Maya Widmaier-Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Claude Picasso has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Executed on 28 January 1969, Buste d'homme à la pipe perfectly encapsulates the creative energy, playfulness and love of the Old Masters that characterised so much of Pablo Picasso's later oeuvre. This is one of a small group of works on paper on the theme that Picasso created over the course of a few days, it also relates to the oils on the same subject which he had painted over the previous couple of years.
At this point in his career, the artist was more than established; his only true rival, his friend Henri Matisse, had died a decade and a half earlier, leaving Picasso as the lone Titan of the art world. It seemed only natural, then, that increasingly during the 1950s and 1960s he turned to the artists of the past for inspiration, and even for challenges. Some of these were the same artists' examples to which he had turned during his youth in Spain and Paris, such as Velásquez and El Greco; but now he was looking likewise at Rembrandt, and it is to that period of musketeers and laughing cavaliers that we must turn for the inspiration of Buste d'homme à la pipe.
The man, rendered in fantastically bright swathes of colour and swirls, sports a dapper beard and moustache, and is smoking a clay pipe, implying that this is a moment of respite. Yet he clearly relates to the characters from Alexandre Dumas' novel, The Three Musketeers, which had so inspired and enthused Picasso, not least when he re-read it during a convalescence in Mougins a few years earlier. Not only does the character relate to Dumas, but so does the artist himself: the men with swords and the men with pipes are a form of oblique self-portrait, or rather self-projection. They form a striking contrast to the image of an artist approaching his ninetieth birthday, with their implied swashbuckling antics and tales of romance. Even the fact that Buste d'homme à la pipe shows a man smoking may relate to Picasso, who had been forced to give up smoking during the aforementioned convalescence in 1965.
The cut-and-thrust attitude inherited from Dumas is still evident in Picasso's continuing thirst for innovation and in the great energy that emanates from, and indeed clearly resulted in, Buste d'homme à la pipe. Picasso is revealing himself as a pathfinder once more, perhaps looking back at the age when he had been hailed as one of the Three Musketeers of Cubism; Buste d'homme à la pipe, with its playful, quasi-Cubistic inflections, may also represent a form of tribute to his departed colleagues.