This work is sold with two photo-certificates, one from Maya Widmaier Picasso and one from Claude Picasso.
Executed on consecutive days in September 1972, Trois personnages and Cinq personnages are two works on paper sharing one sheet, each showing the virtuosity, draughtsmanship, energy and imagination of Picasso. These two pictures both tap into the incredible world of whimsy, romance and mythology from which Picasso drew so many of his subjects, especially during the Post-War period of his career. While in terms of content, in terms of the style of dress of the characters, and in terms of the imagined worlds depicted there may be some parallels between the two images, it is intriguing to note the incredible variation in style with which Picasso has rendered these scenes. In one image, he has used vivid felt-tip pens, leaving a large area of the sheet bright and visible and increasing the luminosity of the work; in the other, the watercolour wash and ink that cover almost the entire sheet lend it a more misty and mystical air. Both works show an intense use of hatching, relating almost to Picasso's own print-making as well as to that of one of his great idols, Rembrandt.
It is in Cinq personnages that the influence of Rembrandt appears most explicit. The mood, the light and the composition, as well as the clothing of some of the figures, all appear to echo the etchings, drawings and even paintings of the Dutch master. For Picasso, Rembrandt was one of the few artists against whom he was almost competing in life, a ghost watching over him, a tantalising predecessor and exemplar. As Picasso himself explained, 'Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt' (Picasso, quoted in F. Gilot & C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, p. 51). This comparison had become all the more acute when Picasso was recovering from an operation in the mid-1960s, and spent a great deal of his time leafing through the six volume catalogue raisonné of Rembrandt's drawings. These became vital touchstones for the Spaniard, who was enchanted by the draughtsmanship as well as some of the narrative content. These factors are both evident in Cinq personnages, where the right-hand portion in particular has a deliberately Rembrandt-like atmosphere, accentuated by the hatching and costume. However, these are merely the base, the springboard for Picasso's own pictorial adventures. In Cinq personnages, there is a strange ritual air to this scene of a naked woman dancing. The figures around her appear to blend the world of the Seventeenth Century, of ancient mythology and of dreams. A cupid-like figure is in the foreground, while the musicians certainly appear to have materialised from the world of Rembrandt. Is this a heathen marriage, a sacrifice or a revel? Picasso has presented us with a scene that is very much the product of his own unique imagination, that combines elements from his memories of his own life and of other people's pictures.
Discussing his late drawings with Roberto Otero, Picasso explained the development of the narratives as he taps into his world of whimsy. These characters are propelled by the artist's own imagination, an internal narrative develops, there is an organic process of creation as the characters almost prompt Picasso:
'Of course, one never knows what's going to come out, but as soon as the drawing gets underway, a story or an idea is born. And that's it. Then the story grows, like theatre or life and the drawing is turned into other drawings, a real novel. It's great fun, believe me. At least, I enjoy myself no end inventing these stories, and I spend hour after hour while I draw, observing my creatures and thinking about the mad things they're up to. Basically, it's my way of writing fiction' (Picasso, quoted in R. Otero, Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look at His Last Years, trans. E. Kerrigan, New York, 1974, p. 171).
This process is made all the more clear by the similarities in content and characters between Cinq personnages and Trois personnages, and by comparison with another example of a double-sided work of exactly the same dimensions that was sold at Christie's in 1998, and which is now in the Rosengart Collection at the Picasso-Sammlung der Stadt Luzern (PP72-257). Similar figures, perhaps even the same figures, are shown frolicking in various configurations in these works, executed during the same few days which saw the execution of Trois personnages and Cinq personnages (Trois personnages dates from the 20th September, Cinq personnages from the 21st, 22nd and 24th, the Rosengart picture is dated to the 21st (recto) and the 19th to the 22nd (verso)). Intriguingly, the dates in those works and in Cinq personnages show the prolonged process that led to their creation. Cinq personnages is clearly a richly-worked, highly-finished work, as befits the fact that Picasso appears to have worked on it over the course of several days.
By contrast, Trois personnages appears to be the product of a channelled moment both in terms of its clear frenetic execution and its electric colours. This work is highly finished, but Picasso has shown deliberate restraint in leaving much of the paper to show through, increasing the sense of light and emphasising the colours of the felt-tip pens with which he has rendered this scene. In his use of these pens, a deliberately 'low' medium that he selected partly with a view to outrage but also partly because of the intense vividness of their colours and the fact that it allowed him to draw in sheer colour, Picasso is showing a deliberate interest in a medium that has associations with children and their art. His words from a decade and a half earlier are all the more true here: 'When I was a child I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child' (Picasso, quoted by H. Read in The Times, 26 October 1956). In Trois personnages, there is a sense of frantic, scrawled energy and of wild imaginings.
Picasso appears to have expressly selected a medium that is at odds with the explicit sexual content of the picture. Sex was seldom far from Picasso's mind, as is clear here. In Trois personnages, there is a surreal quality to the almost Matta-like forms revealed within the contours of the right-hand figure's head, as though we are made privy to the strange organic forms and thoughts within. The musketeer-like character in the centre appears to be involving himself increasingly with the unclothed women. For Picasso, during this later part of his life, drawing sex was almost a replacement for the act itself, as he imagined his way into a world of the senses. In conversation with his friend Brassai, he explained: 'Whenever I see you, my first impulse is to... offer you a cigarette, even though I know that neither of us smokes any longer. Age has forced us to give it up, but the desire remains. It's the same with making love. We don't do it any more but the desire is still with us!' (Picasso, quoted in Richardson, op.cit., 1988, p. 29). So Trois personnages acts on several levels: it is a fun-filled image of frolicking characters, it is a wonderful explosion of colour and imagination and association, and it also provides an insight into the character and concerns of the artist himself.
(fig. 1) Hokusaï, Models of loving couples, 1814.