Pablo Picasso painted Tête d'homme at the end of 1964. This picture shows a bearded man, yet his appearance clearly echoes the clean-shaven Picasso, with the coal-black eyes staring out, the structure of the face and what had become one of his signatures - the blue-and-white striped matelot top. The face is made all the more intense by the contrast with the rich red and green of the backdrop, itself flecked with curling twists of yellow which recall golden brocade yet which also add a playful effervescence to the composition, emphasising the sheer vitality of the image.
This painting dates from a turbulent year that combined angst with intense creativity for Picasso. The angst was due to the publication of the memoirs of his former lover - the mother of two of his children - Françoise Gilot. For Picasso, this was an invasion of his increasingly-guarded privacy, and he tried to ban the book - his attempts only serving to increase demand. Against this tumultuous backdrop, during the course of the year, Picasso created an impressive range of works, many of which focussed on the female nude, the artist and his model and portraits of male and female faces. Like Tête d'homme, these were created using often highly innovative techniques, exploring the potential of paint to eke out an image and be read by the viewer. This is clear in this picture by the way in which the face has been rendered, combining some almost naturalistic techniques with others that reveal Picasso's continued thirst for innovation: the beard and hair are annotations of dark paint while the striped top evokes his own favoured apparel; by contrast, the face has been depicted in part using an eloquent short-hand, with the zig-zags of red and yellow conveying the structure of the nose, cheek and profile.
When Picasso's friend and biographer Roland Penrose, the British art historian and curator, visited Picasso less than two months after Tête d'homme was painted, he was astonished at the range of works that had recently been created, and recorded the appearance of some figures which featured, 'a double nose, line drawn with a broad brush, like two intertwining ribands of different colours, like the snakes of Mercury's wand, with sometimes a narrow central line' (R. Penrose, quoted in E. Cowling, Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose, London, 2006, p. 278). Tête d'homme may well have been one of the pictures that Penrose saw on that occasion.
Penrose's visits were often prompted by the various donations, sales and projects that he hoped to encourage from the Spanish artist. During the same stay in the South of France, when Penrose visited him at Notre-Dame de Vie, the artist's home near Mougins, Picasso expanded on a number of subjects prompted by his own recent works. 'What I am doing now is destroying modern painting - old painting has already been destroyed and now we must destroy the modern' (Picasso, quoted in ibid., p. 277). This is clear in Tête d'homme in the sheer vigour with which Picasso has rendered the appearance of this bearded figure, who clearly echoes Picasso himself. Indeed, the gaze and the angularity of the head-shape both recall his iconic 1907 proto-Cubist self-portrait, now in the Narodni Gallery, Prague. Picasso was by now a world-renowned celebrity, his own works published widely, and he was able to view them in magazines, books and newspapers as well as on his own wall. The diffusion of his own features doubtless made him consider them all the more, constantly probing. At the same time, that concept of 'destroying modern painting' may be present in his own iconoclastic treatment of the subject - his own face - which he himself had made so famous.
In Tête d'homme, Picasso has demonstrated a counter-intuitive use of near-calligraphic forms to depict the face, with areas of the canvas left in reserve and therefore made all the more luminous by their contrast with the thick paint elsewhere, sometimes applied in free brushstrokes replete with substance. Perhaps this is what Picasso meant when he said of technique in painting that it was important, 'on condition that one has so much... that it completely ceases to exist' (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline', pp. 17-48, in Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 42). Penrose himself appeared to agree, referring to the works from this period, he wrote:
'There is no formula, no rule, no trick that counts any longer. He has arrived at such complete mastery of his material that it behaves miraculously, as he wants, in a thousand different ways - brush, knife, drop, smear, lines broad, thin, untouched areas of canvas, dripping wet paint, dots - all with no apparent effort play their part in the picture. Never before has he used such freedom and achieved such freshness' (Penrose, quoted in Cowling, op. cit., 2006, p. 278).
Oil on canvas
PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Signed 'Picasso' (centre right); dated '6.12.64' (on the reverse)
Pablo Picasso , Paintings
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
31 7/8 x 23 5/8 in. (81 x 60 cm.)
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1964, vol. 24, Paris, 1971, no. 304 (illustrated pl. 120).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture, The Sixties II, 1964-1967, San Francisco, 2002, no. 64-306, p. 102 (illustrated).
E. Mallen, ed., Online Picasso Project, Sam Houston State University, OPP.64:265 (accessed 2013).
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris (no. 14092).
Private collection, by whom acquired from the above in the 1970s; sale, Christie's, London, 10 December 1998, lot 539.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.