Picasso drew the pastel Tête d'homme at Fontainebleau near Paris, where he, his wife Olga Khokhlova, and their infant son Paulo spent the summer of 1921. This sojourn proved to be extremely fruitful for the artist. He continued his cubist investigations of the previous decade, completing two versions of Trois musiciens, both masterpieces of synthetic cubism (Zervos, vol. 4, nos. 331 and 332). At the same time, he painted a series of massive, neoclassical female figures, including colossal bathers, giant seated nudes, iconic images of a mother and child, and the great Femmes à la fontaine (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 322; fig. 1). Whether draped or nude, these figures have the sculptural solidity and idealized features of ancient statuary. Their coiffure, parted in the middle and gently waved, is that of classical goddesses, while their crisp brows and heavy lids look as though they had been carved from stone. Concurrently, Picasso also executed a dozen pastels of heads and busts. Given the powdery texture and subtle tints of this delicate medium, these images are softer, more refined and sensual in their aspect, and it is perhaps not since Picasso's Blue and Rose periods that Picasso drew the human visage with such exquisite sensitivity and charm, even while rendering these images on fairly large sheets of paper, with the heads appearing substantially larger than life-size. Tête d'homme, whose appearance suggests more a downy cheeked boy in his late teens than a grown man, has the distinction of being the only male subject among these hauntingly introspective figures. Stemming from a creative and highly personal synthesis of various classicizing strands in the history of art, this pastel, like its companion works and oil paintings done that summer in Fontainebleau, marks Picasso's ongoing quest to define his own position among ancient and modern masters, as well as his broader meditation on enduring cultural values in the period following the First World War.
Picasso first began to integrate classicizing forms into his art in 1914, after seven years of working in an exclusively cubist mode. His earliest foray into classicism was a series of Ingresque portrait drawings, of which Picasso's dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler later recalled: "He showed me two drawings which were not cubist but classicist: two drawings of a seated man; and he said, 'Better than before, eh?'" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 138). In 1917, Picasso made his first realistic figure paintings in more than a decade, a group of portraits depicting his future wife Olga. From 1918 until 1924, he worked simultaneously in two visual idioms, producing classical and cubist masterpieces side-by-side. Despite his sustained commitment to cubism, Picasso's burgeoning neoclassical style prompted accusations from more dogmatic members of the avant-garde that he was repudiating modernism. The poet Pierre Reverdy, for example, published an article in 1917 in which he declared, "Cubism is an art of creation, not of reproduction or interpretation. No cubist painter should execute a portrait" (quoted in M. FitzGerald, "The Modernists' Dilemma: Neoclassicism and the Portrayal of Olga Khokhlova," in Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 301). Picasso, in turn, rejected this teleological view of art history, proclaiming in an interview in 1923, "The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered an evolution. If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression I have never hesitated to adopt them" (quoted in D. Ashton, ed., Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 5).
During the 1920s, the classicizing of pictorial styles became commonplace among Parisian artists as a response to a general rappel à l'ordre ("call to order"), an invocation of humanism and rational ideals as the necessary antidote to the violent upheaval and mechanized slaughter of the First World War. The return to order was a return to the figure, as one would recognize it in historical forms. In this context, Picasso's renewed exploration of a representational style has sometimes been considered a retreat from modernism, and it has even been suggested that the artist's move toward legibility was a response to chauvinistic attacks on cubism as a product of German culture. Analysis of Picasso's neoclassicism as part of a conservative post-war movement, however, fails to take into account both his continued exploration of cubism during this period and the fact that his earliest classicizing works actually pre-date the outbreak of hostilities. Offering a more nuanced reading of Picasso's neoclassicism, Michael FitzGerald has written, "Among the many phases of Picasso's work, neoclassicism is perhaps the most controversial, because its stylistic eclecticism and widespread popularity have led some writers to criticize it as a reactionary departure from modernism. When placed in the context of cultural developments during World War I, however, Picasso's neoclassicism is better understood as a renewal of the avant-garde. By explicitly embracing history, Picasso escaped the strictures of an increasingly rigid modernism to define a more vital alternative. He repudiated the convention of modernism's ahistoricism in order to acknowledge its maturity, as well as his own, and rejuvenate the avant garde by immersing it in the rich humanistic traditions that many cubist artists and theorists denied in a search for formal purity" (op. cit., p. 297).
The sources for Picasso's neoclassicism are extraordinarily rich and varied. In 1917, during a trip to Rome to design stage-sets for Diaghilev's ballet Parade, Picasso made excursions to see the ruins of ancient Pompeii. The dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine, who accompanied Picasso to Pompeii, later recalled the artist's exhilaration at the site: "Picasso was thrilled by the majestic ruins and climbed endlessly over broken columns to stand staring at fragments of Roman statuary" (quoted in J. Clair, ed., Picasso, 1917-1924: The Italian Journey, exh. cat., Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 1998, pp. 79-80). He visited the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, and probably purchased a postcard of the Farnese Juno (fig. 2), now thought to be the goddess Artemis, a Roman copy of a Greek sculpture made in the fifth century BC. This sculpture would provide the basic model for Picasso's female Fontainebleau heads. Picasso also took the opportunity to study examples of ancient fresco painting; a photograph taken by Cocteau at Pompeii shows Picasso pointing to a painting of Bacchus and Silenus, and the artist brought home postcards, now in the Musée Picasso, of other Pompeian wall paintings. The muted, earthy palette of Picasso's Fontainebleau canvases and pastels suggests the tones of ancient fresco technique. Before returning to Paris, Picasso visited Florence, where he admired the primitives in the Uffizi, the paintings of Raphael, and the sculptures of Michelangelo.
In addition to referencing Greek and Roman prototypes, Picasso's paintings from the early 1920s acknowledge the neoclassical tradition of Poussin, Ingres, and Puvis de Chavannes. He was also drawn to the carved stone reliefs of the 16th century Fontainbleau sculptor Jean Goujon, and attended an exhibition of Fontainebleau school drawings on view in the town chateau. He had in mind voluptuous, classicized nudes of Renoir, which took center stage at the Galerie Paul Rosenberg, where Picasso began to exhibit in 1919. In his first show at Rosenberg's gallery, Picasso included a drawing titled D'après Renoir, and he purchased at least seven of Renoir's late nudes. Finally, Picasso's Fontainebleau paintings and pastels hark back to his own paintings from the summer of 1906 at Gósol, which drew heavily on classical models. Commenting on the range of pictorial and thematic possibilities that he quarried from the history of art during this period, Picasso himself stated, "To me there is no past or future in art. If a work of art cannot live always in the present it must not be considered at all. The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was" (quoted in D. Ashton, ed., op. cit., p. 4).
In their rich amalgamation of historical sources, the visages that appear in Picasso's paintings and pastels during his Fontainebleau summer transcend any conventional definition or function of portraiture, even if they ostensibly bear a recognizable resemblance to Picasso's wife Olga. Indeed, it was the figure of Olga that had inspired Picasso in 1917 to make his first oil paintings in the neoclassical mode, and her image continued to permeate his unique brand of classicism for the next six years. In a photograph that Picasso took in his Fontainebleau studio, Olga is posed in the midst of a group of five pastel heads related to Femmes à la fontaine, all of which share her crisply defined features, parted and waved coiffure, and air of poise and reserve (fig. 3). Elizabeth Cowling has written: "the volumes of the head are simplified and idealised; the nose and forehead are continuous; the hair is arranged in the traditional Greek manner; the eyes stare blankly; the expression is impassive [Zervos, vol. 4, no. 347; fig. 5]," (On Classic Ground, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1990, p. 213).
Having passed the image of Olga through the lens of history, Picasso has idealized and ennobled his wife. In the present Tête d'homme, the artist has subjected her to a further transformation, remaking semblances of Olga's visage into the face of a masculine youth. Here Picasso used as his model from antiquity the Farnese Head of Antinous which he had seen in Naples (fig. 5). Pastel was indeed the perfect medium for this image; the boy's softly androgynous features lend his expression a quality which is more intriguingly enigmatic--and most engagingly so--than nearly any other among the female heads. Robert Rosenblum has written, "Picasso's backward evolution to the pure and vigorous origins of classical art has a more personal inflection than that of his contemporaries; and his familiar quotations from ideal beauty are imbued with a quivering physical and psychological life that reflects his mysterious, Pygmalion-like power as their creator" (in Picasso: The Early Years, 1892-1906, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 270). Picasso appears to have been fond of this male head, and during 11-12 February 1923 he made from it a charcoal drawing (Zervos, vol. 5, no. 13; fig. 6), which furnished the male persona who took on roles as a lover, ballet dancer, saltimbanque and harlequin in paintings completed during the remainder of that winter.
The very scale of the head contributes to the aura of mystery surrounding this mild youth who has been cast adrift in art history. Picasso's enlargement of the normal dimensions of the head was indeed intended to lend a heroic, monumental character to his classical figures, so that they would stand apart from conventional portraits and evoke hauntingly ambiguous dimensions of time and place. John Richardson has put his finger on a pressing interest that also motivated the artist in this regard: "Picasso was still very eager to work on a heroic scale and challenge Matisse's magnificent murals for Shchukin. The experience of designing theater decors had taught him, among other tricks of the trade, how to gauge effects of scale at varying distances; so had the experience of seeing François I's decorations in situ as well as up close. Some had been taken off the wall and were on exhibit in Fontainebleau's Jeu de Paume. Picasso now felt ready to tackle subjects far larger than himself. The lure of sculpture, or, rather, the lure of becoming a sculptor should also be taken into account. Since Picasso lacked the requisite facilities--space, equipment, and above all, time--that monumental sculpture requires, he set about doing paintings in a classical vein that would double as conceptual sculptures. To simulate the matte look of stone, he executed his nudes and heroic-sized heads in pastel or sanguine, sometimes on canvas" (Picasso: The Triumphant Years, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, p. 196).
Like his earlier preoccupation with cubism, Picasso's classicism reflected an inner imperative, but to a greater extent than his cubism, the artist's classical heads were a grand public statement that addressed the culture in which he lived and worked, and consequently were less revealing of his private emotions. This outward-looking approach and externalized embodiment of shared ideals was in keeping with the "call to order." Picasso consequently offered his take on the repertory of classicized female deities who represented the French nation in popular patriotic imagery during the war and post-war period. Although Picasso's classical matrons are far too generalized to function as explicit allegories, they nonetheless stand as an evocative counterpart to the ubiquitous Victories, Glories, and Patries of the popular press. Kenneth Silver has written, "Just as the French nation during the war turned to l'histoire--in its dual aspect of history and 'story' or myth--for moral support, so Picasso creates a mythic antique world that nonetheless has the weight and reassuring gravity of truth" (in Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, Princeton, 1989, p. 278). His imposing female figures and heads exude a sense of ripeness and fertility; Picasso's maternity subjects, beneath the veneer of their traditional genre charm, could be read as a subtle reminder to the survivors of the Great War that it was now time to be fruitful and multiply, to replenish the vast legions of fathers and sons lost in battle. Picasso, for his part, had accomplished just that with the recent birth of his son. In depicting a male head, that of a strong but gentle youth, innocent and as yet untested, but with a serious and determined gaze, Picasso has created an even more potent symbol of regeneration and cultural renewal. Moreover, looking beyond the past and present and well into the future, Picasso may have visualized an idealized image of Paulo, as his own son might one day stand before him.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Trois femmes à la fontaine, Fontainebleau, summer 1921. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
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(fig. 2) The Farnese Bust of Juno, copy of the original Alkamenes, 5th century BC. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.
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(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Olga Picasso in the Fontainebleau Studio, photograph, autumn, 1921. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow.
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(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme, Fontainebleau, September 1921. Formerly in the collection of Billy Wilder; sold, Christie's New York, 13 November 1989, lot 30.
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(fig. 5) The Farnese Head of Antinous, Roman copy, second century AD from the Greek original, first half of the fifth century BC. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples.
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(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Tête de jeune homme, 11-12 February 1923. Private collection.
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