The late Bozena Nikiel confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Although credit for the invention of cubism lies unequivocally with Picasso and Braque, it was Jean Metzinger more than any other painter who took the helm in formulating a cubist school of painting and codifying its ideas in writing. In 1911, he organized a group of like-minded artists—Delaunay, Léger, Gleizes, Le Fauconnier, and himself—to exhibit together at the Salon d’Indépendants, officially launching the cubist movement in Paris; the next year, he was a driving force behind the Section d’Or exhibition at the Galerie la Boétie, the most comprehensive manifestation of cubism before the war. Along with Gleizes, moreover, Metzinger was the co-author of Du Cubisme (1912), which articulated fully for the first time a philosophical basis for this radically new pictorial language.
Metzinger’s rational, intellectual approach to cubism informed his painting as well as his organizing, theorizing, and writing. Apollinaire noted in 1913 that Metzinger’s art, “always more and more abstract, but always charming, raises and attempts to solve the most difficult and unforeseen problems of aesthetics” (quoted in Jean Metzinger in Retrospect, exh. cat., University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City, 1985, p. 44). In the present canvas, Metzinger contrasted a cubist interpretation of a woman’s head and bust, dissected into their component geometric parts, with a naturalistic rendering of the same subject, framed and hung on the wall—the old artistic idiom giving way to the new. The striped curtains that open onto the scene and the door at the left with its prominent keyhole visualize the notion that Metzinger was unlocking for the viewer the mysteries of cubism, rendering its complex principles lucid and intelligible.
The space of the painting is built up from variously patterned planes, most prominently the striped wallpaper and wood-grain paneling, which evoke Gris’s contemporaneous experiments in both papier collé and oils. The cubist head is presented simultaneously as an abstract, transparent form and a solid object in space, shaded volumetrically and casting a shadow; the dominant oval is repeated in the elliptical frame that surrounds the painting-within-a-painting, heightening the play of reality versus representation.
The earliest private owner of Tête de jeune fille was the American lawyer John Quinn, who may have acquired the canvas from Carstairs (Carroll) Galleries in New York after it was exhibited there in 1915. A prominent figure in progressive art circles, Quinn assembled a collection of some 2500 paintings, drawings, and sculptures between 1911 and 1924, including works by all the major cubists and a trove of Brancusi sculptures. Quinn served as legal counsel for the landmark 1913 Armory Show, successfully lobbying for revisions to the tariff laws on modern art imported from Europe.