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Head of Fernande, 1906; cast ca. 1959

Pablo Picasso
Spanish, 1881-1973
Bronze, Edition of 9, Cast No. 7
14 x 9-7/8 x 10-1/2 in. (35.6 x 25.1 x 26.7 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation
© 2016 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Reproduction, including downloading of ARS works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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Fernande Olivier (1881–1966), Picasso’s first mistress, was completely absorbed into the artist’s practices, establishing the standard for how his lovers would pervade his portraiture over the course of his eight-decade career. Olivier’s relationship with Picasso coincided with the artist’s exploration of a proto-primitive style that would lead him to his first decisive steps toward Cubism. These two busts of Olivier were modeled during that shift, and the difference between the two exemplifies the artist’s remarkable transition period. In the earlier work, Olivier’s head is simplified, reduced. Her hair is fixed to her head and neck, almost an afterthought to the strong jaw, thick neck and solid features that Picasso had admired in the early medieval sculpture of his native northwest Spain and imposed here. Three years later, the artist was drawing from primitive art, both Iberian and African, and was beginning his dialogue with the spatial implications that informed early Cubism. In his Head of Fernande from 1909, he inflicted Olivier’s visage with a series of planes, effectively dividing her head, face and neck into dozens of segments.

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