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About This Artwork
Head of a Woman (Fernande), autumn 1909
16 1/8 x 9 7/8 x 10 9/16 in. (40.7 x 20.1 x 26.9 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949.584
This work is Pablo Picasso’s first large Cubist sculpture and represents the distinctive physiognomy of Fernande Olivier, who was the artist’s model and mistress from 1905 until 1912. Before making the bust, Picasso produced countless drawings and gouaches to explore the specific form and structure of his subject’s facial features—her dark almond-shaped eyes, sharp nose, peaked upper lip, fleshy chin, and braided topknot. He also looked to African and ancient Iberian sculpture to guide his translation of Fernande’s profile into the geometric language of Cubism. Converting his studies to three dimensions, Picasso simultaneously built up and cut away the clay as he worked, giving the surface a unifying rhythm of light and shadow. The resulting bronze retains the basic shape of Fernande’s head, though the surface and structure are broken up into faceted, fragmented forms.
The Art Institute’s bronze is one of a small edition produced by the Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard in 1910. It was sold in 1912 to the photographer and dealer Alfred Stieglitz, who published his own photographs of the work in his journal Camera Work. A year later, he loaned it to the landmark Armory Show, for which the Art Institute was the only museum venue.
—Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.249.