In the summer of 1906, Pablo Picasso returned to Spain for the first time in two years. His visit was prompted by the long Parisian winter, and he hoped to be reinvigorated by the warm Mediterranean sunlight of his native country. After a few weeks in Barcelona at the end of May, he and his mistress, Fernande Olivier, traveled to Gósol, a small village in the Catalan pre-Pyrenées where they stayed until the beginning of August. Picasso was immensely prolific during the ten weeks spent at Gósol, executing a number of paintings, drawings, watercolors, gouaches and carvings. His chief concern during this period was portraits and figure-studies inspired by local youth, peasant girls, the innkeeper Josep Fontdevila, and most importantly, his companion, Fernande (see figs. 1 and 2). His figure studies of Fernande are considered some of his most expressive during this period and include the present work as well as the celebrated sculpture, Tête de femme (Fernande) (fig. 3).
In his study of Picasso’s early work, Josep Palau i Fabre writes how the many depictions of Fernande’s head represent Picasso’s evolution during his stay in Gósol. “The great diversity of the work done at Gósol is seen in a very evident way through the treatment given to Fernande’s head. As well as certain sensuous accents, this head is even given, as we have seen, such an earthy quality that it is almost as though it were itself a clod of earth. Here we are in the presence of a veritable transubstantiation between woman and landscape. This head is for escaping into, for climbing, like any of those surrounding mountains. It is a quarry from which we can take earthy materials, blocks of sandy clay. Besides this there is the obsession with the profile and the pictorial research through it, which takes on almost immaterial lyrical accents” (Josep Palau I Fabre, Picasso The Early Years 1881-1907, Barcelona, 1985, p. 455).
During the first part of Picasso’s stay in Gósol, his subjects and perspectival techniques were deeply influenced by the compositions of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. According to Robert Rosenblum, Picasso had become infatuated with Ingres following a major exhibition of the great painter's work the prior year in Paris. Rosenblum describes Ingres in the following terms: “Ingres’ Turkish Bath (see fig. 4) [is] freshly topical, thanks to its inclusion in the major Ingres retrospective at the 1905 Salon d’Automne. Picasso recreates not only its themes and figural postures but, more subtly, its precariously constructed corner view of an enclosed space confined to sensual delights. Just as Ingres, defying the logic of one-point perspective, takes three presumably perpendicular planes and muffles their 90-degree spatial junctions so deftly that the tiled floor and two adjoining walls merge into an almost seamless continuity, so too does Picasso reinvent conventions of spatial illusion” (Robert Rosenblum, Picasso The Early Years, 1892-1906, Washington D.C., 1997, p. 263).
This sensual and Ingres-inspired aesthetic, which Picasso had been developing in Paris, is apparent in Tête de Fernande. For this portrait, Picasso softens the the figure’s strong neck and full face by accentuating the sultry pout of her lips and smoldering gaze of her eyes. Rather than depicting her frontally he poses her in three-quarter profile at an angle similar to Ingres’ nudes, with the result that her averted gaze encourages the viewer to look directly at the composition without reservation.
Picasso’s Gósol figures foreshadow the stylistic shift that occurred the following year in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and his experiments leading to Cubism. Rosenblum goes on to explain how Picasso’s production during his time in Gósol would redirect the course of his artistic development: “The serene and earthy equilibrium, often described as ‘classical,’ that marked much, though hardly all, of this summer productivity might appear to be the last gasp of traditional order before the detonation of 1907. But far from being buried forever in the rubble, the wide and experimental range of paintings, drawings, and sculpture from the Gósol months launches a wealth of fresh ideas that would be amplified in the new era inaugurated by the Demoiselles and would have many afterlives in Picasso’s postcubist career" (ibid).
Fig. 1, Photograph of Fernande Olivier, circa 1906
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Nu couché (Fernande), 1906, gouache and paper, Museum of Art, Cleveland
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso, Tête de femme (Fernande), 1906, bronze
Fig. 4, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Le Bain Turque, 1862, oil on canvas on wood, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Oil and gouache on canvas
Hamburg Kunstverein, 1926
14 ¾ by 13 in. 37.5 by 33.1 cm
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, supplement aux Volumes I à 5, vol. 6, Paris, 1954, no. 749, illustrated pl. 91 (as dating from 1905 and catalogued as gouache and the signature is barely visible in the illustration)
Denys Sutton, Picasso, peintures, époques bleue et rose, Paris, 1955, no. 32
Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille, Picasso 1900-1906, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Neuchâtel, 1966, no. XV. 21, illustrated p. 298
Felix Andreas Baumann, Picasso Leben und Werk, Stuttgart, 1976, no. 61, catalogued
Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso, The Early Years, 1881-1907, Barcelona, 1985, no. 1274, illustrated p. 455
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the artist)
Hofrat Theodore Brodersen, Hamburg
Herman Abels, Cologne
Meta Gadesman, Tegernsee
Knoedler & Co., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1953