PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)

Homme à la pipe

Details
PABLO PICASSO (1881-1973)
Homme à la pipe
signed 'Picasso' (upper right); dated '27.11.68.' (on the reverse)
oil and Ripolin on canvas
51 ¼ x 38 ¼ in. (130.1 x 97 cm.)
Painted on 27 November 1968
Provenance
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris.
Alex Maguy (Galerie de l'Elysée), Paris (1968).
Pola Pasvolsky, Cape Town (acquired from the above, 1969); Estate sale, Christie's, London, 30 June 1999, lot 537.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Literature
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1973, vol. 27, no. 378 (illustrated, pl. 159).
Special notice
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Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Clad in a crimson colored hat and adorned in an opulent costume, complete with a Rembrandt-esque ruff and an orange epaulette hanging from his shoulder, the protagonist of Homme à la pipe is one of the cavalcade of musketeers who emerged from Pablo Picasso’s brush in the late 1960s. Painted on 27 November 1968, this large scale work, which dazzles with its vibrant palette and emphatic brushwork, dates from the highpoint of this theme. Over the course of this month, Picasso painted a brilliant array of these figures, each one invested with a distinct individuality.
The figure of the musketeer had first appeared in Picasso’s art in 1966. While enduring a lengthy convalescence at his home, Notre-Dame-de-Vie, in Mougins, after undergoing surgery in December 1965, Picasso immersed himself in the world of literature. Retreating from the outside world, he turned inwards to his own memory, as well as to the imagination of novelists, as he devoured everything from Shakespeare, to Balzac and Dickens. When Pierre Daix asked why the mousquetaires made such a sudden appearance in the artist’s 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). Indeed, parallels have also been drawn between the artist’s own life and a specific Shakespearean character. As John Richardson has written, “Gilot’s book…as well as the passionate devotion of his Cordelia-like Jacqueline [Roque], might have tempted him to identify with King Lear” (“Great Late Picasso” in Picasso Mosqueteros, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 19).
Yet, it was undoubtedly a novel that Picasso was already deeply acquainted with that truly transported him to the world of the musketeer: Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. When he began painting in the spring of 1967, these characters leapt from the pages and into a new life through Picasso’s paintings. It has been noted that Picasso’s great friend and rival, Henri Matisse, similarly turned to this novel during his own period of recuperation, the daring exploits of these characters endowing their readers with a newfound vitality and energy.
It was not just literary sources that stimulated Picasso’s imagination; the figure of the musketeer also had a wealth of varied art historical origins: from Franz Hals and Rembrandt, to Ernest Meissonier, Velázquez and Goya. This striking character, an amalgamation of Spanish, French, and Dutch influences, with his elaborate Baroque costume, could as easily have stepped out of Las Meninas (Museo del Prado, Madrid) as The Night Watch (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). An indicator of the rich variety of artistic precedents that Picasso looked to in the creation of this figure is evident in a signature that the artist inscribed on the reverse of one such painting, Le Mousquetaire (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 323; Private collection), painted the year before the present work: “Domenico Theotocopulos van Rijn da Silva,” an amalgamation of the names of El Greco, Rembrandt and Velázquez; the artistic pedigree that Picasso considered himself an heir.
More than any other in this pantheon of artistic heroes, it was the work of Rembrandt with whom Picasso most identified, or “cannibalized,” in his creation of the musketeer. “Every artist takes himself for Rembrandt,” Picasso once remarked to Françoise Gilot, and he increasingly looked to the work of the Dutch artist, a strange surrogate father-figure that the artist could never quite surpass (quoted in F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 51). As has been frequently documented, Picasso liked to project a slide of The Night Watch onto the walls of his studio, the musketeer-like guards stepping from his walls and into his world. He likewise poured over Otto Benesch’s multi-volume catalogue raisonné of his drawings. Like Picasso, Rembrandt had had a long and prolific career, and was also fond of inserting himself in different guises into his paintings. “You and I, old fellow,” Picasso once said of himself and Rembrandt, “are the only ones who can paint everything” (quoted in P. Daix, op. cit., 1993, p. 355). As a result, references to his work abound in Picasso’s work of this time. With an array of rapid yet deftly executed strokes and lines of color, in the present work, Picasso has conveyed the just-visible ruffle collar, and elaborate seventeenth-century cavalier style costume.
This vibrantly bedecked figure is also clutching a pipe, which emits a single plume of smoke that curls upwards in contrast to the dazzling yellow striped background. The motif of a man with a pipe was borrowed from Rembrandt and the seventeenth-century Dutch school, as well as later artists such as Edouard Manet and his Le bon bock (Philadelphia Museum of Art, New York). Perhaps more significantly, it was also a character that extended back to the beginning of Picasso’s own prolific career. From the poignant beauty of the 1905 Garçon à la pipe (Zervos vol. 1, no. 274; Private collection), to the inscrutable monochrome analytical cubist portraits of the smoking male figure, as well as the more playful synthetic cubist works of this kind, the pipe had been a constant motif both in the artist’s portraits—as well as an oft-used object in his still lifes.
In this, Picasso’s final decade, his return to this subject—no doubt rich in nostalgic memories of halcyon days in bohemian Paris—was not surprising. Indeed, at this time, Picasso had been persuaded to give up smoking, a habit he had indulged in since his youth. Perhaps, John Richardson suggested, the prevalence of the clay-pipe smoking musketeer was an expression of this longing. “It is age that forced us to stop,” he said to his friend, the photographer, Brassaï, “but we still want to. The same goes for making love. You can’t do it anymore, but you still want to” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2009, p. 29).
Indeed, it was with his brush that Picasso attempted to defy the inexorable passage of time. He worked at speed, applying paint with a deft agility and dexterity. In the present work, the musketeer’s face comes into being with the briefest of strokes of paint; dots serve as his eyes and chin, while lines demarcate the rest of his physiognomy. Similarly, his exuberantly curled hair is conveyed with a single swirling outline, which is rendered almost abstract when seen close up, next to the zinging yellow background. These bold, liberated gestures declare the hand of Picasso himself; memorializing his presence in paint upon the canvas. Describing this emphatic, defiant late style, Picasso stated, “A dot for the breast, a line for the painter, five spots of color for the foot, a few strokes of pink and green… That’s enough, isn’t it? What else do I need to do? What can I add to that? It has all been said” (quoted in B. Léal et al., The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2003, p. 464).

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