Artwork of the week: Study for the head of "Nude with drapery" (1907)

Pablo Picasso, Estudio para la cabeza de "Desnudo con paños", 1907
Pablo Picasso, Estudio para la cabeza de "Desnudo con paños", 1907
Acuarela y gouache sobre papel marrón, 31 x 24,5 cm
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
© Sucesión Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2023

Study for the head of Picasso's 'Nude with Drapery' (1907), often misinterpreted as a study for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), is actually a preparatory study for another masterpiece, Nude with Drapery (1907), a small gouache painted shortly thereafter.

Its creation during the winter of 1906-1907 is debated, which Paloma Alarcó, head of Modern Painting Conservation at the Thyssen Museum, believes more likely that Picasso brought this study to life during his stay in Paris in the summer of 1907. A crucial moment in his career, when his studio was buzzing with experimentation and artistic challenges.

This Studio captures the essence of a veil dance, defying established conventions and marking Picasso's territory in response to the works of Derain's Bathers (1907) and Matisse's Blue Nude (1907). It would be the representation of a dancer in an almost mystical trance, revealing more than the eye can see.

The influence of African sculpture is evident in the abstract forms and geometric lines that elongate the features of the face shown in the Studio. The sharp black lines and the creation of volume through parallel stripes signal Picasso's boldness in exploring new dimensions and perspectives.

Acquired by siblings Gertrude and Leo Stein in 1907, this Study traveled through several collections before being reunited in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) in 1971 along with the piece Nude with Drapery (1907). Included in the exhibition were photographs of Leo and Gertrude Stein's studio in which this small gouache appears hanging next to Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-1906).  

Study for the head of 'Nude with Drapery' (1907), seemingly modest but radical in its approach, reveals the starting point toward Cubism. Each of Picasso's brushstrokes defies expectations, laying the groundwork for his artistic revolution.

This Study is part of the exhibition Picasso 1906: The Great Transformation, a proposal of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía as part of the Picasso Celebration 1973-2023, which will be open from November 15 to March 4, 2024.


Museo Nacional Thyssen- Bornemisza: