Know Your Chapeau: Bust of a Woman in a Striped Hat

7:00 AM

Pablo Picasso, Bust of a Woman in a Striped Hat, 1939

Picasso’s cubist paintings are dissections of form. Something natural, like the female form, becomes geometric. Woman becomes a mass of shapes and lines and edges. She loses her identity, her flesh. Picasso has deconstructed her, and we put her back together like a puzzle. But the image in front of us, though we know it is a woman, does not register any of the female qualities usually expressed in painting – softness, femininity, beauty. It is strange and interesting, but I do not see a woman. I see shapes.

But I also see purple. The vibrant color reminds me of the 1932 poem by Jenny Joseph: “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple...” In the poem, the old woman wears a red hat, so it’s a stretch, but I consider the type of woman that wears purple. The Queen gets to wear purple because she is royalty, and baby girls wear purple when they run out of pink. In Joseph’s poem, the old woman wears purple to escape conformity and dullness. She wears purple because society tells her not to. In Picasso’s painting, perhaps this woman wears purple for the same reason. Her clothes (if she is wearing any) are grey and drab. Her expression is blank and her hair is neat. We do not know whether she is young or old – does it matter? She does not dance in the streets or scream at the top of her lungs or pick flowers from others’ gardens.

She certainly does not spit.

But she wears purple, so maybe she could.

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