After spending two years apart in different rooms of the Museu Picasso, now, as a result of a redistribution of the collection towards the end of 2011, two highlights of our collection —Woman’s Head (Fernande), from 1905, and Portrait of Madame Canals (1906), now known as Madame Canals [Benedetta Bianco] — are on show in the same space once again, directly facing one another.
This new placing of the two works, the first a sculpture and the other a painting, reflects a desire to explain the influence of their respective models on the personal and artistic world of Picasso in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century.
Madame Canals [Benedetta Bianco] | Woman’s Head (Fernande)
When Picasso first met her, in the summer of 1904, Fernande Olivier was working as an artist’s model and living in the studio in the Bateau-Lavoir that the painter Ricard Canals shared with his girlfriend, the Italian model Benedetta Bianco. During those years the landmark building in Montmartre was home to such major artists as Van Dongen, Gris, Brancusi and Modigliani, and it was when Picasso joined this community that painter and model met and began their stormy relationship, which ended once and for all in 1912. There were also close ties of friendship between the two pairs of artists and models. Ricard Canals’ painting A Box at the Bullfight, for which Fernande and Benedetta posed in traditional Spanish costumes and mantillas, bears witness to the friendships forged during these bohemian years at the Bateau-Lavoir, as does the portrait mentioned above, in which Picasso had recourse to the same device in his depiction of his friend’s partner.
Ricard Canals. A Box at the Bullfight, 1904. Oil on canvas. Private collection
Along with the change in location of the two works mentioned, there has been a change in the title of the painting, which had formerly been known as the Portrait of Madame Canals, and is now called Madame Canals [Benedetta Bianco]. The change reflects a decision to restore the full name of the sitter for the portrait, in order to accord with the habitual criteria for the titles of Picasso’s works, and also to correct a chronological inconsistency while maintaning the reference by which it is historically known. The picture was entitled Madame Canals in 1919, when the work was shown at the Exposició d’Art in Barcelona. However, the work dates from 1905, a year before Benedetta Bianco married Canals, making it more logical that the title should refer to her by her unmarried name.
Views of Woman’s Head (Fernande)
As a result of last year’s redistribution of the works on display in the different rooms, the museum has reunited the sculpted head of Fernande Olivier and the picture of Benedetta Bianco, the models for which were two of the women who best represent the spirit of the Bateau-Lavoir years, who had a clear influence on Picasso’s art during that period, and are central to any understanding of his personal life at the time and his evolution as an artist. The two old friends are now together again, face to face, at either end of Room 8 in the Museu Picasso, thanks to the aura of immortality conferred on them by the history of art.
On practical placement at the Museu Picasso as part of the Master’s in Cultural Heritage Management at the Universitat de Barcelona