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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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Where Christie’s has provided a Minimum Price Guar… Read more PROPERTY FROM A PROMINENT PRIVATE COLLECTION
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Buste d’homme

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Buste d’homme
signed, dated and numbered ‘21.2.69. I Picasso’ (upper left)
oil on corrugated cardboard
96.5 x 65 cm (36 1⁄4 x 25 in.)
Painted on 21 February 1969
Weintraub Gallery, New York
Private collection, New York, by whom acquired from the above in May 1987
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, vol. 31, Oeuvres de 1969, Paris, 1976, no. 74 (illustrated, pl. 24).
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Lot Essay

Buste d’homme was painted on 21 February 1969, during an incredible surge of productivity and inspiration in Pablo Picasso’s work. This was the run-up to his now famous exhibition in the Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1970, when he unleashed upon an unsuspecting art world a new, energetically-rendered pantheon of characters, each of whom burst from the wall through the vitality of their own sense of character and through the vitality of their creation. The year of 1969 was one of the most prolific years of Picasso’s life, a time when he was painting with an irrepressible verve, filling canvas after canvas with bold, gestural and highly coloured images. The musketeer paintings were the final major series of variations on a theme that Picasso undertook in his career and this subject provided an opportunity to investigate two aspects of art-making that were foremost among Picasso’s concerns during his late great years: process and tradition.

The origins of the musketeer motif date back to early 1966, whereupon Picasso re-read Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers while in Mougins convalescing from surgery that he had undergone some months previously. He had just begun painting again, and before long a new character entered his work, the musketeer, or the Spanish version of the 17th century cavalier, the hidalgo, a rakish nobleman skilled with the sword and daring in his romantic exploits. The brave and virile musketeer was strongly identifiable with Picasso’s own vision of himself, which had not changed in the many years since his youth; his artistic vigour and prowess, which he in many ways equated with virility, remaining strong and forceful.

During the next few years, among Picasso’s paintings was a proliferation of portraits of these men in elegant beards and long wavy hair, clad in 17th century doublets and ruffled collars. With his goatee beard, long curls and traditional garb, the subject of Picasso’s Buste d’homme is instantly recognizable as the figure of the musketeer, the character who, perhaps more than any other, has come to define the artist’s late work and is largely understood to represent a reflection of the artist’s own identity. Many of Picasso’s musketeers champion their Spanish heritage in his use of the national colours of blood red and golden yellow, which, here are employed to bold and strong effect, contrasting powerfully with the white and grey of the subject’s face and the bright blue of his ruff. The large-eyed stare of the sitter is reminiscent of the artist’s famously powerful, dark eyed mirada fuerte, reflecting an reaffirmation of his own strong self-image.

Throughout his career the artist had employed a series of alter-egos through which he vicariously played out fantasies under the guise of the Minotaur, the faun or the harlequin, among others, and the musketeer too would come to fulfil this function. Beyond the sense of adventure conjured by the musketeer’s persona, journeying back in time to the golden age also served Picasso’s desire to reconnect with his artistic forebearers, providing him a pretext to indulge in his love of Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez and other great painters he identified with. As early as the 1920s Picasso famously stated: “to me there is no past or future in art. The art of the great painters who lived in other times is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was” (quoted in M. Zayas, ‘Picasso speaks’ in The Arts, New York, 1923).

The musketeer would hereafter become a leading character in Picasso’s visual repertoire, making frequent appearances in his work across all media. The artist was increasingly drawn to serial procedure, painting numerous variations on a single theme as a means of examining, assimilating, and re-interpreting a subject or style. In 1956, he told Alexander Liberman, the editor of Vogue magazine, “Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. 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). In her memoires of the time she spent with Picasso the art critic Hélène Parmelin further testified to the amusement the artist enjoyed ascribing personalities to his different paintings in the series, saying “watch out for this one”, “that one makes fun of us”, “he is enormously satisfied” or even “ 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).

Widely regarded as a triumph of the artist’s later years, the musketeers represent the full gamut of Picasso’s artistic, intellectual and physical capabilities and the culmination of a lifetime’s worth of artistic innovation that was not yet close to exhaustion. Large in scale, witty, irreverent and steeped in the depth of his knowledge, they arrive with the great energy of an artist full of new enthusiasm, continually challenging convention, remaining a testament to Picasso’s eternal appetite for creation and his powerful ideas that endured throughout his long life, and continue beyond. One can feel in Bust d’homme the deliberate and energetic brushstrokes Picasso’s urgency and his powerful, unrelenting compulsion to paint: ‘I have less and less time’, he said in a moment of poignant honesty, ‘and I have more and more to say’ (Picasso, quoted in M-L. Bernadac, op. cit., p. 85).

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