From 1959-1962, Picasso created over one hundred seventy-five paintings and drawings inspired by Manet's masterpiece le Djeuner sur l'herbe, 1863 (coll. Muse d'Orsay, Paris). These works, his most prolific group of variations after another artist, are mostly joyous in tone, but also occasionally descend into violence, lewd comedy, and menace. The present drawing, while not one of the specific variations on the subject, is clearly related and was executed only three days before the artist began work on the sketchbook which would contain his final drawings in the Djeuner series.
For Picasso, Manet's painting attracted him for more than just its titillating subject matter. As Susan Galassi has noted, "for Picasso, as for Manet, the Djeuner offered the opportunity to reassess the central theme of the nude and invest it with new life. Over the course of his transformations, he strips away Manet's overlay of realism, and takes the female figure back to something more timeless, enduring, and primordial." (Picasso's Variations on the Masters, New York, 1996, p. 200) Unlike so many of his contemporaries who were interested only in abstraction, Picasso never lost his interest in the human figure and, moreover, the nude, even in the final decade of his life. In Homme et femme, the classical "fte champtre style of the figures emphasizes Picasso's portrayal of them in archetypal sexual roles: the burly, muscular man and the odalisque-like, tempting woman. The spare, scratchy, landscape compliments the elegant counterpoint of breasts and buttocks, of curving elbows and sinewy backs.