Portrait of Fernande Olivier, 1909

Works like those by Paul Cézanne paved the way for Cubism. They led Pablo Picasso and a number of his fellow artists to adopt a new, inquisitive attitude towards art. In 1909, Picasso retreated to a remote village in Catalonia for five months with his mistress Fernande Olivier. Far from his friends and all the many galleries and exhibitions in Paris, he concentrated on his new ideas with great intensity. This portrait of Fernande is one of the highlights of the workgroup executed in that context.

Like Cézanne, Picasso applied the paint to the canvas in short, broad, hatching-like brushstrokes, while at the same time reducing their variety: the shades used for the figure and those describing the landscape came from the same palette. Harmonious chromaticity is the result. Nevertheless, to this day the portrait is a shock to our powers of perception. The prismatic, choppy interlocking planes, the “re-formation” of the face to become a multitude of asymmetrical surfaces – the subject looks out at us through rhombic eyes – are all somewhat disconcerting features. The angularity arose from the aim to show several perspectives simultaneously. It is thus an approach which violated the traditional boundaries of European painting, while looking instead to the art of Asia and Africa for formal inspiration.

© VG Bild-Kunst


Oil on canvas
65 × 54.5 cm
Inv. No. 2110
Property of the Städelscher Museums-Verein e.V.