Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Picasso painted this Tête de femme in the spring of 1909, and when it is offered for sale on 6 May, it will be as close, as anyone can ascertain, to having reached its exact centennial. The artist brought his groundbreaking Les Demoiselles d'Avignon to its final state, without actually completing it, during the summer of 1907 (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 18; The Museum of Modern Art, New York). He had worked in fits and starts for almost a year on his next major composition, Trois femmes (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 208; The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), which he finished it in the fall of 1908. Picasso may have experienced moments of hesitation and uncertainty during this period, but he had in fact come a long way in a relatively short time. He took valuable lessons from each day's work as he moved on to the next, and his astonishing progress can be traced in each and every sheet of paper and canvas he put his mark on--no effort seems insignificant or to have been wasted. Picasso had undertaken the most fundamental restructuring of pictorial form since the Renaissance, and his journey toward cubism is perhaps the most ____ development of a radically transformative idea in the entire history of Western art.
Picasso's all-consuming interest in analyzing form had directed him to limit his subjects to those he could treat as portraiture, the figure, the landscape and the still-life. He had eliminated the narrative aspect in his art, which had been inseparable from his work through the Rose period and even in the early phases of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. By way of compensation there was a new focus and intensity in his work, which came purely from looking at things and seeking to understand how he saw them. This was the legacy of Cézanne, who "was my only master," Picasso later declared. "It was the same for all of us--he was like our father. It was he who protected us" (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Volume II: 1907-1917, New York, 1996, p. 52).
During the spring of 1909 Picasso concentrated on portraits of his mistress Fernande Olivier (fig. 1). They had been living together in his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre since the fall of 1904. John Richardson has pointed out that Fernande was suffering from a kidney complaint in early 1909 (ibid., p.108), which probably explains why Picasso concentrated on close-ups of her head (as seen here), and bust-length or seated portraits, in ordinary poses that were easy on her as she convalesced. Conforming to the favored feminine appearance of her day, Fernande had a full, somewhat plump and sensual figure, and a pretty, broad-cheeked face. Cubism gave her an extreme makeover, but in light of Picasso's evolving formal imperatives, it is beside the point that he was rarely flattering in his treatment of her features, often giving her a bulging forehead and cheeks, little zigzag lips and--most recognizably--a double or even triple chin.
This deformative tendency, however, is not yet so pronounced in the present study, in which Fernande's visage takes on the pared down features of a mask. Picasso has modeled her head with sharply delineated planes of light and shadow, employing a hard-edged chiaroscuro, which he reinforced by applying a network of hatch marks in thin, parallel brushstrokes. The massive aspect of Fernande's head retains a balanced and weighty simplicity that derives from the monumental figures in Trois femmes, painted the year before. The red and green washes relate to the earthen palette Picasso had employed in his La Rue-des-Bois landscapes during the summer of 1908 and his more recent still life compositions. Having discarded the naturalistic conventions of traditional portraiture, Picasso has rendered the features of Fernande's face through the invention and fashioning of simple pictorial signs that represent them. There is nothing realistic or specifically descriptive in Picasso's treatment of his girlfriend's eyes, nose, mouth and ears, yet all of these features are instantly recognizable, having been cast in purely plastic forms that serve as elemental building blocks in the construction of the overall image. Pepe Karmel has written:
"[Picasso's] drawings work out the detailed faceting of mouth and nose, reducing their anatomical complexity to a series of symmetrical, crystalline facets. Picasso himself seems to have justified the rigorously geometric language of these drawings as an expression of ideal, Platonic forms. As Leo Stein later recalled, 'Picasso would stand before a Cézanne or a Renoir picture and say contemptuously "Is that a nose? No this is a nose." and then he would draw a pyramidal diagram'" (in Picasso and the Invention of Cubism, New Haven, 2003, p. 64).
The present Tete de femme is closely related to a gouache in a similar size and format, with a more fully worked background (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 144). By means of these and other studies done in early 1909, Picasso was working toward an integrated conception of sculptural form in his paintings, one that he could utilize throughout an entire composition, allowing him to convincingly merge the figure within its environment. He accomplished this aim later that spring in La dame à l'éventail (Zervos, vol. 2*, no. 137; fig. 2), which Richardson has called "by far the finest 'portrait' of this period" (op. cit., p. 108). He went on to point out that "In fact it is not really a portrait. Picasso told me that although it was not done from life, it was known 'in the studio' as a portrait of Etta Cone [the Baltimore collector]. As he would later say of his paintings which may or may or not be portraits: 'Lo hice pensando en' (I had so--and so--in mind when I painted it)" (op, cit., pp. 108 and 110). Jeffrey Weitz has observed: "the incessant proliferation of 'Fernandes' in 1909 should caution us not to address Fernande herself as a conventional portrait subject whose coordinates for the artist were biographical; multiple sequences of works each represented by similar or identical 'takes' reveal instead a process of extreme formalism" (in exh. cat., op. cit., Washington, D.C., 2003, p. 13).
During the ensuing months of 1909 Picasso dispensed with the starkly dramatic chiaroscuro seen in this Tête de femme. To create the effect of three-dimensional form, he instead turned to an increasing use of faceting that was no longer dependent on conventional shading, and he proceeded to orchestrate the surface of his paintings by means of a purely intuitive alternation of light and dark planar elements. That summer Picasso and Fernande traveled to Horta de Ebro, a remote village in the Spanish Pyrenees. The rugged landscape features that the artist saw everywhere around him appear to have encouraged him to introduce even more extensive faceting into his forms, in both his landscape and figure compositions (fig. 3). His paintings for the first time display an overall and consistent planar structure, a step that marks a critical development in the emergence of fully realized cubism. Weitz has noted how these paintings "sustain an impression of manifest weight and depth despite the growing ambiguity of projecting and receding planesan increasingly dispersed yet gravity-stricken density of form" (op. cit., p. 15).
When Picasso returned to Paris in September, he began to model Tête de femme (Fernande), the sculptural synthesis of his analytical research and formal ideas up to this point (Zervos, vol. 2**, no. 573; Spies, no. 24; fig. 4). The artist translated the effect of faceting in his canvases into three dimensions, where it is perceived as the interaction between tangible physical mass and void. Werner Spies has pointed out that the head of Fernande "remained an isolated work, representing a stylistic phase marked by a balance between the preservation and dissolution of form" (in Picasso: The Sculpture, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. ___). It seems fitting that an actual sculpture should mark the culmination of this sculptural phase in Picasso's early cubism, following a line that may be traced from the present watercolor and other studies done earlier in 1909. Karmel has noted the significance of these works:
"Picasso's faceted figures of 1909 have a monumental quality that recalls Cézanne's card players or the figures of the Italian "Primitives." After the dematerialization of form in Impressionism, and the flattening of form in Post-Impressionism, this restoration of a sense of sculptural solidity (without a return to conventional realism) was a major achievement" (op. cit., p. 13).
(fig. 1) Fernande Olivier, circa 1906, Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: 26530789
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, La dame à l'éventail, Paris, spring 1909. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. BARCODE: 26532240
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Fernande Olivier), Horta de Ebro, summer 1909. Städelscher Museums-Verein e. V., Frankfurt-am-Main. BARCODE: 26532233
(fig 4) Pablo Picasso, Tête de Femme (Fernande), 1909. One of two photographs that Alfred Stieglitz made of the bronze cast that he acquired in 1912, which he published in his periodical Camera Work, August 1912.