Femme au chapeau bleu garni d'une guirlande dates from 1923-24, at the conclusion of Picasso's Neo-Classical phase (1917-1924). This was the period when Picasso's style consciously evoked the elegance and grandeur of Greco-Roman art and of the French nineteenth century Neo-Classical paintings by Ingres. His emphasis during these years was on the strength of line and the monumentality of form, and his figures often resembled the classical sculpture that he encountered on trips to Italy and Fontainebleau during those years. When he applied this particular style to more intimate renderings, the results were often stunning. In this exquisite pastel, he records the soft flesh of the figure's face, the shadows around her eyes and nose, the creases of her chemise and the texture of her blue hat. These subtle details are all captured here with the most skillful and precise draftsmanship, creating a work of art that is at once distinctly modern and eternally beautiful. As Picasso once said about his own work, "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 Picasso: The Classical Period (ex. cat.), C&M Arts, New York, 2003, p. 21).
Picasso's focus on the Classical age was a product of a movement, or 'call to order,' that dominated the avant-garde in France after World War I. This movement promoted linear precision and clear draftsmanship in art akin to the artistic style of Western antiquity. Its overarching socio-political goal was to cast France as the center of the new 'golden age' of civilization. This post-war cultural preoccupation could not have come at a better time for Picasso, who had all but exhausted Cubism by this point and was looking for a new way to challenge himself. Together with Jean Cocteau, Picasso traveled to Italy in 1921 to study the Latinate origins of art in Naples and Pompeii. According to John Richardson, one of the objects that had the most profound effect on him was the head of the Farnese Juno (fig. 1), whose solid features appear in several of his head studies from the early 1920s. Richardson explains, "Picasso occasionally gives her idealized classical features a look of Olga, or his American friend Sara Murphy, or his former fiancée Irène Lagut, or conceivably, one of the nannies Olga hired and fired.... References to the Farnese marbles would recur whenever Picasso's imagery took on a classical tinge" (J. Richardson, ibid., p. 13).
Although Richardson tells us that the women in Picasso's pictures from this period were basically an amalgam of many influences in Picasso's life, one cannot help to relate Picasso's biography to his art when looking at Femme au chapeau bleu garni d'une guirlande. One of the possible inspirations for the present work was, of course, the artist's wife Olga. Olga's sturdy bone structure - her long straight nose, the sweeping arch of her brow and the graceful oval shape of her face - were perfectly suited to the type of linearity and solidity that characterized Picasso's Neo-Classical undertaking and had provided the inspiration for several of Picasso's paintings in the early 1920s (fig. 4). By 1923, however, Picasso's amorous attention was directed elsewhere. Prior to painting this composition, Picasso had spent the summer in the south of France with the American ex-patriots Sara and Gerald Murphy. Picasso became infatuated with Sara that summer (fig. 2), incorporating her likeness into some of his most ambitious canvases from that year, including the serene Femme en blanc, 1923 (fig. 3). Picasso's yearnings for Sara had not subsided when he executed the present work a few months later, and perhaps we can see her resemblance to the woman in this picture.
The first owner of this work was Shigetaro Fukushima (1895-1960), one of the earliest collectors of European modernist art in Japan. Born in Tokyo in 1895, he visited Paris for the first time in 1923 and shortly after his arrival made his first purchase of a French painting, a Renoir landscape. In 1925 he was introduced to Picasso by Paul Guillaume and purchased a number of important works by the artist. Although his collection contained masterpieces from the Blue Period and early Cubism - Mère et enfant, 1901, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University and Buste de femme (Femme au chignon, summer 1909, Hiroshima Museum of Art) – his preference was for Picasso's work of the 1920s. In addition to the present work, the Fukushima collection included at one time Paysans endormis, 1919 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), L'arlequin au miroir, 1925 (Thyssen Collection) and La Cage, 1925 (Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki). At its peak, the collection numbered over one hundred works by, among others, Derain, Rouault, Matisse, Soutine, Chagall and Modigliani. After returning to Japan in 1933, Fukushima was obliged to sell some of his prized works from time to time to supplement his business activities.
Pastel on paper
25 1/4 by 18 3/4 in. 64.2 by 47.5 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, vol. 5, Paris, 1952, no. 181, illustrated pl. 87
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. Neoclassicism II, 1922-1924, San Francisco, 1996, no. 23-228, illustrated p. 181
Picasso, Collection of the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Tokyo, 2003, no. 10, illustrated in color p. 31
Paul Rosenberg, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Shigetaro Fukushima, Japan (acquired from the above in the 1920s and until 1960)
Fuji TV Gallery, Tokyo
Acquired from the above in June 1985