Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Property from an Important Private American Collection
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Buste d'homme

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Buste d'homme
signed, dated and numbered 'Picasso 21.2.69. II' (upper left)
oil on corrugated cardboard
37 ½ x 25 5/8 in. (95.3 x 65 cm.)
Painted on 21 February 1969
Galerie de l'Elysée (Alex Maguy), Paris.
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, October 1969.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1976, vol. 31, no. 75 (illustrated, pl. 24).

Lot Essay

In early 1966, while in Mougins convalescing from surgery that he had undergone some months previously, Picasso re-read Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers. 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 the aging artist himself, but also provided Picasso with a pretext to indulge in his love of Rembrandt, Diego Velázquez and other great painters of the past. During the next few years there was among Picasso's paintings a proliferation of portraits of men in elegant little beards and long wavy hair, clad in 17th century doublets and ruffled collars.
With his elaborate moustache, 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. Many of Picasso's musketeers champion their Spanish heritage in his use of the national colors of blood red and golden yellow, which, here, contrast powerfully with the white and gray of the subject’s face and the purple of his hair. The large-eyed stare of the sitter is reminiscent of the artist’s famously powerful, dark eyed mirada fuerte. Painted in February 1969, Buste d’homme dates from 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 colored images.
Picasso's musketeer images (and his late works in general) have often been interpreted as a retreat from contemporary life into a world of "backward-looking romantics and nostalgic dreamers," during a time when the United States' war in Vietnam dominated the headlines (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 82). Yet the musketeer—a soldier more inclined to love-making than to fighting—may be tinged with Picasso's long-standing anti-war views. 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 Picasso Mosqueteros: The Late Works, 1962-1972, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 245). Dakin Hart has written, "As a force, Picasso's musketeers are a kind of multinational, transhistorical hippie army engaged in a catalogue of alternatives to fighting—from the many sorts of soldierly procrastination to small gestures of reconciliation, scenes of amity, and an embrace of life in the forms of lovemaking and domesticity. Behind the screen of drooping swords, avidly smoked pipes, tipsily raised glasses, fondled nudes, and other sublimations of impotency—drinking, smoking, making music, and canoodling—they represent a fictional universe Picasso developed to explore his credo: life not death, peace not war" (ibid., pp. 256-257).
The musketeer paintings were the final major series of variations on a theme that Picasso undertook in his career. This subject provided an opportunity to investigate two aspects of art-making that were foremost among Picasso's concerns during his final years: process and tradition. Regarding the former, 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). With its rich potential for formal and thematic inventiveness, the figure of the mousquetaire perfectly suited this sequential approach. Picasso found this method especially useful when exploring old master subjects. It was an effective means of probing and re-interpreting a style or manner, and the repeated appearance of these subjects demonstrates the playful way in which the artist liked to project his own personality and fantasies into these characters from the past. Moreover, the musketeer served as a means through which Picasso could engage the great artists of the past, allowing him to arrive at a better understanding of his own position and achievement within the continuity and traditions of European painting. With the introduction of the musketeer, the artist thus added one last lively chapter to his many paraphrases of the old masters, which together reflect the veritable musée imaginaire that Picasso constructed in his mind during his late (and increasingly reclusive) years, an edifice that contained the genius of many centuries, as well as his own.
Picasso was 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). The musketeers embody a virtual catalogue of varied human foibles, for which they appear to compensate with the irresistible force of their idealism. Picasso must have lamented a growing absence in the contemporary world of the recklessly individual spirit: the man of purposeful idea and action, a world-transforming genius, as he had been in his youthful career. In this respect, Picasso's appropriation of the musketeer image was an effort to reclaim a heroic stance in life, to affirm his ability, through wit and skill, to remain master of his fate during this final stage of his long life.

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