In early 1966, while convalescing in his home in Mougins from surgery, Picasso reread Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Within a short time a new character entered his repertory of artist-surrogates--the musketeer, or more generally, the 17th century cavalier, the rakish nobleman skilled with the sword, daring in his romantic exploits, and in his tastes and appetites a worldly gentleman who enjoyed all that life had to offer. In the early 1960s Picasso had been fond of depicting himself in the figure of a brawny Mediterranean fisherman, either young or old, with a curly beard and in a striped sailor's vest. The adventurous and virile musketeer now replaced the fisherman as the artist's primary persona. Now in his mid-80s, able to travel only locally, and with his vaunted sexual powers finally on the wane, Picasso transformed himself into the brave, adventurous and virile musketeer, with an elegant little beard and long wavy hair, and clad in doublets and ruffled collars. This was the mask he would hold up most frequently to the world in his pictures during the remaining years of his life.
Picasso painted Homme à la pipe in late 1968. It may seem an unusual subject at a time when America's war in Vietnam filled the headlines and Paris was still recovering from the throes of the great student uprising earlier that year. A few months earlier Soviet forces had invaded Czechoslovakia, ending the Prague Spring. The world's greatest living artist appeared to have retreated in a world of "backward-looking romantics and nostalgic dreamers" (M.-L. Bernadac, Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 82). Picasso's view of the musketeers is invariably comic and mock-heroic; these soldiers of derring-do are often ridiculous and overblown in their grandiose self-confidence. This subject may be tinged with Picasso's antiwar views, expressed in the image of a man ordinarily inclined to bellicose behavior, of the kind that had caused so much mayhem and carnage through the centuries. Here, having put his sword aside, the musketeer looks rather harmless and congenial.
Picasso was fond of his musketeers, and liked to ascribe personal qualities to them. Hélène Parmelin recalled how Picasso would play games in front of the canvases, with her and her husband, the painter Edouard Pignon. Picasso would point to one or another musketeer and sympathically remark, "With this one you'd better watch out. That one makes fun of us. That one is enormously satisfied. This one is a grave intellectual. And that one look how sad he is, the poor guy. He must be a painter" (quoted in Picasso: Tradition and Avant-garde, exh. cat., Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340). The musketeers embody a virtual catalogue of varied human foibles, for which they appear to compensate with the irresistible force of their idealism. Picasso must have lamented a growing absence in the contemporary world of the recklessly individual spirit, the man of purposeful idea and action, a world-transforming genius, as he had been in his youthful career. In this respect, Picasso's appropriation of the musketeer image was an effort to reclaim a heroic stance in life, to affirm his ability, through wit and skill, to remain master of his fate during this final stage of his long life.
The first appearance of the 17th century cavalier in Picasso's late work occurred in one of his artist and model paintings, dated 13-14 March 1963, which Picasso revealed to his friend Mme Parmelin as being "Rembrandt and Saskia." It was recorded under this title in the Zervos catalogue (vol. 23, no. 171; fig. 1). Picasso had in mind a similarly titled work by Rembrandt, in which the young artist, wearing a stylish hat and sword, frolics with his wife Saskia (fig. 2). Picasso had entered into a close and extended study of Rembrandt; he increasingly identified with the Dutch artist, who likewise had a long career, and was also fond of inserting himself, in one guise or another, into his paintings. Picasso was especially interested in Rembrandt's drawings and etchings, the quality and variety of which he sought to emulate in his own works in these media. John Richardson found a set of the six-volume catalogue of Rembrandt's drawings compiled by Otto Benesch in Picasso's library in 1986, and noted "these are apparently what engaged the artist's attention during his convalescence from his operation in November 1965" (in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 34). On the day before he painted Homme à la pipe, he made a small ball-point drawing of a head of Rembrandt (Zervos, vol. 27, no. 359).
Inspired by his reading of Dumas' The Three Musketeers, Picasso drew figures in 17th century costume a carnet that he used in March-April 1966, including the depiction of a cavalier/painter in front of his model (fig. 3). Picasso then introduced the musketeer theme in two drawings done in December 1966 (Zervos, vol. 25, nos. 257-258). He commenced a series of large ink wash bust-length portraits of musketeers later that month (Zervos, vol. 27, nos. 448-454). The first oil painting of this subject, done on 20 February 1967, again portrayed the cavalier as a painter, (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 280). Many musketeer heads followed, and Picasso then began to paint fuller-length seated portraits in April 1967 (fig. 4). This theme preoccupied Picasso through the late spring, but made way for other subjects during the summer and fall.
Picasso returned to the musketeer theme in January 1968, but treated it only occasionally until October, when he began to paint a series of large bust and full-length musketeer portraits in which the gentlemen are seen smoking a pipe (fig. 5). This group marks the peak of Picasso's interest in this subject, and includes many of his most richly expansive versions in this genre. The present three-quarter length Homme à la pipe is one of the most impressive of all. The musketeer fills the canvas, and he even appears to kick outward towards the viewer with his crossed booted leg, as if to test the strength of the picture plane, and the frame as well, which barely seems capable of containing him. Picasso has conceived this impressive fellow on a grandly baroque scale, piling up variously handled forms one on another, each with its own distinctive manner of brushwork-crisscrossed here, striated there, and elsewhere bowed, looped and squiggled. Picasso has contrasted his cavalier's solid silhouette against a brilliant yellow background, over-brushed with strokes of pale pink and blue. The artist pulled out all the stops with his resounding and varied use of color within the figure-jarring contrasts alternate with more delicate harmonies. While Picasso returned to the musketeer theme frequently over the course of the next four years--including some the last drawings recorded in Zervos--no later sequence of variations on this subject matches this series in its formal variety and inventiveness, vivid palette, sustained dynamism and irrepressible joie de vivre.
The introduction of the pipe in this sequence contributes significantly to its overall character of boisterously good humor and contentment. Superficially, the pipe alluded to genre paintings of the 17th century Dutch school, and even more recent models, such as Eugène Manet's Le bon bock (Wildenstein, no. 213; coll. Philadelphia Museum of Art). The pipe was, more significantly, a meaningful motif within the context of Picasso's own oeuvre, aspects of which the artist was fond of revisiting in his late years. It was, of course, an important accessory in Picasso's famous Garçon à la pipe, 1905 (Zervos, vol. 1, no. 274). The pipe was a frequent component in his cubist still-lifes. The manly recreation of pipe-smoking takes on a sexual connotation as well; with its exaggerated length the pipe becomes a phallic symbol. Picasso himself made the association between smoking and love-making as he was commiserating in a conversation with the photographer Brassaï: "Age has forced us to abandon smoking, but the desire remains. It's the same with love" (quoted in M.L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 455).
The presence of the yellow background, the pipe, and even the impassioned brushwork suggest another artist, also a Dutchman, to whom Picasso liked to allude in his late paintings--Vincent van Gogh (fig. 6). His love for Rembrandt, Velázquez, Delacroix, Ingres, Manet and a handful of others notwithstanding, Picasso declared Van Gogh to be "the greatest of them all" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 32). Apropos of the Van Gogh self-portrait illustrated here, John Richardson has noted the story told by Mme Parmelin about how "Picasso badgered the director of the the museum in Arles to get him a photostat of a press-cutting, the only documentary record of Van Gogh chopping off his ear and giving it to Rachel, the prostitute. He was going to frame it, he said" (ibid.). Richardson explained the nature of Van Gogh's influence on Picasso:
"What he wanted was to enlist Van Gogh's dark spirits on his side, to make his art as instinctive and 'convulsive' as possible...I suspect that Picasso also wanted to galvanize his paint surface--not always the most thrilling aspect of the epoch before Jacqueline's--with some of the Dutchman's Dionysian fervour. It worked. The surface of the late paintings has a freedom, a plasticity, that was never there before; they are more spontaneous, more expressive and more instinctive than virtually all his previous work" (ibid., pp. 32 and 34).
The musketeer paintings were the final major series of variations on a theme that Picasso undertook in his late period. This subject provided an opportunity to investigate two aspects of art-making that were foremost among Picasso's concerns during these final years: tradition and process. Regarding the former, the musketeers served a means through which Picasso could engage the great artists of the past whom he admired, allowing him to arrive at an understanding of his own position and achievement within the continuity and traditions of European painting. Having emerged from his study of Rembrandt, the musketeer theme also provided an avenue to further treating Velázquez, a longstanding love among his antecedents (fig. 7), as well as to the entirety of the achievement of the Siglo de Oro in Spanish painting. These sources encouraged Picasso to take stock of his Spanishness and the role of his native heritage in his work, concerns that are suggested even in his fondness for yellow and red, the national colors, as a tonal scheme or accents in his musketeer palette.
Moreover, the musketeers subject perfectly suited Picasso's work habits at this time. The artist was drawn to serial procedure, painting numerous variations on a theme, as an effective means of examining, assimilating and re-interpreting a subject, style or manner. Indeed, Picasso had become increasingly engaged in painting as "process", in which the act of painting, not the completed painting, was a sufficient end in itself. Picasso described how he took special pleasure in the "movement of the painting, the dramatic effort from one vision to the next, even if the effort is not carried through. I have reached the stage where the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself" (quoted in K. Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Paris, 1971, p. 166). In 1956 Picasso told Alexander Liberman, the editor of Vogue magazine, that "Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. All of them are researches. I search incessantly and there is a logical sequence in all this research. That is why I number them. It's an experiment in time" (quoted in D. Ashton, ed., Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 72).
The musketeer series was indeed an "experiment in time," and in more than one sense. It was in fact a significant exercise in sequential imaging, as Picasso describes above. Moreover, this series was also a journey into time, one that followed a route from Picasso's Mougins studio in the late twentieth century to Dumas' novel written in the mid-nineteeth, and then three centuries further into the past to the Baroque era of Rembrandt and Velázquez. As Picasso became very old and reclusive, and the real world of physical delight receded from his grasp, an inner world not subject to the boundaries of time or place evolved in its stead. Picasso constructed a veritable musée imaginaire, an edifice that he maintained in his own mind of which he was artificer, arbiter and curator, that contained the genius of many centuries, as well as his own.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt et Saskia, 13-14 March 1963. Private collection. BARCODE 20627676
(fig. 2) Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt and Saskia, circa 1635. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. BARCODE 20627669
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Peintre et modèle, 10 April 1966. Sold, Christie's, New York, 11 May 1995, lot 133. BARCODE 26007304
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Mousequetaire assis, 19 April 1967. Sold, Christie's, New York, 17 May 1983, lot 80. BARCODE 26007298
(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Mousqetaire à la pipe, 17 October 1968. Sold, Christie's New York, 3 November 2004, lot 46. BARCODE 26007311
(fig. 6) Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, January 1889. Private collection. BARCODE 26007281
(fig. 7) Diego de Silva Velázquez, Self-Portrait (detail from La Meninas), 1656. Museo del Prado, Madrid. BARCODE 20627652