Filled with gusto and swirling brushstrokes, Picasso's Mousquetaire et nu assis is a virtuoso image of virility-- the machismo of the ageing Spaniard is evident even in the energy with which this picture has been painted. For despite his increasing years, Picasso has created a painting that is filled with an expansive sense of movement. Not just movement: passion. With one eye towards the Old Masters and another towards Informel, Picasso shows himself still challenging the history of art, rattling pedestals, carrying out iconoclastic attacks, plundering the past and doing so in a strikingly fresh, gestural way. While Picasso always shied away from pure abstraction, the painterly quality and traces of the artist's brush in Mousquetaire et nu assis act as a wry, perhaps even patronising response to movements of the day such as Abstract Expressionism. In addition, the presence of the nude, which John Richardson identified in a letter as the artist's second wife, Jacqueline, whom he had married six years earlier, adds a dimension of the domestic, the private and, crucially, the erotic. Man-and-woman motifs had featured in Picasso's pictures for as long as women featured in his life, but now they seemed to take on a new life, projecting an image of a relationship that was both imaginary and yet deeply rooted in the artist's intimate reality.
The figure of the Musketeer came to figure more and more in Picasso's paintings towards the end of his life. For decades, his pictures had often portrayed strange worlds in his imagination, peopled by centaurs, classical artists, minotaurs and various other characters. Increasingly during the 1960s, the Musketeer and other warrior-like figures, including torreros, came to feature in these works-- the musketeer came to take increasing precedence following a surgical operation as, while convalescing, Picasso read Dumas' Les trois mousquetaires ('The Three Musketeers'). These swashbuckling characters leapt from the pages and into a new life through Picasso's paintings. They are chivalric, they speak of adventure, they hail from the past yet have a distinctive breath of modernity about them.
In one sense, these characters owe their existence in Picasso's pantheon of characters to the spirit of Rembrandt, which Picasso felt pursued him throughout his life, a strange surrogate father-figure that could not quite be surpassed (unlike the artist's own father). 'Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt,' he had said (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, p. 51). This was all the more the case with Picasso after the above-mentioned convalescence, when he had also leafed extensively through volumes of the Dutch master's drawings. And added to this, Picasso is remembered as having used a projector to cast vast images of Rembrandt's famous Night Watch on the walls of his home, the musketeer-like guards stepping from his walls and into his world. In a sense, the man in Mousquetaire et nu assis is one of these figures, trapped in the studio.
Picasso was both worshipping and attacking his artistic forebears, placing himself on a level with them, hinting that he might surpass them when taking their pictures and giving them the 'Picasso treatment.' This had happened to Manet, with his Déjeuner sur l'herbe, to Delacroix with his Femmes d'Algers and, crucial in terms of Mousquetaire et nu assis, Velazquez. For this character, with his ruff and elegant seventeenth-century garb, could as easily have stepped out of Las Meninas as the Night Watch. It is intriguing to find the artist so openly inspecting and riffing off the legacies of other artists as he himself approached the end of his life indeed, Picasso inscribed another work painted only a couple of weeks earlier, showing a lone musketeer, with the telling (though not flawlessly spelt) words, 'Domenico Teotocopulos van Rind a Silva.'
The swashbuckling world of the Musketeer was a pointed subject for Picasso towards the end of his life, as he himself was not as active as he might have wished. This was made all the more apparent by the age gap between him and his wife, and the lasting results of a combination of age and operations, a factor that he discussed with his old friend, the photographer Brassaï:
'Whenever I see you, my first impulse is to... offer you a cigarette, even though I know that neither of us smokes any longer. Age has forced us to give it up, but the desire remains. It's the same with making love. We don't do it any more but the desire is still with us!' (Picasso, quoted in J. Richardson, 'L'Epoque Jacqueline,' pp. 17-48, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh.cat., London & Paris, 1988, p. 29).
And it is this desire, as well as the open, even existential, thirst for life of an artist all too aware of his increasing age that charges Mousquetaire et nu assis. This picture, combining both whimsy and the artist's own profound and private concerns, has erotic content and-- in its bold, expressionistic brushstrokes-- immense gusto, leading to an intoxicating sense of enthusiasm that affects even the viewer.