Picasso painted numerous portraits of male friends and colleagues during his early career. He is, of course, far more famous for later having obsessively depicted the notable women in his life–Fernande Olivier, his first wife Olga Khokhlova, Marie-Thérèse Walter, Dora Maar, Françoise Gilot and finally Jacqueline Roque, his lover since 1954, whom he married in 1961. While he occasionally drew portraits of male literary friends and a few other men after the mid-1920s, he never painted them, and only rarely depicted anonymous male subjects. The heads, busts and figures of men and boys suddenly abound, however, among his late works in all media.
The unshaven man in the present work is in the classic Mediterranean mold, of a type as old as antiquity. His forebears in earlier millennia might have joined the Argive expedition to the shores of Troy, accompanied Theseus on his quest for the Golden Fleece, or in real history been traders between southern Europe and the Levant. He might have helped turn the tide of battle aboard the galleys at Salamis, Actium or Lepanto. Picasso could easily relate to this kind of man—the sea was in his blood, too. He had been born by the Mediterranean, in Málaga, Spain. He grew up in La Coruña, on the Atlantic coast; his family subsequently moved to Barcelona, again on the Mediterranean. When as a family man during the 1920s and 1930s he needed a vacation away from Paris, he normally chose destinations on the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts.