This image of a young woman and her mirror reflection is riotous in color and chockablock with pattern. It is one of the last in a major series of canvases that Picasso created between 1931 and 1932. According to The Museum of Modern Art’s founding director, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Picasso said he “preferred this painting to any of the others,” which speaks to the painting’s dazzling visual and thematic complexity. Its primary subject is the time-honored artistic theme of a woman before her mirror, reinvented in strikingly modern terms. The girl’s smoothly painted profile, in a delicately blushing pink-lavender, abuts a heavily built-up and garishly colored frontal view in yellow and red. Allusions to youth and old age, sun and moon, light and shadow are compressed into a single multivalent face.
The female protagonist of Girl before a Mirror actively reaches out to embrace the mirror that frames her reflection—a nominally fleeting image that paradoxically displays a pronounced physicality. The picture’s rigorous symmetrical organization creates a structure against which the curves of the model’s head and body, as well as those of her reflection, register all the more strongly. Her ithyphallic left arm and testicular breasts continue the game of visual punning seen in Picasso’s other paintings and sculptures of the time, in which facial and bodily features double as male and female sex organs.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)