Picasso met Françoise Gilot, a young painter, in the restaurant 'Le Catalan' on the Rue des Grands-Augustins, down the street from the artist's studio, in May 1943. He invited her and a girlfriend to his studio, and they showed up at the beginning of the following week. She returned many times thereafter, and by the end of the year she was appearing in his drawings. During this time Picasso was involved in his relationship with Dora Maar, and continued to see his previous mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter Maïa. Picasso and Françoise became increasingly intimate over the next couple of years. During a stay together in Golfe-Juan in March 1946, Picasso persuaded Françoise to sever her ties to her family, who objected to their liaison, and when they returned to Paris in April, they began to live together.
Françoise recounted in her memoir of Picasso how he made some drawings of her from life: "'I almost never work from a model, but since you're here, maybe I ought to try,' he said to me one afternoon." (quoted in F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 115). Disappointed with the results, Picasso tore them up. During a second session he studied her carefully, but drew nothing. Thereafter he drew and painted her purely from memory.
Beginning in late April, Picasso began making close-up portraits of Françoise seen head-on, using pencil in a simple linear manner (Picasso Project, nos. 46-033--043; coll. Musée Picasso, Paris). The artist made his signature portrait of Françoise as a flower, Femme-fleur, on 5 May 1946 to celebrate his new love (Zervos, vol. 14, no. 167). There is also a well-known pencil portrait of Françoise with her hand to her cheek and luxuriant wavy hair, drawn on 20 May (Picasso Project, no. 46-048; coll. Musée Picasso, Paris). Picasso also executed ten lithographs of the head of Françoise on 14 June in the workshop of his printer Mourlot, a sequence that culminated on the following day in an image of her face appearing as the sun, Françoise en soleil (Rau, nos. 133-143). In these prints she is also seen frontally, with her shoulder-length hair arranged in various ways. This simple format became the basis of the present drawing, as well two others, done on 30 June (Zervos, vol. 14, nos. 183 and 186).
The present drawing is perhaps the most beautiful of this set of three. Picasso has forcefully rendered his companion's abundant hair, giving the image a greater sense of depth than the other portraits done that day, an effect that is reinforced by the crescent-shaped shading on her cheek. The idea of Françoise as the femme-fleur is reiterated in the looping floral patterning on her blouse. The photographer Brassaï, a close friend of Picasso, remembered Françoise: "I was struck by the vitality of this girl, by her tenacity to triumph over obstacles. Her entire personality radiated an impression of freshness and restless vitality" (quoted in Conversations avec Picasso, Paris, 1964, p. 124). Michael C. FitzGerald wrote: "Throughout their years together, Picasso tapped this energy and channeled it into his art" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 415).