PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE COLLECTOR
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Tête de femme (Dora Maar)

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Tête de femme (Dora Maar)
dated '7.1.39.' (centre left)
oil on paper
12 5/8 x 8 3/8 in. (32.1 x 21.4 cm.)
Painted on 7 January 1939
The artist's estate.
Paloma Picasso, Paris, by descent from the above in 1979.
Private collection, United States.
Pace Gallery, New York, by whom acquired from the above in February 1984.
Ronald P. Stanton, by whom acquired from the above on 22 February 1985, and thence by descent; sale, Christie’s, New York, 15 May 2017, lot 40A.
Private collection, by whom acquired at the above sale.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. IX, Œuvres de 1937 à 1939, Paris, 1958, no. 251 (illustrated pl. 119).
H. Parmelin, Picasso: Women, Cannes and Mougins, 1954-63, Amsterdam, 1965, p. 54 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Minotaur to Guernica (1927-1939), Barcelona, 2011, no. 1269, pp. 408 & 450 (illustrated p. 408).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

An icon of the pre-war period, Pablo Picasso’s Tête de femme is an ode to Dora Marr, the artist’s great wartime mistress, muse, and intellectual match. Maar, the name alone writes Brigitte Léal ‘conjures up one of the greatest moments of [Picasso’s] creative efforts’ (B. Léal, ‘“For charming Dora”: Portraits of Dora Maar’, in W. Rubin, ed., Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 385). With its simplified geometry and elimination of tonal modelling, Tête de femme is a force of slate, dark green, and electric yellow. Maar, the painting says, was formidable and otherworldly.
Picasso and Maar circled one another for months before their initial, fateful meeting. They both exhibited in the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1935 and shared several friends including Paul Éluard and André Breton, but it wasn’t until autumn of 1935 that they were finally introduced by Éluard at Les Deux Magots. Theirs was an unforgettable encounter, an omen as to what was to come. According to Francoise Gilot, who recounted the meeting in her memoir Life with Picasso, when Picasso saw Maar, ‘she was wearing black gloves with little pink flowers appliquéed on them. She took off the gloves and picked up a long, pointed knife, which she began to drive into the table between her outstretched fingers to see how close she could come to each finger without actually cutting herself. From time to time she missed by a tiny fraction of an inch and before she stopped playing with the knife, her hand was covered with blood. Pablo told me that was what made up his mind to interest himself in her. He was fascinated. He asked her to give him the gloves and he used to keep them in a vitrine at the Rue des Grands-Augustins, along with other mementos’ (F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, pp. 85-86).
While Maar’s raven hair and defiance were alluring, it was her ‘mirada fuerte,’ or strong, powerful gaze, that so captivated Picasso (M. Caws, Dora Maar with & without Picasso: A Biography, London, 2000, p. 120). Here was a woman who ‘took things and life seriously’ (ibid.). Indeed, as Picasso’s biographer John Richardson put it, ‘In love doesn’t quite sum up Picasso’s feelings towards Dora. I think he was obsessed with her, a passionate sexual love. It was not that Dora was so beautiful – she was far more interesting than that. She added a whole new class and layer to his other mistresses’ (J. Richardson quoted in L. Baring, Dora Maar: Paris in the Time of Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, and Picasso, New York, 2017, p. 164).
After Éluard’s introduction, Maar invited Picasso to her studio where she took a series of photographs of the artist and also offered him one of herself: ‘I found a portrait of myself and as I seem to remember that you asked me for one, I am bringing it to you’ (D. Maar quoted in A. Baldassari, Picasso: Love and War: 1935-1945, Paris, 2006, p. 65). On the back of the portrait, she drew herself holding a camera, accompanied by a diagram explaining how one operated the machine. It was one artist addressing another, thus beginning a relationship between two forceful personalities, two devotees to art.
It is fitting, therefore, that their courtship took place against the dramatic backdrop of Europe’s political tumult, coinciding with the fascist upswell across the continent. In fact, the totality of their relationship was tragically entwined with the violence and sorrow of the coming war. Maar’s intensity and inscrutability as interpreted by Picasso in Tête de femme and other works seem to reflect the portentous mood in the years preceding the Second World War.
Tête de femme was executed in the earliest days of 1939, on the first Saturday of the new year in Picasso’s studio at 7 rue des Grands-Augustins in Paris. Even before meeting Picasso, Maar, too, knew the space well, having spent time in the apartment when it was home to Jean-Louis Barrault, the actor. It was she, in fact, who suggested it to Picasso, and the walls of 7 rue des Grands-Augustins would serve as the setting to the many portraits of Maar that Picasso painted during their relationship.
While Picasso’s initial depictions of Maar were somewhat naturalistic, they quickly took a turn for the fantastical. If during the Occupation of Paris, these would become savage transformations, in the early days of their relationship, the paintings were less transmogrifications than mercurial representations in which Picasso sought to arrest Maar's true nature. In countless portraits, he reimagined Maar, painting her allegorically, animalistically, as sombre, as ferocious. At times, she was prophet-like, one who could see the future but whose predictions were to never be believed – except by Picasso, that is, who made her the vessel through which he ruminated on life, past and present. Maar was the ultimate cadavre exquis, and Picasso would continue to alter and manipulate her face and body in new and provocative ways throughout their relationship.
By 1939, Maar’s position as Picasso’s paramour and muse was well cemented, but she was not the only woman in his life, and he maintained a relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter, whom he had met a decade prior. The two women came to represent duelling poles within Picasso’s oeuvre, with Maar depicted stridently, in angular geometries and dark colours, and Walter more sinuously. Picasso’s art was always inherently biographical, reflecting his life and moods, his yearnings and fears. ‘It seems that Picasso,’ writes Brigitte Baer, ‘could feel what he called his “emotions” only through the intermediary of a mirror… he discovered his feelings in the mirror of other people’s eyes or faces, or at least what he projected there, even into those bodies at rest or convulsed – in short, through the intermediary of his painting’ (B. Baer, ‘Where Do They Come From – These Superb Paintings and Horrid Women of “Picasso’s War”?’, in S. A. Nash, ed., Picasso and the War Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, pp. 83).
But as much as Picasso painted Walter, it was Maar who he obsessed over during this period, her contours, countenance, and mannerisms; her likeness is the throughline of this period and the subject of an astounding number of paintings, prints, and drawings. More than her looks or eyes, it was Maar’s fierce independence, political engagement, and profound commitment to her art that kept Picasso in her thrall. Their subsequent rupture has retroactively been mapped onto Picasso’s portraits of Maar, but even as he created tortured images, he also painted her with loving admiration. As Mary Ann Caws noted, ‘For besides turning her powerful features into an equally powerful lament against the cruelty of war, Picasso expressed in them optimism, energy, and tenderness’ (M. Caws, ‘A tortured goddess’, The Guardian, 7 October 2000).

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