In May 1964, Picasso began a series of paintings and drawings of mens' heads, first in profile, and later seen frontally or in three-quarter view. The subjects range from young and virile men in their prime, frequently unshaven and sometimes smoking or wearing a workman's cap, to older men who with their bald heads and grizzled appearance resemble the artist. Invariably, they are clad in a blue and white striped fisherman's vest.
As photographs of Picasso reveal, the artist frequently wore a similarly striped vest. In 1964, when Picasso was eighty-three years old, he seemed to embark on an intense re-imagining of himself at various stations in his long life and varied career. He would portray himself as we see him here, in profile and looking somewhat disheveled, or he would identify himself with the tough, vigorous workmen who feature elsewhere in this series. Young or old, the subject is endowed with Picasso's own famously powerful gaze. In this series of portraits Picasso appropriates his subjects' character and qualities, and absorbs these bold and sometimes contradictory elements into his own complex persona.
While Picasso's wife Jacqueline was the artist's chief model in his last years, the male figures in Picasso's late work have more varied sources. They are often an alternate representation of the artist himself, or they may be figures from fictional sources, such as the mousquetaires, or dead artists brought back to life, like Rembrandt or Degas. Prior to 1965, the young men and boys who feature in Picasso's paintings and drawings might easily recall faces or types that Picasso and Jacqueline encountered in day trips away from their home in Mougins. After November 1965, however, following major surgery, Picasso grew increasingly reclusive, relying ever more on memory and imagination to supply the many personages who populate his pictures.