Audio: Pablo Picasso, Buste d'homme écrivant (Autoportrait)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Buste d'homme écrivant (Autoportrait)

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Buste d'homme écrivant (Autoportrait)
dated and numbered '28.6.71. II' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
45½ x 35 in. (115.5 x 88.9 cm.)
painted on 28 June 1971
Estate of the artist.
Marina Picasso (by descent from the above).
Jan Krugier, acquired from the above.
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1978, vol. 33, no. 78 (illustrated, pl. 27).
D.D. Duncan, Goodbye Picasso, New York, 1974, p. 278 (illustrated in situ at the Palais des Papes 1973 exhibition).
B. Léal, C. Piot and M.-L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, pp. 468 and 528, no. 1163 (illustrated in color, p. 469; titled Figure with a Book and with incorrect dating).
M. Peppiatt, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Gaston Chaissac, Jean Dubuffet, Joaquín Torres-García, exh. cat., Jan Krugier Gallery, New York, 2003, p. 11 (illustrated in color).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: The Final Years, 1970-1973, San Francisco, 2004, p. 171, no. 71-181 (illustrated).
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Picasso, 1970-1972, May-September 1973, p. 77, no. 64 (illustrated).
Munich, Haus der Kunst; Cologne, Josef-Haubrich-Kunsthalle in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Museum Ludwig; Frankfurt am Main, Städtische Galerie im Städelschen Kunstinstitut and Kunsthaus Zürich, Pablo Picasso: Eine Ausstellung zum hundertsten Geburtstag, Werke aus der Sammlung Marina Picasso, February 1981-March 1982, p. 412, no. 275 (illustrated).
Venice, Centro di Cultura di Palazzo Grassi, Picasso: opere dal 1895 al 1971 dalla Collezione Marina Picasso, May-July 1981, p. 400, no. 332 (illustrated, p. 401; titled Uomo che medita e disegna).
Tokyo, The National Museum of Modern Art and Kyoto Municipal Museum, Picasso: Masterpieces from Marina Picasso Collection and from Museums in U.S.A. and U.S.S.R., April-July 1983, p. 308, no. 205 (illustrated in color, p. 163; illustrated again, p. 309; titled Man in Thoughtful Mood at Desk).
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Picasso: The Last Years, 1963-1973, March-May 1984, p. 132, no. 88 (illustrated, p. 36, fig. 50).
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria and Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Picasso, July-December 1984, p. 177, no. 167 (illustrated in color).
Geneva, Musée d'Art et d'Histoire, Ancienne Collection Marina Picasso, April-September 1986.
Rome, Accademia di Francia, Villa Medici, Pablo Picasso: gli ultimi anni, November 1987-January 1988, pp. 399-400 and 414, no. 126 (illustrated, p. 399; illustrated again in color, p. 415).
New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Picasso: The Last Decades, April-July 1988.
Stockholm, Moderna Museet, Pablo Picasso, October 1988-January 1989, p. 238, no. 100 (illustrated in color, p. 120).
Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Picasso letzte Bilder, Werke 1966-1972, October 1993-January 1994, p. 304, no. 25 (illustrated in color, p. 47).
Geneva, Galerie Jan Krugier, Ditesheim & Cie, Pablo Picasso Métamorphoses: oeuvres de 1898 à 1973 de la collection Marina Picasso, March-June 2001, p. 127, no. 116 (illustrated in color, p. 117).
Kunstmuseum Bern, Picasso und die Schweiz, October 2001-January 2002, p. 373, no. 189 (illustrated in color, fig. 189).
New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, Pablo Picasso Metamorphoses: Works from 1898 to 1973 from the Marina Picasso Collection, May-July 2002, p. 127, no. 116 (illustrated in color, p. 117; illustrated again in situ at the Palais des Papes 1973 exhibition, p. 116).
New York, Jan Krugier Gallery, The Fire Under the Ashes: From Picasso to Basquiat, November 2003-January 2004, p. 11 (illustrated in color).
Institut Valencià d'Art Modern, Centre Julio González, El fuego bajo las cenizas (de Picasso a Basquiat), May-August 2005, p. 161 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Fondation Dina Vierny--Musée Maillol, Le feu sous les cendres: de Picasso à Basquiat, October 2005-February 2006, p. 153, (illustrated in color, p. 30).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, Das ewige Auge: Von Rembrandt bis Picasso, Meisterwerke aus der Sammlung Jan Krugier und Marie Anne Krugier-Poniatowski, July-October 2007, p. 416, no. 200 (illustrated in color, p. 417).

Lot Essay

Bearing in the Zervos catalogue the straightforwardly descriptive title Buste d'homme écrivant, this painting of a seated man, pen and book in hand, has since been presented as a self-portrait, a work in which Picasso has presumably depicted himself, and likely with some purpose in mind. An overview of the artist's career and oeuvre reveals that while Picasso often painted himself when he was a young man, he only rarely revived this practice during and after his high cubist period. There are occasional instances of self-portraiture during his return to the figure in the neo-classical phase, but only sporadic instances thereafter (fig. 1).

As one culls the late period for self-portraits, the decision of what is or is not an intended picture of this kind is largely up to the viewer--the artist does not offer assistance by declaring any works as such. Moreover, Picasso created circumstances by which the criteria that normally define a full-fledged self-portrait--for starters, a convincing resemblance--became rather malleable and vague. That Picasso would frequently employ some avatar or surrogate to represent one or another aspect of his complex multi-facetted personae, is no longer the mystery today that it was when he was painting and drawing the various male types who populate the late pictures of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Indeed, the man in the present painting does possess the mirada fuerte, the dark eyes that project a powerful, mesmerizing gaze which people would notice right away when in Picasso's presence, a feature the artist liked to show off, as seen in fig. 1. Moreover, Picasso the painter in the 1938 drawing on canvas appears to be clad in a horizontally striped t-shirt, which more than three decades later in the present painting takes on the appearance of the blue-stripes-on-white fisherman's vest Picasso was fond of wearing around the house during his late years (fig. 2).

These outward signs are intriguing, but would serve little purpose if the sense of character and the nature of any activity described in the picture did not illuminate in some interesting or useful way the story of the man and his art. It so happens that this painting tells us a lot about Picasso, some of which may still be little known.

Gert Schiff, in the 1983 exhibition catalogue Picasso: The Last Years, 1963-1973, quoted the artist's wife Jacqueline who noted that the celebrated musketeers in the late work "came to Picasso when he'd gone back to Rembrandt" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1983, p. 31). In fact, the entire extended series of artist and model paintings upon which Picasso embarked in 1963 derived from his take (Zervos, vol. 23, no. 171) on Rembrandt's Self-Portrait with Saskia, circa 1636 (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden). Nearly a decade later, Picasso turned to Rembrandt's St. Paul in Prison, 1627 (Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart) as the source for a couple of variants showing the subject of a man writing. "The painting of June 28, 1971 [the present Buste d'homme écrivant (Autoportrait)] shows a writer pausing in the middle of a sentence," Schiff has written. "He is deep in thought, or perhaps full of wrath, instead of being struck by the terror of spiritual illumination like his model. Proof for the derivation can be found in the fact that Picasso's figure has two right hands: the 'wrong' one, that is, the one that is attached to his left arm, is the same hand with which Rembrandt's saint holds his chin. In a later version of July 7, 1971 [Zervos, vol. 33, no. 92; fig. 3], the terror of illumination is revealed by the stare of one giant eye" (ibid., pp. 35-36).

"Every artist takes himself for Rembrandt," Picasso commented to Françoise Gilot (quoted in the latter's Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 51). When in 1985 John Richardson was going through Picasso's books at Notre-Dame-de-Vie, the artist's final home in Mougins, he found a set of the six-volume edition of Rembrandt's drawings compiled by Otto Benesch, in which Picasso had been especially interested during his convalescence from a dire intestinal malady and surgery in 1965. Baroque musketeers soon began to appear everywhere in Picasso's work. Picasso identified with Rembrandt as the exemplar of the great artist who did some of his best work in his old age. Richardson explained:

"Picasso knew all about the almost religious awe which certain art historians feel the late works of certain artists. And he may have suspected that his own late work was seen by critics as a decline and fall rather than an apotheosis, the view that John Berger advanced in his Success and Failure of Picasso (1965). In the circumstances what more natural than that Picasso should identify with a master whose late work was rejected by his former followers, then vindicated by posterity, and ultimately revered for being centuries ahead of its time? And what more natural than that Picasso, who saw himself as the greatest artist of his time, should lay claim, as if by right, to the mantle of one of the greatest artists of all time?" (Late Picasso, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 36).

Ingres, Puvis de Chavannes, Cézanne and Renoir were among the great artists who influenced Picasso in his early and mid-career work. Following his tribute to the departed Matisse with his variations on Delacroix's Femmes d'Algers in 1954-1955, Picasso channeled into his painting imagery drawn from a grand procession of past masters--Velázquez, Manet, Poussin and David--whose achievements he treated in extended formal series, while he developed an even more profound and sustained rapport with lives and work of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Degas. It is perhaps surprising that unlike Rembrandt and Van Gogh, Picasso was apparently never interested in creating a personally definitive series of late self-portraits. One might think that such powerfully commanding figure such as Picasso, who never lacked for an abundance of ego and self-confidence, might have created powerful, magisterial works of this kind. As his late drawings and prints abundantly demonstrate, Picasso possessed an amusingly ironic and self-deprecating sense of humor. He lacked, however, that deep inner sense of uncertainty and self-doubt that make Rembrandt's and Van Gogh's self-portraits so deeply human and affectingly poignant. Given the recognition his career had already reaped aplenty, Picasso probably believed there was no need and certainly no point in unduly advertising himself, and if he felt the need to reveal more of his inner self and thoughts, he could more wisely accomplish this through cleverly subtle and indirect means, by way of select surrogate characters.

If Rembrandt had been the source of Picasso's inspiration for the present painting, Van Gogh--that other Dutchman whose work and character Picasso so intensely admired--accounted for some of the other paintings Picasso completed in June-July 1971. The first painting he had done on 28 June depicts a brawny and unshaven seated man wearing the striped fisherman's vest (Zervos, vol. 33, no. 77). Between the present picture and the second canvas showing a man writing, painted on 9 July (cited above, fig. 3), and then following thereafter, are a half-dozen paintings that display Picasso's tell-tale signs for an appearance of Van Gogh redux: beard, pipe and the signature straw hat. "Of all the artists with whom Picasso identified," Richardson has written, "Van Gogh is the least often cited but probably the one who meant most to him in later years. He talked of him as his patron saint" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1988, p. 32). Picasso had once badgered the director of the museum in Arles into photocopying for himself the only known article in the local press which in December 1888 reported that Van Gogh had sliced off part of his ear and gave it to the prostitute Rachel (a figure to which Picasso was probably alluding in various paintings of women in old-style hats that he created in June-July 1971). The culmination of this particular Van Gogh series was the powerful painting Picasso dedicated to his wife Jacqueline, Buste d'homme au chapeau, dated 18 July 1971 (Zervos, vol. 33, no. 104; fig. 4).

Why would Picasso take the part of a pensive writer in the present Buste d'homme? He did not write letters, and nearly all of the statements in Dore Ashton's Picasso on Art (New York, 1972) were taken down in conversation by his friends. He was perhaps thinking of Van Gogh, who was famous for the illuminating correspondence he kept up with his brother Theo, other members of his family and the artists of his day. But more to the point here is the fact that Picasso did have another avocation to which he had turned at various times since 1935, when he was in his mid-fifties. In that year, while negotiating with his wife Olga for a divorce, the artist learned he was legally liable to surrender one half of his assets to her, amounting to innumerable art works worth an enormous fortune. Frustrated by this turn of events, Picasso eventually settled on a separation agreement which left his holdings intact, but until then he ceased painting for nearly a year and took up poetry instead, which he continued to periodically write in Spanish for the next twenty-five years. He was also the author of two plays: Le désir attrapé par la queue ("Desire Caught by the Tail"; 1941) and Les quatre petites filles ("Four Little Girls"; 1947-1948).

Picasso's final poem was El Entierro del Conde de Orgaz ("The Burial of the Count of Orgaz"), a parody in words on El Greco's famous altarpiece, which he set down in 1957-1959. Roland Penrose has written:

"The manuscript of this strange invention lay fallow until in the winter of 1966-67, encouraged by the presence in Mougins of the brothers Crommelynck, Picasso made twelve copper-plate engravings to accompany the text and accepted the collaboration of a friend from Barcelona, the publisher Gustavo Gili, in making an edition which included not only the text, sumptuously presented and with admirable typographic style, but also a facsimile of the manuscript. The first finished copy that Picasso received was one that had been specially bound for him and delivered to Notre Dame de Vie in April 1970. His first act on its arrival was to adorn every blank page and much of the text with large and splendid drawings. He then dedicated this unique volume with its rare embellishments to Jacqueline" (Picasso: His Life and Work, third ed., Berkeley, 1981, pp. 461-462).

In addition to alluding in the most general way to Rembrandt's Saint Paul, and perhaps to Van Gogh the writer of letters as well, Picasso in the present homme écrivant may have perhaps taken the opportunity to reminisce, with the visible pleasure of some satisfaction, upon his own second creative life as a poet, in thoughts prompted by that event the year before when he received the exquisite edition of his final poem, which he regarded as his magnum opus in this form. The artist has here depicted himself as a man noticeably younger than his actual near ninety years, certainly with more hair on his head, just as he appeared some three decades earlier in the self-portrait at his easel (fig. 1) and in a photograph of 1939 (fig. 5).

Buste d'homme écrivant (Autoportrait) was included in Picasso's second exhibition at the Palais des Papes in Avignon. The first Avignon exhibition took place in May-October 1970, comprising 167 oils and 45 drawings that he had done between the beginning of January 1969 and the end of January 1970. Picasso died on 8 April 1973, working nearly to the very end, and having created an astonishing series of heads that constitute a most memorable coda to his life and work (Zervos, vol. 33, no. 435; fig. 6). Preparations for a second exhibition at the same venue were nearly already complete. For this occasion Picasso chose paintings only, 201 in all, which he had done from February 1970 through the end of 1972. These canvases bore unmistakable proof of the astonishing vigor and tireless productivity of his final years. Avignon II opened in May 1973 and ran into late September, providing a timely and moving public sign-off for Picasso's long career. A sizable proportion of the paintings in the second Avignon exhibition continued themes seen in the first: there were numerous lovers and other figure groupings. There were, however, many more close-up portraits of lone figures than previously. These figures filled, and often verged on bursting, the confines of their canvases. The event of Avignon II, if sadly posthumous, was lively and eye-opening nonetheless, thanks to the irrepressible freedom and exuberance of the artist's work.

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, L'artiste devant sa toile, 22 March 1938. Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: art146909_dhr

(fig. 2) Picasso, Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, 1968. Photograph by Jacques Faujour. Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. BARCODE:art146909_dhr

(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Buste d'homme écrivant, Mougins, 7 July 1971. Musée Goya, Castres. BARCODE: ART38455_DHR

(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Buste d'homme au chapeau, 18 July 1971. Private collection. BARCODE: 28856863

(fig. 5) Picasso in his Paris studio, 1939. Photograph by Brassaï. BARCODE: 28856818

(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Tête (Auto-portrait), 30 June 1972. Fuji Television Gallery, Tokyo. BARCODE: 28856825

(fig. 7) One wall in the Picasso 1970-1972 exhibition at the Palais de Papes, Avignon, with his last oils. Photograph by Mario Atzinger. BARCODE: 28856924

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