Woman with a Large Hat, 1962
Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881–1973
Oil on canvas
55 × 42 in. (139.7 × 106.7 cm)
Bequest of Caroline Wiess Law
Habits of Mind
- UNDERSTAND BIAS Understand assumption and various points of view / empathy
How to be a Gatekeep of Information:
Picasso’s Gray Area
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
- Reading strategies: Making connections and inference, finding text support for conclusions
- Ability to think critically, particularly in relation to Tier Three questions relating to literary analysis
Connecting to the Work of Art
wife, Jacqueline Roque, a frequent subject for the artist. Her portraits are characterized by an exaggerated neck and a “feline” face. Her dark eyes and eyebrows, high cheekbones, and classical profile would eventually become familiar symbols of Picasso’s late paintings. In this particular work, the artist presents Roque seated and facing outward toward the viewer. As the blue tones recede into the background, the work prominently features red and green tones, two complementary colors that add visual excitement to the composition.
Picasso explored ways to present three-dimensional objects on a flat, two-dimensional surface. Although this painting still includes some recognizable elements from its original subject matter, the artist fragmented those forms into geometric shapes and rearranged them into a seemingly chaotic composition. Amidst this imaginative structure, Picasso uses color to help the viewer focus on the face as the center of attention. Drawn in thick, black outlines, the face is conveyed in the most detail, while the body is composed of simple lines and shapes. The face is split into two sections; one red and the other white. A thick, green line divides the face into two sides. For the figure’s hair and torso, Picasso fills in the space between the lines with either light washes or thick dots of paint. Roque’s blue hair allows for her distinctive facial features to stand out. Furthermore, the artist places emphasis on her eyes and eyebrows with bold lines and exaggerated detail. The composition is anchored by a brown hat, whose shape echoes the curves of the figure’s torso.
Already inspired by Roque’s beauty, it is likely that Picasso’s series of paintings derived from Eugène Delacroix’s The Women of Algiers. The artist once commented that “Delacroix has already met Jacqueline.” In 1963, Picasso painted her portrait 160 times and continued to paint her in increasingly abstract forms until his death in 1973.
Picasso’s work is often categorized into periods. While the names of many of his later phases are debated, the most commonly accepted periods in his work are: the Blue Period (1901-1904), the Rose Period (1905-1907), the “African-influenced” Period (1908-1909), Analytic Cubism (1909-1912), and Synthetic Cubism (1912-1919). In the period following WWI, Picasso also produced works in the styles of Neoclassicism (“return to order”) and Surrealism. His later works, like this example, were a mixture of styles. They continued to push the boundaries of art as daring, colorful, and expressive works.
- Although he fragments forms into geometric shapes and rearranges them into a seemingly chaotic composition, Picasso’s paintings still includes some recognizable elements from the original subject matter. What clues does the artist include to allow the viewers to recognize the figure?
- How do the thick, black lines and geometric shapes add an energetic tone to the work?
- How does the color add emphasis and energy to the work? In your opinion, what stands out more in the work of art: the geometric shapes or the color? Explain.
- Why do you think the artist colored in some shapes with planes of color, while filling others with dots? Consider the placement of the shapes and their size.
- Red and green are complementary colors, meaning they are colors that are opposite of each other on the color wheel. When used together, they create a pleasing effect. Why do you think Picasso chose to use red and green on the figure’s face?
- Notice the figure’s blue hair, which frames the face. What effect does the inclusion of blue to the rest of the color palette add to the painting?
- How does the artist draw attention to the figure’s face? Think about the color and composition of the geometric shapes.
- The figure was known in real life for her dark eyes and eyebrows and high cheekbones. How does Picasso emphasize these features in the work?
- Considering the elements and tone of this work of art, do you think that the artist is celebrating the sitter, or depicting a realistic viewpoint?
- Even though the identity of the figure is known, Picasso chose not to include her name in the title. Why do you think he chose to title the painting Seated Woman? Explain your opinion using evidence from the painting and your previous knowledge about the artist.
- Despite the fact that the composition seems chaotic, how do you know that it is actually considered and intentional? Use visual evidence from the work of art to justify your answer.
- This work of art was created late in Picasso’s life, after his Cubist phases. Compare this work to an earlier Cubist work by Picasso. How does the artist build off of and push past Cubism in Seated Woman?
- Next, compare this work of art to more traditional portraits. Picasso often referenced established artists and traditional art historical elements. What elements reference more traditional portraits? Why do you think Picasso would choose to include these elements?
- Why do you think Picasso chose to observe his subject from different angles instead of from just one? What advantages might that present the artist with? Is it advantageous to the viewer? Why?
- Picasso once said, “Nature does many things the way I do, but she hides them!” What do you think he meant by this? How does this quote apply to Seated Woman?
Connecting to the Classroom
- Spend some time asking students to consider Picasso’s use of color in this composition. By altering the “universe of realistic colors” he might have chosen for this portrait, how does Picasso ask us to accept a different interpretation of an ordinary subject?
- Similarly, have students observe Picasso’s use of geometric shapes. How does this differ from “ordinary” portraits of women students have viewed elsewhere?
- By choosing to use unconventional shapes and colors, what is Picasso trying to tell the viewer about this woman? (INFERENCES)
- Why do you think Picasso chose to depict this woman in this manner? (INFERENCES)
- Do you sense that this is an actual person in Picasso’s life, or is the subject imagined? Why do you think so?
- Have students illustrate a relationship of characters in a novel using only colored shapes and sizes. (For example, one character might be a blue circle, another a red triangle.) Have the students justify orally or in writing the choices the student made to depict the particular characters and their relationship to each other. (CHARACTER ANALYSIS, SYMBOLISM)
- Picasso “pushes the boundaries” of what we consider the “usual.” As an extension, have students explore various contemporary poets to find an example of a poem that similarly stretches our beliefs concerning the ordinary.
- BRAINSTORMING/TEXT TO TEXT ANALYSIS: What popular song would complement what Picasso is saying about the human form through this work? Justify the choice made in a clear, concise, well-developed paragraph.
Subject Matter Connection
A student who is accomplished in language arts needs to feel liberated to express himself or herself freely. Much of literature analysis is a “grey area” open to various interpretations; what matters is that students have the ability to overcome the fear of that ambiguity and the fear of failure so that they can critically evaluate works of literature in depth. Similarly, various literature genres—such as fantasy or science fiction—ask readers to stretch basic beliefs. When analyzing Picasso’s Seated Woman, students must cast off preconceived notions of ordinarily recognizable ways to interpret the human form—just as reading a work of science fiction requires the reader to accept alternate views of the universe.
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.