Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Property from the Norton Simon Family
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Mousquetaire buste

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Mousquetaire buste
signed 'Picasso' (upper left) and dated '' (upper right)
oil on panel
36¼ x 14½ in. (92 x 36.5 cm.)
Painted in Mougins, 25-26 September 1968
Sala Gaspar, Barcelona.
Lucille and Norton Simon, Los Angeles.
By descent from the above to the present owners.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1973, vol. 27, no. 306 (illustrated, pl. 119).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: The Sixties III, 1968-1969, San Francisco, 2003, p. 45, no. 68-151 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Picasso took pleasure in ascribing specific personal qualities to his mousquetaires. Hélène Parmelin recalled how the artist would pull out the pictures, and pointing to one or another, 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., El Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340). The august gent depicted here, his lace cravat hanging over a pumped up, accordion-like doublet, seems dazed by his own sense of self-importance and contentment. The mousquetaire paintings enumerate a laundry list of human foibles, but while there may be occasional moments of melancholy, there is never the suggestion of a sinister or cruel side among them, and invariably these spunky fellows charm and amuse by dint of their essential good nature.

The impetus for the emergence of the mousquetaires in Picasso's work during may be traced to early 1966, when the artist was undergoing a long convalescence from surgery at his home in Mougins. Unable to work, he passed the time by opening for the first time or re-reading many classics, including the works of Góngora, Vega and other masters from Spain's Siglo d'Oro. He spent long hours with the novels of Balzac, Dickens, and purportedly Dumas's The Three Musketeers, which Matisse is known to have enjoyed during his recovery from a critical operation in 1941. Picasso knew the adventures of Dumas's famous characters--Aramis, Porthos, Athos and their young protégé D'Artagnan--practically by heart. During the past year Picasso had moreover been poring over the plays of Shakespeare--when Pierre Daix asked the artist about the sudden appearance of so many mousquetaires in his recent work, Picasso replied: "It's all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 355).

Inspiration for the mousquetaires was only in part literary. During this period Picasso had been intently studying Otto Benesch's six-volume catalogue of Rembrandt's drawings, as well as illustrated books of the paintings. Picasso would project slides of Rembrandt's The Night Watch on to the walls of his studio (fig. 1). John Richardson believes that Rembrandt was "an all-powerful God-the-figure whom Picasso had to internalize before he died" (quoted in Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 34). Picasso's fascination with the baroque cavalier had the advantage of connecting him with an entire network of old masters: besides Rembrandt, Hals and others of the Dutch school, there was Velázquez and his compatriots from the golden age of painting in Spain, Picasso's own native tradition. Picasso also knew the paintings of the 19th century master of historical realism, Ernest Meissonier, whose detailed depictions of battle scenes, cavaliers and musketeers (fig. 2) made him the wealthiest painter of his day, just as Picasso was during his lifetime.

Popular cinema also had an influence on Picasso's fascination with mousquetaires. As John Richardson has noted, "Picasso was a movie buff and is unlikely to have missed Bernard Borderie's popular 1961 movie Vengeance of the Three Musketeers" (Picasso: Mosqueteros, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 20). Picasso and Jacqueline liked to watch old movies on television, and he might also have seen some of the other five "Three Musketeers" films made with sound in France and Hollywood between 1933 and 1966, and as a much younger man he probably took in some the early silent versions, including Les Trois mousquetaires of 1921, which was a blockbuster in its day, and spawned a number of sequels.

The peintre-cavalier was already a stock character in Picasso's artist and model series, which he had been working on since 1963. Among the earliest of these pictures was his take on Rembrandt frolicking with his wife Saskia (Zervos, vol. 23, no. 171). The irrepressible proliferation of mousquetaires was well underway by the spring of 1967. As these paintings became widely known, their subject struck many as being odd and out-of-touch at a time when America's war in Vietnam dominated the headlines. When Picasso painted Mousquetaire buste, France was still reeling from the great social upheaval of the student uprising and general strikes that had occurred in May 1968. In August of the same year, tanks and troops from the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies invaded Czechoslovakia, crushing the liberal, democratic movement known as the Prague Spring.

Picasso was sympathetic both to the French students and the reformers in Prague, but his work appeared to have retreated into a historical past that had no apparent connection to the events of the artist's own time. Picasso's critics relished what looked like sure evidence of the great painter's decline, while even the artist's friends lamented his apparent lapse into a self-indulgent fantasy. They overlooked the irony in Picasso's conception of the mousquetaires: these errant soldiers of derring-do are actually rather ridiculous and overblown in their grandiose self-confidence, and if they possess any will or courage to fight they are never called on to show it. Picasso insinuated his long-held antiwar views into the gestures of these comical, mock-heroic men. While students and workers were erecting barricades in the streets of Paris, Picasso remarked to his printer Aldo Crommelynck that he "was busy making his own revolution, right here in Mougins" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2009, p. 245).

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