Just as the painting does not offer a superficial likeness, so the sitter remains anonymous in the title of the work.Picasso has signed the painting in the bottom right corner.More generally, Bust of a Woman sits on a precipice in Picasso’s oeuvre between his working through of lessons about visual perception and his move into analytical cubism.
One of the sources to which Picasso turned was African and Polynesian sculpture and arguably this visual language had an impact on Bust of a Woman.
Alley references a 1976 letter of William Fagg (Keeper of the Department of Anthropology at the British Museum 1969–74), in which Fagg observes that Bust of a Woman ‘looks very much as if it were derived from one or more African pieces, but as usual with works by artists of the School of Paris its source is not easily recognisable’ (Alley 1981, p.594).
Fagg may be writing with particular reference to the mask-like representation of the sitter’s features or the sculptural quality achieved through the opaque rendering of the body.
Riopelle has argued, however, that despite stepping outside European painting for inspiration, Picasso continued to work in genres that resided firmly within the western canon, such as still life, portraiture and the nude (Riopelle 2009, p.57).
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