Painted in 1969, Tête d'homme is a bold and vigorous picture that reveals Picasso working with a frenzied energy that belied his increasing years. The moustache and beard of the subject in Tête d'homme imply that this is one of the cavaliers who had increasingly peopled his work during the preceding decades, chivalrous and often madcap characters from the days of old who combined romance with machismo. In this sense, they appear to have provided Picasso with a pretext for wish-fulfilment. These characters jostled, fought and japed in his imagination in ways from which age prevented him. These musketeers had a life of chivalric adventure and indulgence, and it was into this crazed and frenetic world that Picasso would increasingly escape.
It is telling that Picasso has himself executed this painting with what appears to be crazed and frenetic energy. The gestural brushstrokes trace the impressive physical activity of the artist, who appears almost to have attacked the canvas with paint and brush. This energy is made all the more apparent by its contrast with the stillness and poise of the musketeer himself. This shows an artist embracing life, rendering this imaginary character with a raw enthusiasm, revelling in the act of putting oil on canvas.
In choosing to place the bold brushstrokes, some of them in almost incongruous colours, on display in this way, in choosing to explore the contrasts between the rich impasto of some parts of the surface and other deliberately thinly-painted areas, Picasso appears to be launching a deliberate assault on painting itself, and on the history of aesthetics. He has clearly revelled in depicting this character from the old world and Old Masters in livid, modern tones. This, then, is an assault on some of the great painters of the past such as El Greco and Rembrandt, who had painted characters similar to this one. Picasso is clamouring for his own recognition, alongside those older greats while also revisiting their subjects in a new, contemporary manner. This is a mixture of reverence and irreverence: Picasso is, on the one hand, uniting the accepted canon and accepted aesthetics of centuries gone by with a deliberately brutal style; on the other hand, he is salvaging the past, bringing the works of his revered long-dead heroes to life in a new, contemporary manner.