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Tete de femme, 1931 Plaster: 303/4 x 18 x 19'/8 in / 78 x 46 x 48 cm As you ponder this remarkable head, think about what its model heard when she first met Picasso in January, 1927: `Mademoiselle, you have an interesting face. I would like to make your portrait. I am Picasso.' Although Marie-Therese Walter was standing outside Paris' Galleries Layfayette at the time, she was just 17 years old and unfamiliar with the painter's name. Six months later, she would become his lover. Three years thereafter, she found herself ensconced as his mistress in an apartment on rue La Boetie, just a stone's throw from the residence Picasso shared with his increasingly embittered wife, Olga. Conveniently just around the corner, Kahnweiler's gallery offered the artist a perfect alibi for his trysts with Marie-Therese. Picasso's wish that their relationship remain covert prompted him to execute the series of monumental heads that includes Tete de femme, in secret. The secret went public in July of 1932, when Picasso's mammoth retrospective opened at the Galerie Georges Petit. There the art world beheld a large body of new work that was clearly inspired by Picasso's voluptuous blonde muse. The personal import of these works was not lost on Olga. MarieTherese bore the artist a daughter, Maia, in 1935, and by that time the painter and his wife were embroiled in War-of-theRoses marital strife. At one point the former ballerina whom Picasso now called `the lachrymose nanny-goat' obtained a courtordered seal on her husband's work and studio - brushes, paint tubes, and all. It was, Picasso confessed, `the worst period of my life'. And it was also the moment Picasso chose to begin a relationship with his next mistress, Dora Maar. Baudelaire is right when he tells us that `Style is character.' Tete de femme captures the character of Picasso's model, and it also illuminates the character of the relationship that he enjoyed with her. The Master has molded his beloved into something that is recognizably Marie-Therese herself, but also a creature of his own creation: elephantine, yet serene, and still beautiful in the face of astonishing distortions. It rearranges and interlocks many different views of her head, and fuses them together with forms that are evocative of other body parts - both hers and, in the case of the sculpture's distinctly priapic nose, his. For that matter, do we see a head that looks like a heart, or a heart that looks like a head? The French (of course) had a word for what Tete de femme embodied: `l'amour fou, or `mad love.' This was the specific goal preached by Picasso's pal Andre Breton, the prophet of surrealism, and the perfect female object for this mad love was, in Breton's lingo, the eternal femme enfant. (Nabokov coins `nymphet' as an English synonym in Lolita.) Literally and figuratively, Picasso shaped his malleable child-woman into a being of his own design. We must not forget that one friend and protégé of the artist reports hearing him chant as he worked away in the studio, `I am God. I am God.' Picasso's larger-than-life arctic white sculpture is an object lesson in metamorphosis. Its eroded, rough-textured base forms the breasts of what's identifiable as a figure, but only in the most rudimentary way. As the statue grows upwards, it grows progressively smoother and more refined. If the bottom resembles a timeworn Paleolithic fragment, by the time you've reached the top, it's transformed itself into recognizably modern art. Originally, Tete de femme was one of many prototypes for a monument that was to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the death of Picasso's close friend, Guillaume Apollinaire. That project was never realized, but Tete de femme is a memorial none the less. Fifty years after they met outside that Paris gallery and four years after Picasso's death, Marie-Therese Walter took her own life. As John Richardson eloquently writes in the monograph that accompanied the Through the Eye of Picasso exhibition at the Beadleston Gallery, `The splendors of this exhibition are the fruits of her sacrifice.'
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