Picasso painted this striking portrait of his partner Françoise Gilot at the very end of their relationship, on 26 June 1953. It was the end of an era in many senses. Not only was their relationship almost over--they would finally separate in August--it was also the year Stalin died.
Picasso's adherence to the Communist cause during the period after the Second World War is well documented. Picasso remained a Party member for a long time, but it is interesting to note that in many ways, Françoise's departure marked the end of his true devotion. Although it is possible that she merely joined because she was Picasso's partner, she had nonetheless been a vital bridge between the Party and Picasso. It was only after Picasso left that he realized how much of a bridge she had been between him and so many elements in his life.
As happened with so many of Picasso's partners during his long and active life, his works effectively provide barometers indicating the state of each of his relationships. This is powerfully evoked in Buste de femme. By this time the couple's relationship was strained, stemming from Picasso's numerous affairs and Gilot's restistance to having a third child. Consistent with many of Picasso's portraits of Gilot towards the end of their relationship, Buste de femme reflects a new characterization of his mistress. While reconfiguration of his female subjects was not new to Picasso's work, the present painting is remarkable as Gilot's trademark emotive, wide oval eyes, perfect nose and full lips are all represented but entirely muted into a single picture plane. The artist skillfully employs line and monochromatic color to depict Gilot's face with flattened planes. Volume has been reduced by a sophisticated manipulation of these elements, and Gilot's bust and shoulders are clearly dilineated against the bare, white background. Almost severed, the body no longer seems to exist, only Picasso's memory of her striking visage. Gilot was still in her twenties in 1953, yet there are few signs of her youth and vitality. These aspects of the work should have been doubly poignant for Gilot, who was herself a skilled artist and very familiar with the thought behind Picasso's work. She had even collaborated on his works at times. Picasso was already having affairs with other women during this period and had met Jacqueline Roque, who would later become his last great love.
(fig. 1) Picasso with Françoise Gilot in Vallauris