African masks, affairs, allegories, and abstraction. An algorithm of art.
Picasso is well known for his use of motifs from African art, by juxtaposing one of the MET’s Mali masks next to “Head of a Woman” we can see the gorgeous connection between the two. This already visually delicious sculpture gets even juicier when we delve into the female inspiration……….
Although Braque was at first shocked by Picasso’s use of African masks and jagged, flat compositions, the two of them pooled ideas over the next few years as they repudiated perspective in works of unrivalled density and power.
Subject: Fernande Olivier (1881-1966), Picasso’s lover. Fernande – real name Amelie Lang – had worked as an artist’s model in Montmartre and was an aspiring painter. She fell in love with Picasso when they smoked opium together. Picasso spoke of being caught by her beauty, but by 1909, when he made this head, the strain in their relationship was showing. That autumn they settled in a new flat, where Fernande’s desire to be respectable got on Pablo’s nerves. In 1911 he started seeing Eva Gouel. In 1912 the all-but-ostracised Fernande had an affair, giving Picasso an excuse to end their relationship. By the end of that year she was borrowing money from Gertrude Stein. In 1933 she published her evocative memoir Picasso and His Friends.
Distinguishing features: You can never exhaust the richness of this head. It is like a mountain range, a landscape. It is transformed every time you move your own head, walk around it, bend closer, taking in the rough surface with the marks of Picasso’s touch, the warm softness of the plaster that contrasts with the sharp contours. It has been compared to an anatomist’s flayed model in the way Picasso seems to see beneath the skin, revealing a tangle of tendons in Fernande’s neck but it doesn’t feel violent in that way at all.
They had spent the summer of 1909 in the Spanish mountains, where Picasso painted Fernande in a similarly faceted way, making this head almost as soon as he returned to Paris. The fractured texture of Fernande’s face, her hair a system of gorges and upland ridges, is a metaphor for the way we experience another person. Like Rembrandt’s most intimate portraits, it is about the mystery of being close to another human being. Picasso makes you recognise this by inviting your eye down into those channels and crevices, until you feel you are inside Fernande’s head.
This is one of the seminal works of cubism, and in the state that Picasso liked it best. He moulded Fernande’s head in clay, then made two plaster casts from which he authorised a series of bronzes. He never liked the bronzes as much as this raw plaster version. It is a key work in the development of cubism because it was the first time Picasso realised he could translate his new kind of painting into three dimensions this is one of his paintings from that time given solid form.
Solidity was what Picasso wanted in art: he wanted not just to see the world but to touch it. Fernande’s head is a masterpiece because it perfectly realises his desire to represent not the surfaces of things but the essence, the structure – Fernande not just naked but experienced from within her own skin. You can no more feel you have exhausted this piece than know everything about another person.
EeeEeeeEeeeEeeee!!! How horrifically romantic! *swoon*