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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Le fumeur assis

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Le fumeur assis
signed and dated 'Picasso 14.6.64.' (upper right)
pastel and colored wax crayons on paper
20¼ x 9 5/8 in. (51.5 x 24.5 cm.)
Drawn on 14 June 1964
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris (acquired from the artist).
Saidenberg Gallery, New York (acquired from the above, by 1973).
Acquired by the family of the present owner, circa 1975.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1971, vol. 24, no. 198 (illustrated, pl. 72).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: The Sixties II, 1964-1967, San Francisco, 2002, p. 60, no. 64-199 (illustrated; with incorrect medium).

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Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

In May 1964, Picasso began a series of paintings and drawings of mens' heads, first in profile, and then 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 was fond of wearing a similarly striped vest. Through this simple article of clothing Picasso was surely connecting himself to the omnipresence of the sea in the life of Mediterranean communities. Picasso had lived by the sea while he was growing up, and even with the attractions and pleasures of cosmopolitan Paris or other capitals to distrct him (unlike Matisse, he did not travel widely), he rarely failed to take an extended summer holiday on one of France's many diverse coastlines, impatiently awaiting the opportunity to re-vitalize or even invent anew some aspect of his art.

Following the end of the Second World War Picasso completely transplanted his life, work and loves to the Mediterranean, as if to definitively enter and possess its powerful mythology. Those who practiced the professions of fisherman or maritime trader, or local seafaring of any kind, were living, modern-day agents, awesome men in their own right, of that hardy vocation by which Mediterranean culture had evolved, expanded and flourished throughout the centuries. These heads may be those of men and boys that he had seen in day trips away from his home in Mougins--a house which overlooked the sea--but they embodied a very ancient provenance as well, signifying archetypes that one finds throughout Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, and the historians' accounts of the great battles in the Greek and Roman naval traditions.

Picasso was eighty-three years old in 1964, and was about to enter his theatre of memory, in which he would commence an intense re-imagining of himself at various stations in his long life and varied career. He would appropriate many different personae as extensions of himself, as a boy, a young and then a fully mature man in the prime of his life, leading up to where he stood now, squarely in the corner of old age. One instantly recognizes from these heads how much pleasure it must have given him to cast himself fleetingly as these various characters, so completely drawn in every facet of their personalities that they comprise the length and breadth of an entire comédie humaine, or more precisely, a comédie d'hommes. Young or old, Picasso always endowed these subjects with his own famously powerful gaze. One may correctly view this series, in which the present Fumeur assis is the only full length rendering of the male figure, as the segue to the peintre series which followed in mid-October, followed by a return to the artist and model pictures, then a revival of the bearded men in 1965-1966, and finally the great mousquetaires (men with neat little beards but much longer hair) who took center stage in Picasso's work in early 1967.

Picasso was a life-long smoker, but it was inevitable that he should have to give it up sometime, and this probably occurred just before or following his surgery for an ulcer in the fall of 1965. The present series with its many fumeurs may constitute the artist's valediction to a favorite habit. According to John Richardson, the elderly Picasso had been sexually impotent from around his eightieth year, that is, sometime in the early 1960s. 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).

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