Tête de Cariatide is a rare drawing dating from circa 1909-14, when Modigliani was pursuing a career as a sculptor. Due to poor health, which had plagued him since childhood, Modigliani had to abandon his earliest efforts in this medium. In 1909, however, he met Brancusi, who encouraged Modigliani to make sculptures, and for about three years the artist focused only on that medium. Some twenty-five sculptures from that important period in the artist's career survive. Modigliani's choice of subject matter was narrow: idol-like heads, a kneeling caryatid, and a single standing figure.
During these early years Modigliani also made a fairly large number of drawings, which reflect the central role that sculpture then played in his life. It is uncertain whether Tête de Cariatide is a preparatory study of one of his sculptures, or a drawing of one of his models made in its own right. Comparable to his sculptures, however, Tête de Cariatide conveys a solemnity that appears somehow detached from the real world. Like several of his contemporaries, such as Picasso, Brancusi, or Braque, Modigliani was strongly interested in non-Western art, mostly African and Asian art, which were much in vogue in Paris at the time. At the same time he aimed at simplifying the forms and finding a new, more powerful style and imagery. As a result, his head studies are among the most original works of the kind in both drawing and sculpture.
The first owner of this drawing was Kate Meyrick (1875-1933), an Irish business woman and proprietor of the famous '43 Club' in London'. Her daughter sold it at auction in 1983, when it was acquired by the present owner.