, Ambroise Vollard bought the clay Tête de femme from Picasso in 1910, and began casting it in bronze the same year. Before the sculpture was cast in bronze, Picasso likely attended the foundry himself to work on the plaster model. He later recalled to Douglas Cooper and John Richardson that he had used a knife to sharpen the facets on the front of the neck of the plaster model that had been taken from the clay (which was itself necessarily destroyed in the process), increasing the angular quality of the head (V.J. Fletcher, “Process and Technique in Picasso’s Head of a Woman (Fernande),” in exh. cat., op. cit., 2003, p. 175). While the initial clay version had a distinctly modeled aspect, including passages where the artist’s finger prints are visible, by 1910, his Cubism had developed again to become increasingly geometric, constructed with linear grids that border on abstraction. This aesthetic likely led him to heighten the angular forms of his Tête.
Vollard, as Valerie Fletcher has detailed, did not produce a specific edition, nor did he number each successive cast. Additionally they do not have foundry marks. Rather, he requested casts as he required them until his death in 1939. The plaster created at the time of the first casting in 1910 is now on long term loan to the Tate Modern, London. A second plaster, now housed in the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, was cast from a mold of the Tate plaster no earlier than 1960 (see op. cit., 2016, p. 3).
Early casts were acquired by Czech art historian Vincenc Kramár (now held in the National Gallery, Prague), and Alfred Stieglitz, who featured photographs of the work in his publication Camera Work in 1912, and included it in the landmark Armory Show of 1913 in New York (now held in The Art Institute of Chicago). Vollard kept one on view in his Paris gallery, ensuring it was widely seen by collectors and artists alike for the years that followed. Indeed, the young Futurist artist, Umberto Boccioni, likely saw it at Vollard’s on a visit to Paris in 1912. So impressed by the dynamism imbued with the fragmented forms, he temporarily abandoned painting for sculpture, and, in a defiant attempt to outdo Picasso, attempted a similar concept in a depiction of his mother (J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, 1907-1917: The Painter of Modern Life, London, 2009, vol. II, p. 139). Other artists were likewise impacted by Tête de femme—particularly those now regarded as the leading cubist sculptors, including Alexander Archipenko, Henri Laurens, and Jacques Lipchitz, all of whom could have seen a cast in Vollard’s gallery.
Tête de femme attests to the importance of sculpture in the early development of Cubism and indeed to Picasso’s career as a whole. With their cubist work of this time, both Picasso and Braque confronted the centuries-old problem of conveying three-dimensional objects upon a two-dimensional surface. They initially approached this contradiction by conveying multiple viewpoints in a single composition, rendering the experience of observing the object as it exists in space. This was in many ways a sculptural approach and the artists used this to solve this initial painterly quandary. “It is only necessary to cut them out,” Picasso later described his Analytic cubist compositions to his friend and fellow sculptor Julio González, “the colors are the only indications of different perspectives, of planes inclined from one side or the other—then assemble them according to the indications given by the color, in order to find oneself in the presence of a ‘Sculpture’” (quoted in M. McCully, Picasso: Sculptor Painter, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1994, p. 219).
As Tête de femme demonstrates, Picasso’s preoccupation with the nature of solid form and its visual portrayal led him to break down the external appearance of an object, penetrating reality and depicting it with a geometric language. He had initially thought about rendering Fernande’s head not with clay but with wire. He explained to Roland Penrose, “I thought that the curves you see on the surface should continue into the interior,” he explained. “I had the idea of doing them in wire…[but] it was too intellectual too much like painting” (quoted in R. Penrose, The Sculpture of Picasso, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1967, p. 19). These words indicate that Picasso desired a greater level of transparency and immateriality in this medium. While he ultimately decided to use clay, thereby maintaining the materiality and solidity of the object, he broke down its surface, faceting it into the same geometric planes that he had employed in his painting. In so doing, he incorporated light, movement, and negative space into the work, harnessing these intangible aspects as an integral part of the construction. It was this aspect that led the legendary cubist dealer and scholar, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, to describe Tête de femme as the final conclusion of the increasingly gestural modeling of Auguste Rodin and Medardo Rosso.
The concept of breaking down and unpicking the human form was echoed by two other artistic sources that Picasso was likely aware of at this time. Tête de femme has been described as resembling ecorchés—flayed figure sculptures used by artists—Cézanne owned one such work—to study musculature under the skin. In addition, Picasso may have seen the work of sixteenth-century artist, Andreas Vesalius, who pioneered the study of the human anatomy. Picasso’s friend, the poet, Guillaume Apollinaire supposedly owned a copy of Vesalius’s De humani corporis fabrica, which was filled with highly detailed woodcuts illustrating the various components of the human body—in stages the musculature, internal organs, and skeleton. “Vesalius has re-entered the picture,” John Richardson wrote of the artist’s depictions of Fernande in 1909. “With his help Picasso penetrates beneath the skin, not because of any special interest in anatomical technicalities but because he wants to reconcile not just back and front but inside and outside” (op. cit., 2009, p. 133). This idea of going beyond the external appearance of the figure was an aspect Apollinaire also noted at the time. “And besides,” he wrote of Picasso in 1913, “anatomy, for example, really no longer existed in art; it had to be reinvented, and everyone had to perform his own assassination with the methodical skill of a great surgeon” (in L.C. Breunig, Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews 1902-1918 by Guillaume Apollinaire, London, 1972, p. 280).
It is clear that with Tête de femme Picasso felt he had resolved the sculptural element of his cubist exploration at that time. Only one other cubist sculpture exists—Pomme (Spies, no. 26) of the same year. This life-size apple is rendered like the head of Fernande, segmented and cut up. After he created Tête de femme in the fall of 1909, Picasso’s Cubism began to move to what would become, by the summer of 1910, almost entirely two-dimensional and abstract—the height of so-called Analytic Cubism. It was not until 1912 that Picasso would return once more to sculpture, fully abandoning the innate solidity of an object with his Guitares—assemblages constructed from cardboard and string.
Regarded with the portraits that proceeded it, Tête de femme is a work in which the practices of painting and sculpture are united. Indeed, it is a work defined by paradox. At once solid and weighty, it also appears at times almost evanescent with its constant play of light across the complex surface. Monumental and dynamic, it is also a powerful and personal evocation of the artist’s muse. So imprinted was Fernande on Picasso’s mind, he could render every aspect of her head from every angle, the result of an intimate gaze and a hand that had traced each outline, curve, and form of his lover’s visage. Tête de femme stands both as the conclusion of a period of intense discovery and yet marks the beginning of a new direction of exploration in Picasso’s career. With this work he demonstrated that sculpture no longer needed to be modeled or carved as a solid object, but could be cut apart to more fully incorporate the intangible qualities of light and space. This concept opened the door to a host of new possibilities not just in the medium of sculpture, but of art itself.
The present work was acquired by Samuel and Florene Marx from Curt Valentin’s Buchholz Gallery, New York, in 1951. The couple assembled a revered collection, particularly focused on Cubism, including the closely related Fernande portrait, Femme aux poires (Fernande) (Zervos, vol. 2a, no. 170; The Museum of Modern Art, New York), as well as famed masterpieces by Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and Joan Miró. James Thrall Soby wrote, “their aim was to buy and cherish the truly exalted works of painters and sculptors of international repute… It has won the collection a worldwide respect” (“School of Paris: Paintings from the Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx Collection on view at The Museum of Modern Art,” press release, 2 November 1965, p. 1). In 1995, Florene, who had married Wolfgang Schoenborn after Marx’s death, bequeathed most of her collection to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Art Institute of Chicago, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in whose collection Tête de femme remained until the present day.
There are approximately 20 known Vollard casts of Picasso’s Tête de femme (Fernande), the majority of which are in public institutions including the Musée National Picasso, Paris; National Gallery, Prague; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Kunsthaus Zürich; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York and Portland Art Museum, Oregon. In 1960, Picasso authorized Heinz Berggruen to cast a further edition of 9; unlike the earlier edition, these were numbered and stamped with the Valsuani foundry mark. Five of these nine later casts are located in public institutions, including the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles Museum of Art; Norton Simon Art Foundation, Pasadena; Stiftung Kulturbesitz, Berlin and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid. The plasters are at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas and on long-term loan at the Tate, London.

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All