Picasso painted this appealingly characterized Tête de femme in the summer of 1937. Its lively charm may seem unexpected in light of the tragic works that bracket it. Picasso painted this picture only a few months after he completed Guernica in early June, and about the same interval of time before he created La femme qui pleure (fig. 1), together with other works in his series of weeping women, in October. Dora Maar, Picasso's dark siren and muse of the late 30s and early 40s, was the weeping woman. She is also the attractive woman seen in this sunny portrait. This is one face among many that Picasso bestowed on Dora, whose image he used as a mirror to reflect the troubled events in the world around him, as well as the broad gamut of his own capricious emotions within.
Picasso liked to spend his holidays away from Paris in the sun and by the sea. In late March through early May, 1936, Picasso, his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and their baby Maya stayed secretly in Juan-les-Pins, near Cannes, away from the prying eyes of the artist's estranged wife, Olga. That summer the poet Paul Eluard and his wife Nusch borrowed use of a friend's apartment in Mougins, a small village that overlooked Cannes and was only a few miles from the beach. They suggested that Picasso spend his August vacation there as well. Picasso arrived from Paris, driven in his large Hispano-Suiza motorcar by his chauffeur Marcel, and took a small room at the local hotel, aptly named Le Vaste Horizon. Christian and Yvonne Zervos were already there, and other friends joined them, including Roland and Valentine Penrose, and Man Ray and his companion Adrienne. The poet René Char and the dealer Paul Rosenberg stopped by to visit. Picasso learned that Dora Maar, an intriguing and talented Yugoslav-born photographer whom he had met at the Café des Deux Magots in the fall of 1935, was staying in nearby Saint-Tropez. Picasso called on her, and, according to Penrose, "After lunch they disappeared together for a walk along the beach. He talked to her with candour, telling her of the complications in his life and the existence of his small daughter, Maya. He also asked her to accompany him back to Mougins" (in Picasso: His Life and Work, Berkeley, 1981, p. 292).
Picasso made some drawings but did little painting that summer, yet he enjoyed his stay at Mougins, and decided he would return there the following year. (Picasso, in 1961, bought a house near Mougins, where he spent his final years.) In May-June 1937 Picasso painted his mural Guernica, which was installed in the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair. By 1 July he had executed the first state of his large etching, La femme qui pleure (Bloch, no. 1333; Baer, no. 623). He was looking forward to his summer holiday, and following the delayed opening of the Spanish Pavilion on July 12, Picasso departed for Mougins, with Marcel again at the wheel, and a large trunk filled with luggage and painting materials. Dora--now his mistress--rode beside him, together with Kazbek, his new Afghan hound. The Eluards were already installed at the Vast Horizon, and they were again joined by Man Ray and Adrienne, as well as Penrose, who had recently separated from his wife and arrived with his new love, the photographer Lee Miller, who had been a student of Man Ray.
Penrose, in his first-hand account of events of that summer, recalled how "Picasso's energy, in no way sapped by the ordeal of Guernica, expressed itself not only in his physical enjoyment of the unfailing sunshine but also in the constant invention of his mind. Unlike the previous visit, when he had been content to make drawings in a small room with no more than the strict essentials, he installed himself in the only room with a balcony in the hotel. When he emerged on to the terrace for meals he would tell his friends, who were then occupying the whole hotel, what he had been doing. Sometimes he painted a landscape but more often he had made a portrait. As a reaction to his recent preoccupation with tragedy, he was seized with a diabolical playfulness. The 'portraits' were most frequently of Dora Maar, but at other times his model was Eluard or Nusch or Lee Miller. The paintings were strangely like their models but distorted and disguised by surprising inventions" (ibid., p. 311). Intriguingly, there is also a portrait of blond-haired Marie-Thérèse, wearing her familiar beret, dated 9 August (Picasso Project, no. 37-175). She normally stayed with Maya at a house in Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre, outside Paris, that the dealer Vollard had lent Picasso. According to Pierre Daix, "This might be a souvenir or a stirring of guilt or might indicate a secret meeting (in Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 254).
Picasso painted this sunny portrait of Dora during his second holiday in Mougins, probably in mid-August. She stands bust-length, showing the neckline of a yellow bathing suit or sun dress, "a sun queen," as Daix described her (ibid., p. 254), with a delectably low décolletage, standing against an azure Mediterranean sky. She is wearing a red coral necklace, an adornment also seen in a photograph that Lee Miller took of her. When Zervos included this painting in his catalogue he noted it had been done in Mougins, but he was working from a photograph that showed the portrait before Picasso signed and dated it, and he was unsure if it had been executed in 1937, or in 1938, during Picasso's third and final pre-war summer sojourn in Mougins. This painting is closely related to another picture of Dora, seen in three-quarter view, Portrait de femme, which is dated 14 August 1937 (first published in D. D. Duncan, Picasso's Picassos, New York, London, 1961, p. 224; Picasso Project no. 37-180; fig. 2). It shows the same cut in Dora's dress, her cleavage, and the coral necklace.
The visage of Dora in the present portrait is cleverly composed of two opposing profiles, conjoined to give the effect of a single, albeit fractured, frontal visage. Picasso often employed this device from the mid-1920s onward to suggest a complex personality or a conflicted emotional state. In this case, Dora appears mild and contemplative on the left side, and extrovert and acquisitive on the right. Picasso imported the slightly ferocious aspect of Dora's grin, with bared teeth, from the 14 August portrait, using it in the right side of her head in the present painting, which was probably painted not long afterwards. This configuration is also related to Picasso's experiments in photography in 1937, inspired by Dora's skills in the medium. He created a group of cliché-verre and photogram images that show Dora frontally and in profile, two of which were reproduced in Cahiers d'Art (nos. 6-7, 1937, pp. 189 and 193). These photographic images "constitute an 'identificatory' puzzle of Dora's image, the elements of which would be synthesized in canvases over the coming years through a new figurative geometry, namely the brutal juxtaposition of eyes seen frontally with a nose seen in three-quarter view" (A. Baldassari, Picasso and Photography, exh.cat., The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1997, p. 205).
Picasso and Dora departed from Mougins in mid-September (fig. 3). Back in Paris, he worked in the new studio that Dora had found for him that spring, at 7, rue des Grands-Augustin, in a building which was reputed, so Picasso believed, to have been the setting for Balzac's story of the obsessed painter Frenhofer, The Unknown Masterpiece. Here Picasso had painted Guernica, and he was now at work on his weeping women, culminating in the powerful image that, like his anti-war mural, has become a modern icon (fig. 1). He completed it on the day after his 56th birthday; it was his most tragic and wrenching image of Dora. Penrose purchased it from him for $250. During the fall Picasso also painted, as Daix described them, "his most beautiful portraits of Dora; the most tender and calm. Picasso always kept them" (op. cit., p. 254). These portraits recall the pleasant events and warm feelings of the recent summer in Mougins, tinted now in the golden glow of autumn (fig. 4).
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Le femme qui pleure, Paris, 26 October 1937. Tate Gallery, London. BARCODE 24768283
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Portrait de femme, Mougins, 14 August 1937. NO INFO IN REF. BARCODE 24768276
(fig. 3) The departure from Mougins, September 1937: Picasso, Dora Maar, Roland Penrose, with Lee Miller in the background behind him, and Nusch Eluard. Photograph by Man Ray. BARCODE 24768269
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Femme assise, Paris, fall 1937. Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE 24768252