Head of an Old Woman (Tete de Vieille Femme)

Head of an Old Woman (Tete de Vieille Femme)

photo: Bruce M. White
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About This Work

Honoré Daumier (French, 1808-1879)
Head of an Old Woman, 1856–60
Oil on panel
21.9 x 16.5 cm. (8 5/8 x 6 1/2 in.)
Signed lower right: h.D.


Monsieur Bernard. [Ambroise Vollard (1867–1939), Paris]; sold to Leo Stein (1872–1947) and Gertrude Stein (1874–1946), Paris, 24 Aug. 1904 to ca. 1924  [Durand-Ruel, New York, ca. 1924]. J. M. Price, New York, 1958. Nicholas de Koenigsberg and Charles Mitchell, joint owners, by 29 Jan. 1958; Nicholas de Koenigsberg and Henry Pearlman, joint owners, by 4 Feb. 1958; full interest sold to Henry Pearlman, by 13 May 1960; Henry and Rose Pearlman Foundation, after 1974.

Critical Perspective

Daumier is most famous for prints satirizing modern life, but another aspect of his talent can be found in his oil paintings, made after government censorship curtailed his printmaking activity. These paintings were little known during his lifetime and this one is a rare treasure in part because it is in such excellent condition. Daumier's experiments with various oil techniques often proved to be problematic, and many of his other works have become severely compromised over time. 

As in his famous, bitingly satirical caricatures, Daumier strove in his paintings not merely to imitate life but also to expose its unpleasant or officially censored aspects. His refusal to idealize the old woman in this portrait can be seen as a critical rejection of romantic or classical styles and an attempt to represent working-class people within the realm of high art.

The verve of Daumier’s brushwork appealed to later collectors, including the author Gertrude Stein, who once owned this painting.

Henry Pearlman writes about his discovery that this work was previously owned by Leo and Gertrude Stein.