Picasso’s Tete de femme is a riot of complex lines and swirls executed with a sense of energy that emboldens the woman to practically vibrate off the page with anxiety. Drawn in October of 1942, Picasso by that time was surrounded by war and had explored the manic and anxious woman as a subject through his famous weeping women of 1937. These works evoke a strong feeling of sympathy, a shared sense of apprehension and grief over events that have already taken place and have helped define the violent character of modern European history.
In 1940, Picasso and his lover Dora Maar had abandoned southern France, controlled by the Vichy government, to return to Paris, at the time under Nazi occupation. Picasso moved his studio to the Grands-Augustins, where he continued to work discretely throughout the war. The couple continued to meet up with artists and intellectuals in the cafés of Paris, but many had by then left. André Breton and several Surrealists had sought refuge in New York. In 1942, Paul Eluard, one of Picasso’s closest friends, had joined the Resistance, disappearing underground. That same year, the deportation of the Jews of France began. In 1944, Picasso would lose his dear friend, the poet Max Jacob, who was deported to the Drancy concentration camp, where he died of pneumonia. The Surrealist Robert Desnos was also deported, dying at Terezina shortly after the liberation of the camp in 1945.
Despite these tumultuous surroundings, Picasso himself did not see his own war-time pictures as reflections of the war, or direct representations. Yet he was aware that they might be seen as barometers of the world around him and also of his own complex domestic life. “I have not painted the war because I am not the kind of painter who goes out like a photographer for something to depict,” he explained. “But I have no doubt that the war is in these paintings I have done. Later on perhaps the historians will find them and show that my style has changed under the war’s influence. Myself, I do not know” (quoted in Picasso and the War Years, 1937-1945, exh. cat., The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1998, p. 13). It is hard not to see the reverberations of that horrific war in the frantic eyes and the apprehensive air that surrounds the woman in this work.
The late owners of this work, Maurice and Muriel Fulton, were passionate collectors, generous with their time and philanthropic with organizations they held close to their hearts. They were vital supporters of the Art Institute of Chicago (where a gallery is named in their honor), Boca Raton Museum of Art, Morikami Museum, The Ravinia Music Festival and their beloved alma mater, The University of Chicago, where a lecture series on the History of Law is named in their honor.