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Unmasking Adrienne Fidelin: Picasso, Man Ray, and the (In)Visibility of Racial Difference

Accounts of black personalities long lost to narratives of modernism are belatedly finding their way into the historical record, precipitated by the recent advent of scholarship and exhibitions dedicated to this recovery process.[1] As a result, black artists, models, and performers who previously attracted little critical attention are slowly emerging from obscurity to command consideration in their own right. Among these newly recognized figures is the Guadeloupean dancer and model Adrienne Fidelin (1915-2004), whose short time in the spotlight of avant-garde activities in interwar Paris quickly faded into oblivion in the postwar years. With a life that weaves together a powerful tale of colonialism, migration, and the long-eclipsed stories of women of color in shaping transatlantic modernity, she is beginning to attract the attention she merits.[2]

In Denise Murrell’s catalogue essay for Posing Modernity, her groundbreaking exhibition that helped generate a resurgence of interest in the history of the black model in Western art, she pointedly observes that “in the absence of narratives that animate viewer curiosity and interest, [black figures] become invisible even while in plain view” (Posing 3). Fidelin’s story is a quintessential case in point. Despite her ubiquitous visual presence illustrating various accounts of surrealism, her role as muse animating an extensive body of work by her partner Man Ray, and her position as the first black model to feature in a major American fashion magazine, the lack of curiosity about her story has resulted in her remaining largely invisible in the historical record. Even as images of this striking woman proliferate on the internet today (frequently undated, uncaptioned, or misidentified), little effort has been taken to excavate the historical record to illuminate her story and learn about the person behind the persona.[3]

Consequently, Fidelin’s role as the subject of a 1937 portrait by Pablo Picasso, Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II (Portrait de femme) has gone unnoted, until now (fig. 1).[4] The lack of academic scrutiny this painting has received to date might understandably lead one to assume that the canvas is all but invisible. However, even though efforts to ascertain its current location have been unsuccessful, the portrait is still referenced in key sources on Picasso, reproduced in several catalogues, and accessible on the internet.[5]

Pablo Picasso, Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose II (Portrait de femme),
Fig. 1. Pablo Picasso, Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose II (Portrait de femme), September 8, 1937. Oil on canvas, 81 x 60 cm. © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

My first encounter with the painting came in the course of my pursuit of Fidelin’s life story. Examining numerous photographs by Man Ray and others chronicling an intimate holiday interlude in Mougins in 1937 over which Picasso presided, I was struck by the apparent warm reception she was given by the Spanish artist and other members of a close-knit group assembled in this rustic village overlooking Cannes. In view of these photographs and the plethora of portraits Picasso created of the three other women present throughout the gathering—Dora Maar, Lee Miller, and Nusch Eluard—it was difficult to fathom Fidelin’s ostensible exclusion from this body of the artist’s work. My hunch that she would have been among the women the Spanish artist chose to portray during this holiday paid off; an investigation of publications in which portraits Picasso created within the same timeframe were reproduced led to the discovery of Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II among them.  While my predisposition toward finding Fidelin undoubtedly influenced my reading of the painting’s subject, both the racialized manner in which the figure is rendered and the composition’s striking resemblance to a contemporaneous photograph by Man Ray made her instantly recognizable to me as the portrait’s sitter (fig. 2).

Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin with washboard, 1937.
Fig. 2. Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin with washboard, 1937. Collection Musée Picasso. Gelatin silver print, 29.8 x 23 cm. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

More than a muse, Fidelin was one of many individuals and entities whoin a newfound confluence of African diasporic cultures in the interwar periodchanged the face of modernism. Unmasking her, as it were, as the subject of Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II puts a name to the intriguing portrait’s sitter, spotlighting the individual whose story has been shrouded in anonymity for over three-quarters of a century. At stake in this exegesis is more than simply enriching the already exhaustive biographical information on Picasso or adding yet another figure to his extensive repertoire of portraits of women. Recognizing this painting as one of the few examples in which the artist drew on a living black model for inspiration raises provocative questions about the manner in which this figure is represented and considerations as to how it reflects Picasso’s shifting understanding of an imaginary Africa in surrealist or anticolonialist terms. As such, the establishment of Fidelin’s identity in this painting provides a springboard for an investigation into critical issues of race, gender, and difference in the construction of modernism.

Hidden in Plain Sight

Adrienne Fidelin, born in 1915 in Pointe-à-Pitre into one of Guadeloupe’s oldest Creole families, immigrated to France in the wake of the catastrophic 1928 cyclone that devastated the Caribbean, killing thousands. The death of her mother during this traumatic event and the passing of her father a few years later precipitated her migration to Paris to join family members who had made the passage before her. She arrived in France in one of the successive waves of émigres from the island, lured by the hope of a better life in the storm’s aftermath and elusive promises implied in their French citizenship. For the inhabitants of Guadeloupe, a southern Caribbean archipelago France colonized in the early seventeenth century, their citizenship status was a by-product of France’s mission civilisatrice, the ideological rationale for intervention, the enforcement of French colonial governance, and the imposition of a plantation-based economy driven by the brutal institution of slavery.[6]

Fidelin entered her new life in the metropole encumbered with this thorny ethnic, racial, and class history while also embodying her home island’s rich Afro-Caribbean culture. Without documentation of the initial period of her transition to her new home, we are left to imagine the experience she endured as a displaced orphan coming of age in interwar France at the apogee of the colonial era. Rhetoric touting the universalist merits of la plus grande France was pervasive in the highly polarized political climate in the metropole, with the growing émigré communities subjected to the tensions playing out between the doctrine of association for the colonial territories and their denizens on one hand and assimilationist policies on the other.[7]

Despite the dearth of details surrounding Fidelin’s first years in France, we know from later accounts that her passionate pursuit of traditional Guadeloupean dance led her to frequent nightclubs such as the Bal Blomet that were infusing the cultural landscape of Paris with the sights and sounds of the African diaspora.[8] This club—along with other similar spots populating jazz-age Paris where racial and sexual taboos were being transgressed—was also a magnet for members of the international avant-garde like Man Ray. As Jody Blake notes in her investigation of the tumulte noir that characterized this period, Man Ray and several of his surrealist friends were among the first and most avid white devotees of the city’s black entertainment scene and earliest white visitors to the Bal Nègre at the Bal Blomet.[9] Although no documentation has surfaced to support speculation that Fidelin and Man Ray actually met in one of these locales, the rapidly growing and vibrant French Antillean cultural scene created the environment in which their lives ultimately would intersect.[10]

Fidelin’s relationship with Man Ray, first registered in entries in his date book in December of 1934, subsequently led to her introduction to Picasso and the circle of creatives who would become her virtual family for the next five years.[11] When she accompanied the American artist to a gathering of this vanguard group in Mougins in August and September of 1937, her youth, vibrancy, and skin color captivated the participants. “With Man Ray came Ady,” the British surrealist artist and historian Roland Penrose writes in the biography of his friend, “the delightful girl from Guadeloupe who could swim, laugh and dance like a brown angel.”[12] This characterization is emblematic of the period’s complex racial dynamics and conflicting attitudes toward colonial migrants held not only by the general French populace but manifest within the avant-garde as well.[13] Like other racialized characterizations by contemporaries in this circle discussed below, Penrose’s portrayal reflects the prism of romanticism and exoticism through which Fidelin was perceived and around which she had to negotiate.

Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, 1937.
Fig. 3. Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, 1937. Contact prints from Mode au Congo series. Gelatin silver prints. © Man Ray 2015 Trust.

Fidelin’s participation in Man Ray’s Mode au Congo series is revealing in this regard. This suite—created just months before the Mougins retreat—is comprised of approximately thirty photographs of various models donning an array of Congolese headdresses borrowed from an exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris in May 1937.[14] The only model of color among those the artist posed sporting one of these headdresses, Fidelin is represented in all nine compositions in which she features in a manner that draws attention to her racial difference: bare shouldered (and bare breasted in several), outfitted with a tiger’s tooth necklace and ivory bangle, and seductively posed (fig. 3). This treatment is exploited in a spread in the September 15, 1937 issue of Harper’s Bazaar where selected images from this series frame an essay by the French surrealist poet Paul Éluard (fig. 4).[15] In the full-page reproduction taking up one half of the spread, the Guadeloupean model is staged to evoke the fashionable “African native” extoled in the article’s headline, “The Bushongo of Africa sends his hats to Paris.” This fanciful projection of difference and the assimilation of Fidelin’s identity into a homogenizing notion of blackness literally and figuratively sets her apart from the white European models similarly crowned in Man Ray’s photographs on the opposing page.

Ironically, it is arguably this paradoxical treatment of Fidelin that led to the publication of the image even in the face of intransigent racial barriers in the fashion industry. This Guadeloupean woman in the guise of an African thus unceremoniously became the first black model to be featured on the pages of a major American fashion magazine.[16] Coincidentally, the Harper’s Bazaar article was published while Fidelin and Man Ray were in Mougins, appearing a week after Picasso completed his painting, Femme assise.

“The Bushongo of Africa sends his hats to Paris,” Harper’s Bazaar, September 15, 1937.
Fig. 4. “The Bushongo of Africa sends his hats to Paris,” Harper’s Bazaar, September 15, 1937. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

By the summer of 1937, Fidelin had become entwined as a central figure in Man Ray’s life, appearing in a plethora of photographs ranging from the artistic to the quotidian.[17] His photographs of Fidelin in dance poses and costumed in traditional Antillean dress—presumably products of one of her early modeling sessions in the artist’s studio—set the stage for a body of close to 400 photographs, an array of drawings, prints, paintings, and a short film in which she would serve as his model and muse (fig. 5).[18] These images and additional photographs by others in Man Ray’s inner circle of creatives also reveal the warm embrace this young dancer from Guadeloupe received from members of this community and the enthusiasm with which she shared in the free-spirited frivolities of their daily activities.

Even as Fidelin’s story outside these picture frames has remained on the margins, her presence in this circle is immortalized in several iconic images from the surrealist movement. Experimenting with color reversal film during an intimate summer retreat in Cornwall, England in July 1937, Penrose staged “Four Women Asleep,” situating Fidelin alongside Lee Miller, Nusch Eluard, and Leonora Carrington, three women prominent in the history of surrealism (fig. 6).[19] In this composition, the figures are caught mid tea party in a somnambulant state of suspended animation, exemplifying the centrality of the female muse and dreams in surrealist thought and practice.[20]

A few weeks later, one of these “sleeping” muses, Miller, would in turn create another iconic photograph animated by Fidelin’s presence (fig. 7). In a modernist twist on Edouard Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863)—a painting that had scandalized French society three-quarters of a century earlier—Miller used the photographic medium to shift and complicate the historical privileging of the male gaze, with Fidelin as a central figure in her composition. And unlike another scandalizing canvas by the famous impressionist painter, Olympia (1863), the woman of color in Miller’s composition is a protagonist fully engaged on her own terms. This picnic scene on the Île Sainte-Marguerite close to Cannes has come to epitomize the hedonistic proclivity and eroticizing of the female body endemic to the surrealist ethos. It also reflects the free-spirited nature in which women in this circle, as Katherine Conley writes, “rebelled against the reality of being a woman in the early twentieth century, against prescribed modes of behavior and the notion that reproduction was their most important function.”[21]

Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, c. 1936.
Fig. 5. Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, c. 1936. Gelatin silver print. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Roland Penrose, Four Women Asleep (Lee Miller, Adrienne Fidelin, Nusch Eluard, and Leonora Carrington, 1937).
Fig. 6. Roland Penrose, Four Women Asleep (Lee Miller, Adrienne Fidelin, Nusch Eluard, and Leonora Carrington, 1937). Print from color reversal film. ©Roland Penrose Estate, England 2020. All rights reserved.
Lee Miller, Picnic (Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray, Roland Penrose, Paul and Nusch Eluard)
 Fig. 7. Lee Miller, Picnic (Adrienne Fidelin, Man Ray, Roland Penrose, Paul and Nusch Eluard), Île Sainte-Marguerite, Cannes, 1937. Gelatin silver print. ©Lee Miller Archives, England 2020. All rights reserved.

Familiarity with Penrose’s and Miller’s photographs has not, however, translated into knowledge about Fidelin herself. Despite the images being reproduced in an array of publications, their proliferation has not insured acknowledgement of her identity in accompanying texts or accurate recognition of her Guadeloupean heritage.[22] This discrepancy exemplifies the phenomenon of “hidden in plain sight” too often bedeviling women of color in the canon of Western modernism.

The picnic outing pictured in Miller’s photograph occurred during the same late-summer gathering in Mougins in 1937 when Picasso painted Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II. This was the second consecutive summer that the Spanish artist set up shop for an extended stay at the Hôtel Vaste Horizon in this hilltop hamlet and invited a revolving circle of select friends to partake in the group’s pursuits. This summer, however, was different, coming as it did against the backdrop of news of increasing atrocities in the Spanish Civil War across the border and in the wake of the recent installation of his magnum opus Guernica in the Spanish Pavilion at the World Fair in Paris that June. This sojourn, unlike the previous year, was marked by a prodigious creative output in which the artist generated a copious and well-documented body of work, including a series of widely celebrated portraits both on paper and canvas of Maar, Miller, and Nusch and Paul Eluard.[23]

While Picasso identified the individuals being portrayed in the title of many of these portraits, his bestowal of generically descriptive titles to others such as Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II lends an air of mystique. Even with the absence of the sitter’s name in the title of this canvas, however, factors lending credence to the identification of Fidelin as the painting’s subject can be found in circumstances surrounding its creation, as well as in visual evidence embedded in the work itself. Most notably, Picasso’s distinctive rendering of the figure’s hair texture, her complexion, and the tonality of the torso beneath the colorful overlay are all markers of racial difference indicating that a woman of color was the inspiration for this painting.[24]

In view of the fact that Picasso’s palette in this period is most often seemingly arbitrary—or at least non-representational—the exercise of determining race on the basis of paint color in this abstracted portrait is admittedly problematic. However, the artist represented the subject in this painting in a manner that clearly contrasts with the way in which he represented the white women—Maar, Eluard, and Miller—in other portraits he created during the 1937 Mougins gathering, as exemplified in one of his portraits of Miller (fig. 8). His execution of Miller’s, Maar’s, and Eluard’s physiognomy, skin tonality, and hair texture for example diverges from the rendering of those characteristics in Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II, leaving little ambiguity as to the racial identity of the individual being portrayed. Fidelin, as the only person of color present at this assembly in Mougins—or, for that matter, evidently elsewhere in Picasso’s personal orbit during this period—is thus the most logical candidate as the model behind this arresting painting.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Lee Miller en Arlésienne, 1937.
Fig. 8. Pablo Picasso, Portrait de Lee Miller en Arlésienne, 1937. Oil on canvas, 81 x 66 cm. © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Decoding Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II

Adding to the racialized interpretation of Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II are overlaid references and encoded primitivizing signifiers that reveal the conflation of black bodies and African forms endemic to the era’s notion of l’art nègre. For example, the triangular form buttressing the imposing head and anchoring the composition can be read as a reliquary figure from the Kota peoples of equatorial Africa—an object Picasso both collected and readily looked to for inspiration.[25] The focal point created by the geometric shape suggestive of a Kota reliquary figure is enhanced by the positioning of the figure’s breasts at opposite corners of its base with the colorful rings encircling the model’s bright-red right nipple magnifying the portrait’s erotic charge.

Perched atop the triangle, the oversized head is also redolent with multivalent Africanizing significations, including the facial asymmetry characteristic of certain masking traditions in sub-Saharan African art and the accentuation of the head itself.[26] The opaque black paint encasing the right side of the bifurcated face functions not only as a racial allusion but also an evocation of a mask concealing the identity of the individual behind it.[27] The African mask, of course, has a long history as a primitivist trope in art history, its “discovery” having acquired a semi-mythological status in narratives of the European avant-garde in general and Picasso in particular.[28] The inanimate object, in this historical paradigm, stands in for the animate other, a metonymic equivalence inscribing difference mirrored in this representation of Fidelin.

The impenetrable black mass on the right half of the model’s face contrasts with the artist’s textured treatment of the opposing side. Here, the array of vertical and horizontal hatch marks are reminiscent of scarification patterns on the bodies of African women from the French colonies, images of which are represented in the collection of photographic postcards Picasso amassed and referenced in his early work.[29] These facial striations also recall the stylized visage of the model in the upper right-hand corner of Picasso’s groundbreaking 1907 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and other paintings from his so-called “Negro Period” inspired by different African objects that had profoundly informed his modernist aesthetic.[30] The artist’s insistence on matching his portraiture style to the idiosyncrasies of each sitter, a phenomenon Picasso scholar Elizabeth Cowling suggests has its roots in the artist’s lifelong practice of caricature, is manifested here in these stylistic choices in the portrayal of a woman of color.[31]

The revival in Femme assise of the artist’s Africanizing lexicon, a style he had largely abandoned or suppressed since the early 1900s, reflects Picasso’s affirmation of a shift in the 1920s toward a new formal syntax partially attributable to his association with surrealism and, notably, the movement’s well-established fascination with non-Western cultures.[32] Although Picasso never officially donned the surrealist mantle, he and his creative practice had a symbiotic relationship with the movement. Both André Breton, founder and principal theorist of surrealism, and Georges Bataille, leader of the dissident surrealist faction behind the publication Documents, claimed the artist as one of their own, frequently reproducing his work in their associated publications.[33]

Picasso’s association with the Bataille circle and, especially, his friendship with the surrealist writer-cum-ethnographer Michel Leiris is of particular significance here. As the eminent British art historian and curator Christopher Green argues, Leiris played an important role in kindling the artist’s new engagement on the cusp of the 1930s with a real and imagined “Africa,” conceptualized to include the peoples and cultural products of the continent and its diaspora.[34] Indeed, an imagined “Africa” of this nature can be detected in the embedded signifiers and racialized rendering of the sitter in Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II. In Picasso’s linkage between African object and colonial subject in this case, Fidelin served to embody the artist’s reimagining of Africanness through a surrealist inflected lens.[35]

Penrose, who was witness to Picasso’s creative activities at Mougins in 1937, later noted about this time that “[a]s a reaction to his recent preoccupation with tragedy, he was seized with a diabolical playfulness” (Picasso, 311). In his account of the sojourn, the artist convened two months after completing Guernica, the British surrealist drew particular attention to the unusual portraits Picasso created of his friends, writing that “the paintings were strangely like their models but distorted and disguised by surprising inventions. . . . In each case, beneath the buffoonery, there was a masterly handling of colour and form as well as a likeness, the reasons for which were almost impossible to define. . . . It was by a combination of characteristics set out in hieroglyphic shorthand that the person in question became ludicrously recognizable” (311–12). Although Penrose specifically references only portraits of Maar, Miller, and the Eluards in recounting his personal observations, his reflections are equally applicable to Femme assise. Indeed, if one were attuned to the context in which the painting was created and Picasso’s idiosyncratic visual lexicon, characteristics set out in “hieroglyphic shorthand” in this portrait would make Fidelin also “ludicrously recognizable” within this circle of friends.

Corroborating the Attribution

Substantiating the supposition that Fidelin is the model of Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II are several factors, foremost of which is the painting’s demonstrable resemblance to Man Ray’s contemporaneous photograph of his partner posed against the white stucco wall of the Hôtel Vaste Horizon (see fig. 2).[36] Fidelin is seen in this composition bare breasted under the radiant Mediterranean sun shielding her lower torso with a washboard in a manner that simulates a grass skirt, a shield, or even mermaid fins, evoking many of the same exoticizing tropes at play in Picasso’s painting. Notably manifest in both the photograph and the painting is the contradictory manner in which the black female body was folded into the modernist project as paradoxically ultra-modern and ultra-“primitive” and objectified through a male gaze.

While Fidelin certainly was not alone in this group of women to be photographed in a state of déshabillé, it is difficult to escape exoticized notions of racial otherness the image evokes. Indeed, like Josephine Baker who paved the way in Paris a decade earlier, she came to embody a twentieth-century Venus noire, a figure fixed in the European imagination at the interstices between the primitive and the modern. As such, Fidelin was cast into a familiar role in the history of French culture in which sexualized narratives projected onto racialized female bodies have a long tradition.[37]

Although the figure in Picasso’s painting is truncated, the composition closely mirrors Man Ray’s on a number of significant levels. The rendering on canvas of the subject’s hair texture, her frontal pose, the awkward positioning of her arms around the object shielding her body, and the design of her earring all bear striking resemblance to the photograph. The bold links of her chain necklace seen in the photograph are echoed in the interlocking loops suspended from the base of the triangular shape upon which her oversized head rests in the painting. Even the shadow-like rendering of the figure’s body in Picasso’s canvas corresponds with the cast shadow in Man Ray’s image. Two other shared elements—albeit transposed to alternate sides of the composition—are the architectural structure in the background and the abstract green form evocative of plant life hugging the picture frame.

Beyond the compelling visual evidence, the fact that Picasso had in his personal collection two copies of Man Ray’s photograph further argues for a correlation between these representations and provides confirmation of both artists’ acknowledged interest in Fidelin as an artistic subject.[38] Perhaps most persuasive in establishing the relationship between the photograph and the painting is my uncovering of a signed cropped version of the image of Fidelin with a washboard in which Man Ray inscribed “Arr. Picasso” on the photographic frame alongside his signature (fig. 9).[39] Presumably shorthand for “Arrangement Picasso,” this annotation provides a critical link between the subject of Man Ray’s photograph and Picasso’s portrait. The inscription can be interpreted in a number of different ways, ranging from the suggestion that Picasso himself posed Fidelin for the photoshoot to the notion that the artist employed a copy of the photograph as an aide-mémoire in composing his painting. Whatever the interpretation, the annotation strongly corroborates my proposition that Fidelin is the subject of the canvas in question, translated into paint by Picasso in collaboration with Man Ray’s photographic efforts.

Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin with Washboard, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Photo Courtesy of Grisebach GmbH, Berlin. © Man Ray 2020 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Fig. 9. Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin with Washboard, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Photo Courtesy of Grisebach GmbH, Berlin. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

That said, photographic verisimilitude was clearly not Picasso’s goal in composing his colorful Femme assise. Notoriously unorthodox in his approach to portraiture, a genre that consumed him throughout his prolific career, he was known to dismiss his sitters after a short period, preferring to work from memory or photographs.[40] Extracting, distilling, and embellishing selected aspects of the posed composition of Fidelin, the artist reenvisioned the scene through his own inventive vision. The intensity of the blazing Mediterranean sunlight—reflected in Man Ray’s photograph by the contrast between the deep shadows and the stark white backdrop of the hotel wall—is transformed into an array of tones in Picasso’s vibrant palette. Fidelin is shifted from a full-length standing pose to a sitting position, suggested simply by the skeletal chair frame jutting out from behind her. Her resolute gaze is enhanced by Picasso by encasing her eyes in colorful contours.

The washboard Fidelin holds between her hyperextended arms in the photograph operates in a more enigmatic manner in the canvas. Tucked beneath her breasts and clasped between her outstretched arms, the plank is abbreviated and emptied of the textured markings on the original surface. It is as if the ridges and vestiges of scrub patterns on the washboard in the photograph were transferred into the linear patterns and paint blotches dominating Picasso’s composition.

The elaborate accoutrements in the sitter’s hair and her smile are the only outliers in Picasso’s portrait vis-a-vis Man Ray’s photograph. The former evokes the decorative headbands Fidelin habitually wore, while the latter has a more complicated explanation and implication. Although the pursed lips in the profile view correspond to Fidelin’s mien in the photograph, the superimposed toothy smile has no correlation. It does, however, closely resemble the gap-toothed grin widely recognized in Picasso’s contemporaneous portraits of Lee Miller (see fig. 7).[41] A pastiche of this nature was not unusual for the artist who routinely adopted and adapted elements from one work to another in his hybrid imagery. In this instance, however, the ambiguity created by the amalgamation also suggests a complexity of hybrid racial identities that adds yet another dimension to the portrait.[42] Besides the dissociated smile, however, there are no other features that would suggest the subject is anyone other than Fidelin. Indeed, even as the mimetic nature and indexicality of the representation is lost in the passage from photograph to painting, Fidelin’s persona remains indelibly fixed in Picasso’s canvas.

The recognition of Fidelin as the subject of this painting and the identification of its Africanizing referents puts to the test conventional wisdom that circumscribes Picasso’s so-called “Negro Period” to the first decades of the twentieth century. It also complicates common assumptions about the artist’s interest in African objects at the expense of African and diasporic bodies. In a landmark essay in this journal, Simon Gikandi articulates these positions, arguing that “Picasso’s relationship to Africa, or his investment in a certain idea of Africa, which is evident from his early career to his high cubist period, was a meticulous attempt to separate the African’s art from his or her body.”[43]

However, in delimiting the scope of his investigation to Picasso’s early years, the literary and postcolonial scholar fails to take into account the long trajectory of the artist’s career or the significant historical developments that would continue to inflect his creative practice, thereby leaving little room for consideration of later works such as Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II. Nonetheless, the black body allegedly absent in Picasso’s work—the cornerstone of Gikandi’s argument—is in fact the raison d’être of this portrait of Fidelin. And in contrast to works like Demoiselles from two decades earlier, the Africanized body in this rendering is no longer invoked as the locus of danger, a notable distinction warranting greater consideration.[44]

Under the Radar

Despite the intriguing story behind and provocative nature of Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II, the painting has received remarkably little critical attention since it was created. This is a curious lapse, especially given that it is one of the few portraits Picasso ever made based on a living black model. The oversight can be explained historically, in part, by the painting’s omission from Christian Zervos’s thirty-three volume catalogue raisonné, a publication widely considered the most authoritative reference on Picasso’s work.[45] Additionally, the fact that the portrait was sequestered in the artist’s villa in the south of France among a self-selected trove of cherished works he retained in his private collection until the end of his life inevitably kept the work under the radar. Indeed, the canvas remained virtually unknown prior to its high-profile debut in 1961 in David Douglas Duncan’s Picasso’s Picassos, which was hailed in art circles at the time as “one of the biggest scoops in the literature of twentieth-century painting.”[46]

In the nearly six decades since the painting surfaced, however, it has had a surprisingly unmemorable career. The portrait drew little notice when put on view in its only known public display in a Picasso exhibition in Arles in 2005, where it was asserted—without any rationale—that the sitter was Nusch Eluard.[47] While the painting’s lack of wide exposure and critical attention undoubtedly has contributed to the failure to identify the model previously, this omission is more than a simple oversight. The silence around the image and the model is a clear illustration of the blinkered focus of conventional Western scholars, long impervious to the stories of black bodies within modern France and committed to writing and advancing a form of traditional, nationalist art history. In contrast, research on transnational blackness in France between the wars by scholars such as Tyler Stovall, Dominic Thomas, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Jennifer Boittin has revealed a rich diasporic cultural landscape in the Parisian colonial metropolis into which Fidelin’s story clearly falls.[48]

Further hindrance to the recovery of Fidelin’s story was the premature declaration of her death in 1998, just as scholarly interest in black diasporic lives was finding new resonance. Asserted as a fait accompli in the catalogue accompanying a major international retrospective of Man Ray’s photographic work, this erroneous proclamation of her demise deterred further inquiry and effectively preempted the last opportunity to engage Fidelin in the narration of her own story.[49] One can only imagine what was swept into the dustbin of history in the ensuing six years of her life before she died in 2004.

The erstwhile failure to recognize Fidelin as the subject of Femme assise is also a consequence of the short shrift she gets in accounts of this period of both Picasso’s and Man Ray’s lives. Even their close friend Penrose, who photographed Fidelin extensively during the Mougins retreat and intimated that he had had a sexual relationship with her, failed to acknowledge her existence in his much-cited biography of the Spanish artist.[50] She fared little better in Penrose’s biography of Man Ray where, as cited earlier, she is dispatched in one sentence as the artist’s companion on summer holidays in Mougins.[51] Exhibitions and articles dedicated to Man Ray’s muses habitually focus—collectively or individually—on the celebrated troika of Kiki, Lee Miller, and Juliet Browner, ignoring or marginalizing Fidelin’s central role in an important chapter of the artist’s life.[52] Her story became victim to such historical accounts that privilege the male artist over the female muse and relegate figures of color to the margins.

One of the few exceptions to this curious lapse is provided by Eileen Agar. The British surrealist artist, along with her partner Joseph Bard, joined the festivities in Mougins for a few days in September and dedicated a passage in her memoires to this “most memorable holiday.”[53] Describing Fidelin as a “charming creole, very young and attractive and full of laughter,” the artist shares rare anecdotes about the woman she characterizes as Man Ray’s “exotic girlfriend from Guadeloupe.” One recollection is of particular note here: “Apparently, when Ady first met Picasso, she went up to him, flung her arms around his neck and said: ‘I hear you are quite a good painter’” (Agar, A Look at My Life, 136). Apocryphal or not, this anecdote echoes the spirited relationship the two developed. Indeed, the playful amity between the Caribbean model and the Spanish artist is apparent in photographs from the holiday, exemplified in Man Ray’s image of Fidelin mischievously perched on Picasso’s bare shoulders as he sits on a dock with Maar (fig. 10).

Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, 1937.
Fig. 10. Man Ray, Adrienne Fidelin, Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar, 1937. Gelatin silver print. © Man Ray 2015 Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Agar’s insistence on Fidelin’s perceived exoticism is further recalled in a conversation in which Man Ray goaded his lover “They eat horses in Guadeloupe [On mange les chevaux en Guadeloupe] . . . His teasing evoked a fierce protest from Ady, who defended Guadeloupe’s claim to a cultured cuisine” (135). The characterization of Fidelin’s culture as outside social norms reflects the lens through which members of this avant-garde circle often viewed and portrayed this newcomer. Marked by racial difference, she was regarded as more of an outsider than the American Man Ray, despite her French citizenship.

Such conflicting attitudes are further evident in Agar’s narration of the infelicitous results of her efforts to photograph Fidelin sunbathing on the beach (fig. 11). “[U]nfortunately I rather over-exposed my snapshots of her, and she looked considerably darker than she was, much to her chagrin,” the artist wrote. “To pacify her, we asked her to lunch with us in Cannes. She accepted and of course ordered Riz Creole, and ate it daintily with her fingers” (135–36). Agar’s various accounts are revealing in this regard. They expose both the patronizing objectification of Fidelin and the complexities of racial and cultural biases around and through which this young immigrant had to navigate, including the impulse of her acquaintances to “pacify” her for her alleged chagrin over perceptions of her skin color.

Eileen Agar, Adrienne Fidelin, 1937.
Fig. 11. Eileen Agar, Adrienne Fidelin, 1937. Gelatin silver print. Tate (MB9600) digital image. © Tate released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported).

Heir to the colonial legacies of her native Guadeloupe, Fidelin found herself acclimating to her new life and shaping a new identity in the metropole burdened with what Guadeloupean art critic Claire Tancons calls the “squared quandary for the French Antillean woman. For her, negotiating what it means to be black and French under the universal ideal of a republican political regime is overshadowed by what being a citizen of her country—Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Guyane—might mean, a legally impossible proposal rendered probable only through her own independent imagining and resistant positioning.”[54] How Fidelin saw herself navigating this fraught space and her place with the notoriously male-dominated surrealist milieu remains an open question, one difficult to answer in the absence of any known personal accounts. Despite contradictory attitudes toward women in the surrealist ethos—ranging from romanticized to misogynistic—the movement, as Whitney Chadwick maintains, “offered many women their first glimpse of a world . . . in which rebellion was viewed as virtue, imagination as a passport to a more liberated life” (Women Artists, 67). Indeed, the visual record suggests that Fidelin’s renunciation of the conservative conventions of her cultural background and apparent embrace of the hedonistic lifestyle of the avant-garde community into which she was welcomed were, for her, liberating vehicles. Clearly comfortable in her own skin and before the camera lens, she emits a commanding and vibrant presence.

Representing the Black Figure in a Changing Modern World

Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II is a testament to the times in which it was created, a reflection of the undergoing radical transformation of the country’s national identity. With tens of thousands of decommissioned colonial troops making France their home after the First World War, masses of imported manual laborers servicing the ports and filling domestic and service section jobs, and waves of immigrants like Fidelin escaping devastation in the aftermath of natural disasters, the presence of these new denizens  in society’s midst could not be ignored. Invigorated by these recent transplants from the French colonial territories in Africa and the Caribbean, the nation’s capital, as noted earlier, came under the thrall of a tumulte noir. In the words of Boittin, the collective African diasporic presence in Paris resulted “in a transformation of the metropole into a colonial space [that] was topographical, tactile, political, and literary, amongst other things” (Colonial Metropolis, 38).[55]

On both the political and literary fronts, the assembly in Paris in the interwar period of black poets and intellectuals from French colonies in Africa and the Antilles who formed the négritude movement left a significant imprint on this transforming metropolitan space.[56] Founders of the movement—the Nardal sisters (Paulette and Jane), Aimé and Suzanne Cesáire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon Damas, foremost among them—created not only a transnational platform for the awakening of racial consciousness but also forged ties through shared artistic and anticolonial aspirations with the avant-garde, the surrealists in particular.[57] Pan-Africanist activities and publications such as La Revue du monde noir and La Dépêche africaine reflected alliances built within anti-imperialist circles.[58]

In the visual arts, Henri Matisse, in particular, responded to these developments and, in his late work, came to appreciate the individuality of the black models he employed by naming them and celebrating their identities. Unlike Picasso, he rejected their treatment as mere exotic stand-ins and, as Murrell pointedly notes, “re-presented the black female subject as fully present within the modern world” (Posing Modernity, 85). In contrast, when Picasso was confronted with a black body not as an abstraction but in the form of an individual who had penetrated his inner circle, he reverted to portraying her in the dormant primitivizing style that characterized his earliest exposure to African culture. And in giving the portrait of Fidelin a descriptive title rather than naming its sitter, he obscured the subject’s personal and racial identity. Picasso’s veiled portrait of Fidelin thus reflects the artist’s contradictory response to the changing world in which the terms on which the black body was being represented were being challenged. The fact that Femme assise and Fidelin’s identity as its subject have escaped notice may in part be attributed to the manner in which she is represented as a generic muse, reconfigured to suit the maestro’s whims in his habitual treatment of the women who entered (and exited) his realm. 

An incisive postwar counterpoint to Picasso’s treatment of Fidelin in Femme assise can be seen in the contrasting handling of the figure in Portrait d'Aimé Césaire Lauré, an etching the artist created twelve years later (fig. 12). Conventionally identified as a conceptual portrait of the Martinican poet, this image appears as the frontispiece of Corps Perdu, Césaire’s 1950 limited-edition volume of poems Picasso illustrated in collaboration with his friend.[59] The symbolic rather than representational nature of the portrait is underscored by the laurel wreath adorning the subject’s head, a conceit evoking Jean-Paul Sartre’s identification of the poet as the “Orphée noir.”[60]  The portrait’s negligible resemblance to its purported subject is further explained by the contention in recent scholarship that the model who sat for this portrait was not the poet himself but rather his eldest son, Jacques.[61] Whoever the actual model, be it Césaire father or son, it is notable that Picasso found no cause to replicate the primitivizing style of his treatment of Fidelin when  representing this internationally esteemed male figure from a neighboring Caribbean island. Characteristically, however, in both portraits he subverts the sitters’ physical characteristics to suit his creative concerns.

Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Aimé Cesaire Laureate, 1949.
Fig. 12. Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Aimé Cesaire Laureate, 1949. Etching, 41.2 x 30.1 cm. Image Courtesy of Peter Harrington Books, London. © 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

While a fuller discussion of Picasso’s portrait of Césaire is outside the scope of this article, the etching belongs—alongside his depiction of Fidelin in Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II—in the rare cadre of portraits of actual black models in the artist’s extensive body of work.[62] Notably, neither sitter who captured the imagination of one of modernism’s most prolific and influential artists was African but in fact both were French citizens from neighboring Caribbean islands. Beyond that commonality, however, Fidelin and Césaire each entered Picasso’s sphere from very different status points in terms of gender and class, distinctions arguably of relevance in the distinctive artistic treatment the artist accorded each portrait and in their respective reception. While the portrait of Fidelin is virtually unknown, the esteem in which the portrayal of Césaire was held within anticolonialist circles is reflected in its selection to feature on the poster promoting the First Congress of Black Writers and Artists organized in Paris in 1956.[63]

In these portrayals of Fidelin and Césaire, Picasso’s engagement with black culture emerges in a manner clearly more complex than allotted for in the largely binary assessments of the artist that currently prevail. Notably, neither portrait plays a role in the protracted discourse on Picasso and primitivism, an exhaustively studied and critiqued phenomenon upon which conventional narratives of modernism writ large stand. Indeed, these portraits complicate arguments that limit the importance of “Africa” on the artist’s work to the first decade of the century, a narrow focus that has fostered a largely monolithic and static understanding of his relationship to blackness and Africa as broadly construed.[64]

Invisible No More

Within a decade after Picasso completed Fidelin’s portrait, she would, by her own account, find herself estranged from the circle in which she had once been a vibrant presence.[65] Her relationship with Man Ray failed to survive the separation precipitated by the occupation of Paris by German troops on June 14, 1940, and the artist’s subsequent flight back to the United States to escape the war.[66] Set adrift from the avant-garde orbit during the war and postwar years, Fidelin struggled to find her footing in the face of insurmountable obstacles in pursuit of her dancing, modeling, and acting aspirations.[67] She nonetheless was instrumental in safeguarding many works and personal items Man Ray had been forced to abandon in his hasty departure.[68] Disappointed to learn of her former paramour’s marriage in 1946, Fidelin ultimately married and moved with her new husband, André Art, to Albi, a small town in the south of France where, as recounted by her neighbor, she spent her last decades living a modest life. She died in obscurity on February 5, 2004 in Lagrave, 20 kilometers from Albi.

Even as Fidelin herself faded from the avant-garde scene in the postwar years, personal memories of her did not. In 1955, following Man Ray’s relocation back to Paris, he sent Picasso a small print on postcard stock of the photograph of his former lover holding the washboard. Responding to an apparent request by his old friend, the American artist sent him the recovered print of the composition that had operated as their covert collaboration with  a note on the verso that read: “Here is what I have found so far. I’m researching and will send you a package of all the old photos soon.”[69] While the specific nature of Picasso’s request remains unclear, this annotated photographic print I discovered inadvertently filed away in correspondence files at the Musée Picasso in Paris further secures Fidelin’s place in the narrative exposed here.[70]

The unmasking of Fidelin as the sitter in Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II shifts attention from timeworn formalist debates about “affinities” in Picasso’s engagement with his African and diasporic sources to less explored and more complex issues. It exposes, for example, the curious fact that Picasso’s work with models of color was a notably rare event in his creative history, raising the question as to why this was the case for an artist so invested in African art and related global cultural manifestations. This exposé additionally invites inquiry into the process through which canonical narratives about Picasso have been constructed and why this portrait has not been subjected to the kind of critical investigation associated with the majority of the artist’s paintings. And it suggests the time is ripe for rethinking Picasso’s multifaceted appropriation of African and diasporic cultures and to move the discourse beyond the scope and timeframe within which it conventionally has been delimited.

As provocative as the repercussions may be for Picasso studies of the revelation of Fidelin as the subject of Femme assise, what is of most interest to me are the implications of this new attribution for recovering this unsung woman’s long-overlooked life story. How do we reconcile Fidelin’s significant visual presence in Picasso’s portrait, Man Ray’s photographs, and in a multitude of other representations with the fact that she has remained largely invisible in narratives of the interwar period over the three-quarters of a century since she emerged on the scene? What does the unearthing of her identity tell us about the racial dynamics within the avant-garde community in which she appears to have been so warmly embraced and how those dynamics influenced the subsequent erasure of her story? And what can we ascertain from this newly revealed information about Fidelin’s participation in and impact on avant-garde practice that may contribute to resituating her story in narratives of surrealism, the black Atlantic, fashion history, and transnational modernity?

In the absence of any memoir, significant body of personal writings, or meaningful accounts of Fidelin by her contemporaries, exploring images she inspired such as Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II becomes all the more critical in the recuperation of her story. Unraveling the history behind the painting’s creation and identifying Adrienne Fidelin as its subject not only makes visible the figure previously hidden in plain sight but further exposes the manner in which issues of race, gender, representation, and difference have inflected the modernist project. As this elusive figure continues to emerge from the shadows through endeavors to put her life’s account back into historical context, we gain a far richer sense of the vital roles played by diverse black figures who were integral not only to the careers of the artists with whom they collaborated but also, with their very presence, transformed the culture of modernity itself.


I dedicate this essay to David Driskell, who accompanied me with enthusiasm and tireless support on the long journey of “finding Ady.” His mentorship, kindness, and generosity of spirit continue to inspire.

An early version of this research was presented in Paris at a symposium in conjunction with the exhibition Le modèle noir at the Musée d’Orsay on May 15, 2019. I want to thank the conveners of the symposium for that opportunity and the participants for their responses. I am indebted to Sala Elise Patterson for years of fruitful collaborative research on Fidelin and for her support in uncovering Picasso’s painting. I am grateful for her insights and diligent research, which have informed and enriched this essay. The ideas developed here have also benefitted from the generous feedback of colleagues Renée Ater, Adrienne Childs, Martha Bari, Erin Haney, and the anonymous reader who reviewed the initial manuscript for the publisher. Thanks also to Alma Mikulinsky and Catherine Soussloff for comments on a preliminary draft that helped refine my argument.

[1] See Michel Fabre, “Rediscovering Aïcha, Lucy, and D’al-Al: Colored French Stage Artists,” in “Josephine Baker: A Century in the Spotlight,” ed. Kaiama Glover, special issue, S&F Online 6, no. 1–2 (2007–8); Claire Tancons, “Women in the Whirlwind: Withholding Guadeloupe’s Archipelagic History,” Small Axe 16, no. 3, (2012): 143–65; Anita Reynolds, American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014); T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Bricktop’s Paris: African American Women between the Two World Wars (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015); Denise Murrell, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018); Le modèle noir de Géricault à Matisse, ed. Cécile Debray (Paris: Musée d’Orsay and Flammarion, 2019).

[2] See Wendy A. Grossman and Sala E. Patterson “Adrienne Fidelin,” in Le modèle noir, 306–11.

[3] Examples of errors perpetuated in information circulating about Fidelin are too numerous to list. Particularly egregious is the frequent mistaken identification of the woman posing alongside an imposing Cameroonian Bangwa “queen” sculpture in an iconic photo by Man Ray. Conflating Fidelin with another Guadeloupean dancer Man Ray photographed a few years earlier, this misattribution reduces Fidelin’s identity to a racial signifier and points to the yet-to-be-recovered story of another unnamed black model. See Grossman and Patterson, “Adrienne Fidelin,” 306.

[4] This attribution and the existence of the related photograph were first made public in the catalogue for the exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay on the black model. See Grossman and Patterson, “Adrienne Fidelin,” 307–308. In three of the four publications in which the painting has been reproduced and identified by title, it is titled Femme assise sur fond jaune et rose, II: Online Picasso Project, ed. Enrique Mallen, (Sam Houston State University, 1997–2018), 37:041; Yolanda Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d'Arlesiennes, 1912–1958 (Arles: Actes Sud, 2005), 73; Lee Miller: Picasso en privado, ed. Sònia Villegas (Barcelona: Museu Picasso, 2007), 160. Portrait de Femme is given as the painting’s title in Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings & Sculpture: A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue, 1885–1973, Spanish Civil War 1937–1939 (San Francisco, CA: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1997), 37:190, 79. The Online Picasso Project gives Portrait de Femme as an alternate title.  

[5] At the time of my initial research, two exhaustive Picasso documentation projects placed  the painting in the collection of the Picasso Estate: Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings & Sculpture: A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue, 1885–1973,  37:190, 79 and Online Picasso Project, 37:041. In the catalogue accompanying its only exhibition in 2005, it was listed as being in a private collection. See also Yolanda Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d'Arlesiennes, 73. This was also the case when it was reproduced in the catalogue (but not exhibited) for Lee Miller: Picasso en privado, 160. The Picasso Administration declared that the work is no longer with the Estate; no further information regarding its whereabouts has been forthcoming.

[6] The nearly three-quarters of the country’s 405,000 inhabitants today who are descendants of West African slaves shaped the nation’s Afro-Caribbean identity. See Maddy Crowell, “The Island Where France's Colonial Legacy Lives On,” The Atlantic, April 21, 2019.

[7] See Elizabeth Ezra, The Colonial Unconscious: Race and Culture in Interwar France (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2000).

[8] In a letter to his friend Roland Penrose dated May 19, 1940, Man Ray wrote: “Ady is in fine shape. Doesn't miss a Saturday at the Bal Blomet,” in Man Ray, Writings on Art, ed. Jennifer Mundy (Los Angeles, CA: The Getty Research Institute, 2015), 68–73, 73. On the diasporic music scene, see Ingrid Kummels, “Staging the Caribbean: Dialogues on Diasporic Antillean Music and Dance in Paris during the Jazz-Age,” in Transatlantic Caribbean: Dialogues of People, Practices, Ideas (New York: Transcript Verlag, 2015), 141–63 and Jody Blake, Le Tumulte noir: Modernist Art and Popular Entertainment in Jazz-Age Paris (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999); Jennifer Boittin, “Dancing Dissidents and Dissident Dancers,” in Colonial Metropolis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015), 37–75.

[9] See Jody Blake, Le Tumulte noir, 112–15.

[10] The coterie of black stage artists who appear in photographs by Man Ray attest to his engagement with this community prior to meeting Fidelin. These include Aïcha Goblet, Simone Luce (D’al-Al), Simone Prieur, and the unnamed “dancer from Guadeloupe” portrayed alongside an imposing Cameroonian Bangwa “queen” sculpture in a now iconic photograph. See Wendy A. Grossman and Sala E. Patterson, “Adrienne ‘Ady’ Fidelin,” in Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biographies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), and Fabre, “Colored French Stage Artists.”

[11] Man Ray’s recovered date books establish that Fidelin entered the artist’s life in December 1934, countering the prevailing assumption that their relationship began later. See Grossman and Patterson, “Adrienne Fidelin,” 306.

[12] Roland Penrose, Man Ray (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 128.

[13] See Petrine Archer-Straw, Negrophilia: Avant-Garde Paris and Black Culture in the 1920s (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000); Brett Berliner, Ambivalent Desire: The Exotic Black Other in Jazz-Age France (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press).

[14] On this exhibition and the photographs of Fidelin in the Mode au Congo series, see Wendy A. Grossman, “La Mode au Congo: ‘A Happy Influence on Fashion,’” in Man Ray, African Art, and the Modernist Lens, The Phillips Collection, 2009, 142–45. Exhibition catalog. For a brief discussion of the Mode au Congo exhibition, see Maureen Murphy, «Le ‘Maniaque de la beauté’: Charles Ratton et les arts d’Afrique, » in Sophie Laporte, ed. Charles Ratton : L'invention des arts « primitifs » (Paris: Musée du Quai Branly: Skira Flammarion, 2013), 104–106. The original portfolio of Mode au Congo photographs is in the collection of Galeria Marconi, Milan. A number of images from this series are reproduced in Man Ray: Fotografia Anni ‘30 (Parma: Università degli Studi di Parma, 1981), Man Ray: L’eta della luce (Bologna, Italy: Nuova Alfa Editoriale, 1989), and wo man ray: The Seductions of Photography, ed. Walter Guadagnini and Giangavino Pazzola, Exhibition catalog. (Milan: Silvana Editoriale, 2019).

[15] Harper’s Bazaar (September 15, 1937): 106–107. Éluard’s essay originally appeared in French in Marianne (May 5, 1937), a Parisian cultural journal, to promote the Mode au Congo exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton.

[16] The fact that Fidelin was outfitted and posed in a manner evoking the Bushongo “native” celebrated in the article and her ambiguous ethnicity undoubtedly enabled this image to elude the industry’s censorship of black models. See Sala Elise Patterson, “Yo, Adrienne,” T: The New York Times Style Magazine, February 25, 2007.

[17] The curious lacunae about Fidelin in Man Ray scholarship and her exclusion from conventional narratives of the artist’s muses is a phenomenon under examination in my manuscript in progress.

[18] A large number of these images are housed in either negative or print format in the photographic collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

[19] This photograph is among the small selection of color images Penrose created. According to his son, Antony Penrose, his father was discouraged by the unreliability of the colors in the technical processes available (personal correspondence, October 16, 2019).

[20] On the place of the female muse in surrealist thought and practice, see Whitney Chadwick, Women Artists and the Surrealist Movement (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1985).

[21] Katherine Conley, Automatic Woman: The Representation of Woman in Surrealism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 21.

[22] The examples of this phenomenon are too numerous to enumerate. Among the egregious examples of the cursory treatment she is given are those that misidentify her as being from Martinique, Haiti, or even the Philippines.

[23] In Penrose’s biography of the artist, he suggests that Picasso’s decision to occupy the only room at the hotel with a balcony was predicated on the artist’s intention to use this opportunity for his creative production. See Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 311. On the portraits Picasso produced during this time, see Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation, ed. William Rubin, (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1996), 77–84; Yolanda Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d’Arlesiennes, 70–75; Vérane Tasseau, “Picasso—Dora Maar: Experimentation and Transgression,” in Picasso: The Artist and His Muses, ed. Katharina Beisiegel, (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2016), 82–99; Elizabeth Cowling, “The Comic Muse,” in Picasso Portraits (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2016), 146–51.

[24] A visual analysis based on reproductions rather than an engagement with the actual work of art is an admittedly problematic endeavor, as underscored by slight variations in color in the few reproductions of the painting that exist. The image reproduced here was digitized from the original film image created by David Douglas Duncan under the direction of Picasso himself, assuring a reliable and high-quality source from which to work in the absence of access to the original painting. I want to thank Linda Briscoe Myers at the Harry Ransom Center for assistance in acquiring this image.

[25] William Rubin argues that, “[t]aken together, the Kota and Hongwe reliquary figures—certainly the most abstract of the tribal sculptures Picasso encountered—constitute, along with Baga figures, and Fang masks, and reliquary heads, the most important African prototypes for his art from June 1907 until the summer of the following year” (William Rubin, “Picasso,” in Primitivism in 20th Century Art, vol. I [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984], 241–343, 266).

[26] Disproportionally large heads are common in the arts of many sub-Saharan African peoples, a visual accenting intended to reflect the importance accorded to it by the culture. See Christine Mullen Kreamer, et al., African Vision: The Walt Disney-Tishman African Art Collection (Washington, DC: National Museum of African Art, 2007), 101.

[27] In contrast, the models in later paintings in which Picasso renders half the subject’s face in black paint are unambiguously white, an observation reinforced by the monochromatic palette and Caucasian features in those works. See, for example, Reclining Woman Reading (1960), Modern Museum of Art, Fort Worth and Woman in an Armchair (1960), New Orleans Museum of Art.

[28] See Carole Sweeney, From Fetish to Subject: Race, Modernism, and Primitivism, 1919-1935 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004) and Mariana Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1990).

[29] See Anne Baldassari, Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror (Paris: Flammarion, 1997).

[30] The codification of Picasso’s work framed by Demoiselles d’Avignon as his “Negro Period” surfaced in the catalog accompanying the major exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in 1939. See Alfred Barr, “The ‘Negro’ Period: The Beginnings of Cubism,” in Picasso; Forty Years of His Art (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1939), 59–66. Debates about the influence or “affinity” of African art in Picasso’s work in general and in Demoiselles in particular is lengthy. For an overview of and recent foray into this discourse see Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,” ed. Christopher Green, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001) and Suzanne Preston Blier, Picasso’s Demoiselles: The Untold Origins of a Modern Masterpiece (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019). Antony Penrose, son of Roland Penrose and Lee Miller, interprets the striations in this painting and others from the period as influenced by Man Ray’s 1929 interpretation of his own photograph of Lee Miller “imprinted” with shadows cast through a window shade. As he noted, “Picasso frequently raided Man Ray’s ideas and I think this is another example of that” (Personal communication, May 29, 2019).

[31] See Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning (New York: Phaidon, 2002) and Cowling, Picasso Portraits.

[32] On Picasso’s complicated relationship with surrealism, see John Golding, “Picasso and Surrealism,” in Picasso in Retrospect, ed. Roland Penrose and John Golding (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), 49–77 and Anne Baldassari, Surrealist Picasso (Paris: Flammarion, 2006). On the importance of non-Western cultures to the movement, see Elisabeth Cowling, “Another Culture,” in Dada and Surrealism Reviewed, ed. Dawn Ades. (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1979), 451–55; Elizabeth Cowling, “L’oeil sauvage: Oceanic Arts and the Surrealists” in Art of Northwest New Guinea, ed. Suzanne Greub (New York: Rizzoli, 1992), 177–89; Louise Thyacott, Surrealism and the Exotic (London: Routledge, 2003).

[33] In Breton’s article “Le Surréalisme et la peinture,” published in 1925 in the fourth issue of La Révolution surréaliste along with the first European reproduction of the Demoiselles, he claimed Picasso as “one of ours.” Paradoxically, C. F. B. Miller, notes, Picasso also dominated DOCUMENTS, “a publication pledged to disrespect. The magazine reproduced dozens more Picassos than works by any other artist, and published some of the most remarkable texts in the Picasso literature.” C. F. B. Miller, “Picasso,” in Undercover Surrealism: Georges Bataille and DOCUMENTS, ed. Dawn Ades and Simon Baker (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 214–27, 214.

[34] See Christopher Green, “The Danger of Difference: Picasso and ‘Africa’ around 1930,” in Picasso: Architecture and Vertigo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 225–44. Green credits the conceptual and hybrid nature of Picasso’s works embedded with Africanizing elements created on the cusp of the 1930s to ideas Leiris promoted. For an insightful reading about the impact of Leiris on Picasso’s approach toward Africa in his late works, see Catherine Sousloff, “Pablo Picasso: Late Works and the Model-Muse,” in Picasso: The Artist and His Muses, 128–51.

[35] A similar phenomenon can be detected in another painting Picasso created at this time, Minotaure et femme (illustrated in Picasso Minotaurs and Matadors [London: Gaghosian, 2017], 122), in which the face of the female figure bears strong resemblance to a Bobo sun mask from the Bwa peoples of Mali and Burkina Faso. The bare black breasts and pineapple shape of the figure’s torso further evoke an exotic Caribbean dancer, suggesting that Fidelin may have also inspired this stark black-and-white canvas. I am grateful to Pauline Johnson-Brown for bringing this work to my attention.

[36] Dating Man Ray’s photographs has proven an inexact exercise, confounded by actions taken by the artist himself. Although the photograph of Fidelin holding the washboard is alternately dated 1937 or 1938 in different sources, various factors support the earlier dating. These include not only the correlating Picasso painting—definitively dated 1937—but the relationship of the composition to other photographs from Mougins taken by Man Ray in 1937.

[37] See Christopher L. Miller, Blank Darkness: Africanist Discourse in French (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1985); T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999); Brett A. Berliner, Ambivalent Desire: The Exotic Black Other in Jazz-Age France.

[38] Curatorial records at the Musée Picasso, Paris account for twenty-seven Man Ray photographs directly acquired from Picasso’s personal collection, including the composition of Fidelin holding a washboard. The prints were transferred to the museum after the artist’s death.

[39] Auction 238 - Modern and Contemporary Photographs, Grisebach GmbH, Berlin: Wednesday, June 3, 2015 [Lot 02181]. The auction record suggests that “Arr.” is shorthand for “Arrangement.”  Man Ray’s misdating of this print to 1938 and the tighter cropping suggest that it was printed at a later date than the related 1937 contact prints from this series (Centre Georges Pompidou Cabinet de la photographie AM 1994-394 [4969)] and AM 1994-394 [4999]) and the enlarged print in Picasso’s collection and, for whatever reason, incorrectly dated by the artist.

[40] Picasso’s portraiture practice has been the subject of extensive study. See William Rubin, ed., Picasso and Portraiture: Representation and Transformation; Yolanda Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits D'Arlesiennes; Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso Portraits. More focused studies on individual facets of his portraiture work include Karen Kleinfelder, The Artist, His Model, Her Image, His Gaze: Picasso’s Pursuit of the Model (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993) and Picasso: The Artist and His Muses, ed. Katharina Beisiegel, (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2016).

[41] See Lee Miller: Picasso en privado. A variant of Man Ray’s photograph in which Fidelin is smiling (Centre Georges Pompidou Cabinet de la photographie, AM 1994-394 [4999)]) provides another possible explanation for this element in Picasso’s composition.

[42] Although beyond the purview of this essay, this interpretation dovetails with an argument Christopher Green develops about the “unity underlying difference” in several of Picasso’s works from this same period. See “The Danger of Difference,” 234.

[43] Simon Gikandi, “Picasso, Africa, and the Schemata of Difference,” Modernism/modernity 10, no. 3 (2003): 455–80, 456.

[44] The invocation of Africa as the locus of danger in Picasso’s work is addressed by Gikandi, “Picasso, Africa” and Christopher Green, “The Danger of Difference.”

[45] Christian Zervos’s extensive catalogue was prepared in direct collaboration with Picasso and originally published between 1932 and 1978 by Cahiers d’art in Paris.

[46] Michael Compton, review of Picasso’s Picassos. The Treasures of La Californie, by David Douglas Duncan, The Burlington Magazine 104, no. 717 (1962): 553. The painting can be found in David Douglas Duncan, Picasso’s Picassos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961), 130.

[47] See Yolanda Clergue, Pablo Picasso: Portraits d'Arlesiennes, 73. The assumption that the painting is a portrait of Nusch Eluard is repeated in Villegas, Lee Miller: Picasso en privado, 160.

[48] See Tyler Stovall, Transnational France: The Modern History of a Universal Nation (New York: Routledge, 2015); Dominic Thomas, Black France: Colonialism, Immigration, and Transnationalism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006); Trica Danielle Keaton, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Tyler Stovall, eds., Black France/France Noire, The History and Politics of Blackness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012); and Boittin, Colonial Metropolis.

[49] See “Interview with Lucien Treillard,” in Emmanuelle de L’Ecotais and Alain Sayag, ed., Man Ray: Photography and its Double (Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, 1998), 240-245.

[50] See Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work. In Antony Penrose’s memoirs of his father, he writes that “relationships within this group were very free and easy, with the exchange of partners being openly accepted . . . It is my guess that Roland, who told me he had taken more than a passing interest in Ady, paid homage in a similar way” (Antony Penrose, Roland Penrose: The Friendly Surrealist [New York: Prestel, 2001], 79).

[51] See Roland Penrose, Man Ray, 128.

[52] Fidelin’s marginalization in Man Ray narratives is exemplified in the exhibition and accompanying catalogue Valerio Dehò, ed., Man Ray Magie/Man Ray Women (Merano, Italy: Merano Arte, 2005). Although several photographs of Fidelin are reproduced, she—unlike Kiki, Lee Miller, or Juliet Browner—is never named in the text.

[53] Eileen Agar, A Look at My Life (London: Methuen Publishing, 1988), 135.

[54] Claire Tancons, “Women in the Whirlwind,” 145.

[55] See also Pascal Blanchard and Eric Eroo, “Control: Paris, a Colonial Capital (1931–1939),” in Colonial Culture in France since the Revolution, ed. Pascal Blanchard, et al (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 296–306.

[56] See Gary Wilder, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude & Colonial Humanism Between the Two World Wars (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press), 2005; T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Negritude Women (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 2002; Reiland Rabaka, The Negritude Movement: W.E.B. Du Bois, Leon Damas, Aimé Césaire, Leopold Senghor, Frantz Fanon, and the Evolution of an Insurgent Idea (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015).

[57] On the relationship between surrealism and negritude, see Amanda Stansell, “Surrealist Racial Politics at the Borders of ‘Reason’: Whiteness, Primitivism, and Négritude,” in Surrealism, Politics and Culture, ed. Raymond Spiteri and Donald LaCoss (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003), 111–26.

[58] Art dealer, collector, and critic Paul Guillaume published essays lauding African sculpture and its impact on modern artists like Picasso in one of the principal négritude journals: “L’Art Nègre et l’Esprit de l’Epoque,” La Dépêche africaine 1 (February 1928): 6 and “Opinion sur l’art nègre,” La Dépêche africaine 17 (October 15, 1929): 4. On Picasso’s relationship with négritude, see David Bindman, “Négritude: Césaire, Lam, and Picasso,” in The Image of the Black in Western Art: The Twentieth Century, vol. V, ed. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2014), 257–60.

[59] See Aimé Césaire, Corps perdu, gravures de Pablo Picasso (Paris: Éditions Fragrance, 1950).

[60] Sartre’s identification of the poet as the “Orphée noir” is a reference to the mythological Orpheus who charmed all with his song. “Orphée Noir” appeared originally as the preface to an anthology of African and Caribbean poets, edited by Leopold Sédar-Senghor, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache de langue français (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1948). See Césaire & Picasso: Corps Perdu Histoire d'une recontre, ed. Anne Egger (Paris: HC Éditions, 2011), 21.

[61] See Romuald Fonkoua, Aimé Césaire (Paris: Perrin, 2010), 213. There appears to be no evidence that the intermedial role photography played in the portrait of Fidelin was replicated Picasso’s tribute to Césaire.

[62] The few other known examples of Picasso portraying black subjects as such are the reclining female model in his 1901 parody of Manet’s Olympia, a servant girl in his 1905 study for Salomé and Herod, and two figure drawings from 1906 (see Suzanne Preston Blier, “Africa and Paris: The Art of Picasso and his Circle,” in The Image of the Black in Western Art, 79–100).

[63] The poster featuring Picasso’s portrait was reproduced in a special issue of Présence Africaine 8–10 (June–November 1956).

[64] The scope of Picasso’s engagement with “Africa”  codified as modernist primitivism has conventionally focused on the first decade of the century. See Barr, “The ‘Negro’ Period,” 59–66; William Rubin, “Picasso,” in Primitivism in 20th Century Art, 330; Pierre Daix, “Portraiture in Picasso’s Primitivism and Cubism,” in Rubin, Picasso and Portraiture, 268–72. An exception to this approach was taken by the curators of the 2006 exhibition “Picasso and Africa.” Although the exhibition was criticized for downplaying Picasso’s debt to African art, it notably included works dating through 1972 (see Laurence Madeline and Marilyn Martin, Picasso and Africa [Cape Town, South Africa: Bell-Roberts Publishing: 2006]).

[65] In an unpublished interview with Sala Patterson on May 10, 2017, Fidelin’s great nephew Patrick Mamberta recounted his aunt’s reluctance to talk about her experience with the avant-garde and her sense of abandonment by people she had considered her friends.

[66] Man Ray recounts his experiences of the German occupation and efforts to escape with Fidelin in his autobiography (see Man Ray, “Occupations and Evasions,” Self Portrait [Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co., 1963], 289–324). According to this account, Fidelin decided at the last minute to stay in Paris to care for her family rather than leaving with Man Ray. The artist would settle in Hollywood for the duration of the war. Correspondence between the lovers in the months following their separation evidence their continuing affection and frustration at not being able to be together. Disrupted wartime postal service resulted in their missives going awry, ultimately contributing to the dissolution of their relationship.

[67] In addition to the racial discrimination Fidelin confronted, a series of invasive surgeries in 1946 left her torso badly scarred, draining her physically and hampering her modeling and dancing careers. See Wendy Grossman and Sala E. Patterson, “Adrienne Fidelin,” 310.

[68] Fidelin’s safeguarding efforts are relayed in her correspondence with Man Ray. See correspondence files, Man Ray Archives, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA and Fonds Man Ray, Bibliothèque Kandinsky, Centre Georges-Pompidou, Paris.

[69] “Voici ce que j’ai trouvé jusqu’à maintenant. Je fais des recherches et t’enverrai bientôt un paquet de toutes les anciennes photos” (Man Ray to Picasso, August 17, 1955, Musée Picasso Archives, Paris).

[70] Man Ray was among the photographers in this period who recognized postcard-stock paper as relatively high in quality and inexpensive. As a result of my research, this print of Fidelin has been transferred from the correspondence archives to the photographic collection of the Musée Picasso.