During the beginning of 1967, the theme of a man holding a sheep shown alongside a musician dominated Pablo Picasso's drawings. In a string of images, Picasso explored variations upon the theme. Indeed, Homme à l'agneau et musicien was the third that he created on 9 January 1967. Two days later, he would draw another example using a range of coloured crayons, a work that is now in the Art Institute of Chicago. Homme à l'agneau et musicien reveals Picasso's incredible strength of line, sometimes more impressive by its omissions than by its inclusions, as is the case with the man holding the sheep: the side of his head and indeed much of the back of the sheep are inferred rather than seen, as the viewer is prompted by Picasso's cues. Meanwhile, the figure of the musician is rendered using sweeping blue lines which have in parts been deliberately smudged, lending him an ethereal and otherworldly air. The head of the lamb has been captured in a way that recalls Picasso's earlier still life compositions showing animal skulls; yet overall, any sense of foreboding is banished by the prancing jollity of the musician and the serene gaze of the noble shepherd who is tending to his flock.
During the 1960s, Picasso's pictures often took a whimsical turn, as is the case in Homme à l'agneau et musicien, which shows a bucolic idyll. There is a sense of the charmed life, of music and nature, of the simple values of life. At the same time, the viewer is plunged into the classical world of Picasso's satyrs and fauns, a realm of mythology, magic and poetry. With his flute, the musician appears to be a part of a Bacchanal, an orgiastic celebration.
The theme of the man holding a sheep was one that had long captivated Picasso. Indeed, it had been the subject of one of his most celebrated sculptures, the Homme au mouton, a cast of which is held by the Musée Picasso, Paris and another in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Created during the Occupation, this had been a symbol of hope and human dignity, tapping into the Christian iconography of the Good Shepherd as well as the more ancient Greek moscophoros, the sculpture of a man carrying a calf, a celebrated example of which dates from the Sixth Century BC and is in the Acropolis Museum, Athens. That Picasso was turning towards the theme of one of his own earlier sculptures may have related to the fact that it was during the course of 1967 that Roland Penrose finished the organisation of an exhibition dedicated to the artist's plastic works. Shown first in the Tate, London and then in the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the exhibition focussed on the sculptures that remained in Picasso's own collection and thus revealed a new side to the artist. It was also in 1967 that Picasso's monumental sculpture, Tête, was unveiled in Chicago.
This sculptural theme extends to the provenance of Homme à l'agneau et musicien, which was formerly owned by Lionel Prejger. In the early 1960s, Picasso had come into contact with Prejger and came to collaborate with him, using his metal factory in Vallauris to immortalise the sculptures that he had made of cut and folded sheets of paper by transferring the designs into steel. Prejger came to assemble an impressive collection comprising works by artists such as Pierre Bonnard, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Edouard Vuillard and a significant number by Picasso.