PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Mousquetaire à la pipe II

PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Mousquetaire à la pipe II
signed 'Picasso' (upper right); dated and numbered '5.11.68. II' (on the reverse)
oil and Ripolin on canvas
57 ½ x 38 in. (146 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted on 5 November 1968
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Private collection, Europe (2012).
Acquired by the present owner, 2016.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1973, vol. 27, no. 365 (illustrated, pl. 146).
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Lot Essay

Over the autumn of 1968, Pablo Picasso returned with a renewed passion to the subject that has now come to define his late career, the musketeer. This figure—part historical, part fantastical—had entered Picasso’s repertoire of artistic stand-ins at the end of 1966. From this point onwards, the musketeer pervaded his imagination, as he filled canvases with depictions of these impressive, often ostentatiously-garbed, characters that were often vessels through which the artist portrayed himself. It is this 1968 group, however, that marks the peak of Picasso’s interest in the musketeer and includes many of his greatest iterations of this subject. While Picasso returned to the theme frequently over the course of the next four years, this series stands unmatched in its inventiveness and variety, its vibrant palette and rich brushwork, dynamism, and overwhelming joie de vivre.
Painted on 5 November 1968, Mousquetaire à la pipe is among the most impressive and fully worked of this group. This is one of two musketeers that Picasso painted on this day, a striking duo, both of which are pictured with a pipe, and share the same tightly curled hair and beard (Zervos, vol. 27, no. 364; Museum Sammlung Rosengart, Luzern). The figure in the present painting has been conceived on a grandly baroque scale, more than filling the almost two-meter high canvas to tower over the viewer. Set against a soft blue background, the resplendent, frontally-posed musketeer is pictured at ease, his leg casually crossed over his knee while he smokes a clay pipe, its exaggeratedly long mouthpiece heightening the playful exuberance of this debonair male figure. His commanding presence is emphasized as his booted foot pushes up against the picture plane, as if he is about to leap upwards, breaking through the bounds of the canvas into the realm of the viewer. In lavish jewel-colored swathes of paint, Picasso has relished in the description of the decorative attire of this musketeer. The tightly buttoned doublet is striped in green and blue, as if made of out of velvet that catches the light. A flash of dandyism is evident in this ostentatious costume, complete with a patterned lapel, as he stares straight out to return the spectator’s own gaze.
Over the course of the 1960s, Picasso had entered into a close dialogue with Rembrandt's work. He increasingly identified with the Dutch artist, who likewise had enjoyed a long career, and was also fond of inserting himself in various guises into his paintings. Picasso was especially interested in Rembrandt's drawings and etchings, the quality and variety of which he sought to emulate in his own works in these media. John Richardson found a set of the six-volume catalogue of Rembrandt’s drawings by Otto Benesch in Picasso’s library in 1986. Jacqueline Roque confirmed that it was Rembrandt who inspired Picasso to begin the musketeer series, “It happened when Picasso started to study Rembrandt,” she told André Malraux (quoted in M.-L. Bernadac, “Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model” in Late Picasso, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1988, p. 81).
In addition, during a period of convalescence in late 1965 and early 1966, Picasso began to re-read many of the classic works of literature, including Shakespeare, Balzac, Dickens, and perhaps most importantly, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. In the spring of 1966, the tales of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis had clearly taken up residence in his psyche, as he began to draw figures in seventeenth-century costume, including the depiction of a cavalier-painter in front of his model. The first oil painting of this subject was completed in February 1967 (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 280; Private collection).
Many musketeer heads as well as full-length seated portraits followed as the artist worked with an irrepressible zeal. Together with his devoted wife, Jacqueline, the artist remained more or less completely based in his Mougins home, Notre-Dame-de-Vie, visited by a smaller, more intimate circle of friends. Far from slowing down, his output remained hugely prolific—so much so that he built on two more studios to house the myriad canvases he painted. Of the musketeer series alone, Jacqueline once recalled, “When things were going well he would come down from the studio saying, ‘They’re coming! They’re still coming’” (quoted in A. Malraux, Picassos Mask, New York, 1994, p. 78).
Picasso was particularly fond of his musketeers, and liked to ascribe personal qualities to them. Hélène Parmelin recalled how Picasso would play games in front of the canvases; he would point to one or another musketeer and 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., Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340).
Sometimes he gave these figures a paintbrush and canvas; on other occasions they were accompanied by a nude woman. With the timeless character of the musketeer—one that had straddled centuries, cultures and countries, and embodied a powerful sense of vitality, masculinity, and virility—Picasso created an artistic stand-in for himself. Just as he had done throughout his career with the figure of the harlequin, minotaur, and more recently, that of the Mediterranean sailor, he used this figure as a way of channeling the image of himself that he wanted to present to the world. In this case, he visualized a heroic stance in life, affirming his ability, through wit and skill, and above all, creativity, to remain master of his fate during this final stage of his long life. The dashing musketeer, with his associations with bravado and bravery, swashbuckling exploits, and amorous liaisons, was the perfect means through which to convey these sentiments.
Picasso’s embrace of the motif of the musketeer also appears as a logical step after having spent the previous years waging battle against the great masters of the past. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Picasso took on renowned masterpieces, including Eugène Delacroix’s Les femmes dAlger, Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, and Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur lherbe and reconstituted these paintings in his own, inimitable style. “In old age,” Richardson explained, “Picasso would admit to being very conscious of old masters breathing down his neck. Far from being bothered by this, he was so secure in his genius that he conjured master after master into the heart of his work and had his way with them” (A Life of Picasso: The Early Years, London, 1992, vol. 1, p. 185). With the musketeer, Picasso continued this quest for artistic supremacy. These figures are an amalgamation of motifs borrowed from a range of artistic predecessors. From the influence of the grand European baroque tradition, to the Spanish Golden Age painters, northern European artists including Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Peter Paul Rubens, and latterly even Vincent van Gogh, as well as those from his adopted home of France, Ernest Meissonier, Nicolas Poussin, and Manet, Picasso pillaged the art of the past in the creation of these artistic surrogates.
By picking and appropriating different quotations from these artists, Picasso was not only measuring himself against them, but was exercising his artistic power, demonstrating to himself and to the world that he was one of this haloed lineage of great masters. John Richardson has summarized this, asking, “Why did Picasso lock horns with one great painter after another? Was it a trial of strength—arm wrestling? Was it out of admiration or mockery, irony or homage, Oedipal rivalry or Spanish chauvinism? Each case was different, but there is always an element of identification, an element of cannibalism involved—two elements that, as Freud pointed out, are part of the same process. Indeed Freud described the process of identification as ‘psychic cannibalism.’ You identified with someone; you cannibalized them; you assumed their powers. How accurately this described what Picasso was up to in his last years” (“The Catch in the Late Picasso” in The New York Review of Books, 19 July 1984).
In addition, the musketeer subject perfectly suited Picasso’s work habits at this time. The artist was drawn to working in series, painting numerous variations on a theme as an effective means of examining, assimilating and re-interpreting a subject or style. Indeed, Picasso had become increasingly engaged in painting as “process,” in which the act of painting, not the completed painting, was the most important aspect. “Paintings are but research and experiment,” he told Alexander Liberman, the editor of Vogue, in 1956. “I never do a painting as a work of art. All of them are researches. 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).
While Mousquetaire à la pipe clearly relates to the past, and to Picasso’s desire to establish himself and his art within the great lineage of artists who had preceded him, it can also be asked how a work like this related to the art of the present. The year 1968 was one of the most tumultuous of recent history. On 4 April, Martin Luther King was assassinated, followed two months later by Robert F. Kennedy. As the Vietnam War raged on, the Prague Spring unfolded, together with widespread protests that took place the world over; from students at Columbia University in New York, to revolts in Rome, and those in Paris, which saw President de Gaulle ousted from office. The far-off realm beyond the earth’s surface was further explored when Apollo 8 orbited the moon for the first time at the end of this year.
In the midst of this violence and rebellion, convulsive change, innovation and discovery, artistic production was no less groundbreaking, varied and complex. This year Marcel Duchamp, the godfather of Conceptual art, died. Andy Warhol was shot in The Factory by Valerie Solanas. Mark Rothko had just completed his large-scale murals for the Rothko chapel in Houston. Minimalism was gathering pace, while in Los Angeles the Light and Space Movement was founded, led by James Turrell and Robert Irwin. In London Francis Bacon was in his heyday, painting many of his best-known portraits of his Soho circle, including Lucian Freud, George Dyer, and Henrietta Moraes, while David Hockney returned to the capital after a four year stint in California where he had painted the first of his celebrated swimming pool subjects and double portraits. Arte Povera reigned supreme in Italy, while in France, Jean Dubuffet was in the midst of his Hourloupe cycle.
Regarded within this context, it would seem that Picasso, considered by many as the world’s greatest living artist, appeared with these musketeers to have retreated into a world of backward-looking romantics and nostalgic dreamers” (M.-L. Bernadac, exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 82). Yet, it was this defiant pursuit of his own artistic principles that ultimately ensured Picasso’s iconoclasm remained intact until the end. As Richardson has stated, “the last seven years of Picasso’s life constituted a Great Late Phase, one in which he felt free to do whatever he wanted, in whatever way he wanted, regardless of correctness, political, social, or artistic. Rules were made for breaking” (“Great Late Picasso” in Picasso Mosqueteros, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 15).
It was Picasso’s unwavering dedication to the medium of painting and to the figure as his ultimate subject that would serve as a principle influence on a younger generation of artists in the 1980s. Four late works by the artist were included in the exhibition, A New Spirit in Painting, held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London in 1981. Hung together with recent canvases by Julian Schnabel, Georg Baselitz, Per Kirkeby, Philip Guston, Markus Lüpertz, Anselm Kiefer, Frank Auerbach, Cy Twombly, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, among others, Picasso’s work took on a new life, standing as a seminal influence in the painterly concerns of these artists. Writing in the catalogue preface, Christos M. Joachimides declared, “Interest in [Picasso's] powerfully expressive late work is just beginning. This is the work which, like some incredible mutation, embodies the spirit of a very young artist who gives form to his perception of the world in fresh, unsullied, aggressive images” (C.M. Joachimides et al., A New Spirit in Painting, exh. cat., The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1981, p. 16).
Writing some years later, in 2006, Werner Spies, with words that are as relevant today as they were then, affirmed that, “In retrospect, the parade of vehement canvases [from Picasso’s late career] has the appearance of a posthumous manifesto for a new painting... Picasso seems like the most contemporary of contemporary painters, the radical man of the hour. Now he could suddenly figure as a guarantor for subjectivity, for the return of figuration, and spontaneous painting—basically everything Minimal and Conceptual Art had written off as an anachronistic affair. All at once Picasso again began to be viewed as the unavoidable and undeniable founding figure of modern painting” (Picasso: Painting Against Time, exh. cat., Albertina, Vienna, 2006, p. 21).

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