The present work belongs to a series of drawings of similar subjects executed by Picasso in 1967 shortly after the one million visitor exhibition held in 1966 at the Petit Palais and Grand Palais in Paris, which definitively confirmed his status as one of the greatest and most renowned masters of the century. In this phase of his prodigious career, Picasso was still measuring himself against the artistic tradition of the past. The watermelon eater, a young boy crowned by leaves and flowers, like Caravaggio's Bacchus, is a subject that often appears in his oeuvre. It has been linked to Picasso's memories of the Spanish Baroque tradition, and, consequently, with the rediscovered hispanidad that played such a key role in his late works. This composition, though, also displays close parallels with paintings by the seventeenth century the Le Nain brothers, one of which Picasso owned in his personal collection. The Le Nain brothers often depicted poor farmers or peasant families in rural settings; their figures, surrounded by peaceful domestic animals, are often caught eating or playing the flute, like the figures in the present work. As with many of his works from this period, Picasso mixes and elaborates his sources: another pivotal reference in the present work is to the slice of watermelon in the Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)–an element that one can frequently find in the artist's work (fig. 1), charged with symbolic meanings linked to the Mediterranean tradition, summer, heat and the sensual eating of the fruit.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant, 13 May 1965. Sold, Christie’s, New York, 6 May 2014, lot 21.