Painted on 1 November 1964, Le Peintre (tête) is one of a group of pictures that Picasso created that year in which he obsessively explored the themes of the painter in his studio. It is an indication of his concern with this theme that on that day alone, he executed several such works, and indeed that volume 24 of the catalogue raisonné by Christian Zervos was dedicated, in its entirety, to Picasso's output from that year. Some of these pictures showed a bearded artist, some showed him with his model, and others, as is the case in Le Peintre (tête), appeared to represent Picasso himself, perhaps looking into a mirror, contemplating his own features, and staring out from the canvas as a result.
For Picasso, the theme of the painter naturally involved a degree of self-portraiture and therefore self-examination. Picasso repeatedly captured his own features through an array of vigorous brushstrokes which, like the rejuvenated image that he has projected here with the long-gone dark hair, convey a sense of youth that belied his years. By the time Le Peintre (tête) was painted, Picasso was unquestionably the most famous and celebrated artist in the world; this picture shows Picasso scraping aside the veneer of his fame in order to look at the man underneath. This was all the more the case during the period that Le Peintre (tête) was painted, as it coincided with the publication, which he tried to ban, of his former lover Françoise Gilot's revealing memoirs of Life with Picasso, possibly creating a new dent in his armor.
There is a great energy to the brushwork in Le Peintre (tête); this shows the artist in part fighting against his own inevitable aging and impending feelings of mortality. Indeed, as in so many of the whimsical and fantastic scenes that Picasso painted during the latter decades of his life, there is some level of wish fulfilment at play here, a form of self-projection, an attempt to relive old days and regain youth through youthful movements.
The vigor and expressionistic quality of the brushwork in Le Peintre (tête), as well as the deliberate exploitation of the variety of textures with which he has rendered this image, reveal Picasso as a tireless innovator. The deliberate rawness of pictures such as Le Peintre (tête) showed the artist's own personal reaction to the advances that were taking place on both sides of the Atlantic, be it with the Abstract Expressionists in America or with Informel in Europe. Picasso was creating an artform filled with a jolting energy that would more truly convey life itself. It is telling that, during the 1950s, he had been influenced by the pictures that his own children had made, by their directness and intense subjectivity. Picasso himself sought to channel this into his own pictures, as is clear in Le Peintre (tête), and revealed by his own observation: "When I was a child I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to draw like a child" (quoted by H. Read, The Times, 26 October 1956).