Pablo Picasso was the father of Modern Art in Europe, and his influence remains strong throughout the world. Many of the different ways that artists chose to represent the world in the modern era derived from Picasso's Cubism, which allowed people to view objects from simultaneous points of view. Later in his career, Picasso continued to renew painting in many ways. This is clear in Tête d'homme, which he painted in 1969: he has vigorously applied brightly-coloured paints to the board that he has selected as his surface. He has conjured a face from striations of red, green and blue, as well as the purple-black of the hair and beard.
Tête d'homme is a very modern picture in its means of execution, in the gestural application of the paint, in its choices of colour. And yet the subject itself appears to be a seventeenth-century man. This shows Picasso looking back into the history of art. During the 1960s, many of Picasso's friends and fellow artists, his contemporaries among the trailblazers of the beginning of the Twentieth Century, had already died, and he felt that he was without company in his position among revered painters. Now, he looked to his artistic antecedents and entered a dialogue with them instead: he looked to Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyke, Velasquez, El Greco, as well as Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Henri Matisse. The men with sharp beards who populated his work appeared to be from Alexandre Dumas' swash-buckling novel, The Three Musketeers . They are macho warriors, dashing soldiers, romantic heroes. At the same time, they are artists. Indeed, the face in Tête d'homme strongly resembles that shown in one of Picasso's paintings from two years earlier, entitled Musketeer and now in the prestigious Ludwig Museum, Cologne. On its reverse, Picasso had inscribed it, 'Domenicos Theotocopoulos van Rijn da Silva', combining the names of El Greco, Rembrandt and Velasquez, revealing the depth to which he identified with them.
Writing about Picasso in 1945, the Chinese artist San-Yu described a dialogue with a woman who was looking at Picasso's paintings, saying that she preferred those of Rembrandt. San-Yu replied in terms that revealed the spirit of innovation and creation that underpinned Picasso's own works: 'if Rembrandt lived now, I am certain that he would not have painted as he did then. Painting must evolve. It is like fashion. If you were to visit a couturier, I am sure that you would not order a dress from the time of Rembrandt. The deformation in Picasso's work is simply a first step. Our race is too old, our bodies too fragile, our life too short. We have to find a new God' (San- Yu, 'Opinions d'un peintre chinois sur Picasso', Le Paris Libere , 19 January 1945).
Picasso's dialogue with his artistic ancestors recalls some of the dialogues of artists in China, who have taken the legacies of their predecessors and reinvigorated them, for instance Liu Guosong, who brought a contemporary dimension to the discipline and tradition of the landscape scroll. Picasso himself was clearly in contact with Chinese artists, for instance Zhang Daqian, whose portrait he drew when he met him in 1956. Picasso's own ability to explore the colour of the background of his pictures, for instance the warm light brown of Tête d'homme, recalls some of the works of Oriental artists which had so influenced the European cultural elite at the end of the Nineteenth Century. This restraint is similarly evidenced in Picasso's playful portrait of Zhang Daqian.