Picasso's works during the final years of his life are unabashed in their overt display of eroticism. In few works, including some that are even more graphic, has Picasso depicted the act of love-making as wildly, boldly impassioned and recklessly abandoned than he has here, in a drawing done in the penultimate year of his long career, when he was almost ninety years old. The bodies of the embracing man and woman have become completely intertwined in a ballooning mass of twisted and churning flesh; it takes the viewer a moment to sort out which limb belongs to whom. Both partners' genitalia are in fact visible at lower center, although this is not necessarily the center of attention. Indeed, Picasso's purpose goes beyond mere prurient display or self-indulgent sexual fantasy. John Richardson, Picasso's biographer, has written: "Picasso's sexual powers may have waned--impotence is thought to have set in around his eightieth year--but sex was still very much on his mind. 'We [Picasso and his wife Jacqueline] don't do it any more, but the desire is still with us', he told Brassaï. To compensate for his loss of libido, Picasso came to see sex and art, the brothel and the studio, as metaphors for each other--the sexual act standing for the creative act, and vice-versa. Hence the explicitly erotic nature of so many of these late drawings" (in the introduction to Christie's, New York, sale catalogue Cavaliers and Courtesans: A Collection of Picasso Master Drawings, 19 November 1998, p. 7).
Homme et femme marks the juncture of three important inter-related themes in the Picasso's late work: the lovers, the artist and model, and the musketeers. The lovers are the oldest of these subjects in Picasso's oeuvre, going back to the beginning of the century (see lot 124). Apart from certain explicit drawings intended for private viewing, these were usually conceived in a more tender and decorous manner than seen here. The artist and model theme came to preoccupy Picasso much later, initially in a series of 180 drawings that were published in Verve in 1954 (see lot 156), and then in an extensive series of paintings begun in 1963. The musketeer theme was the most recent development of all, evolving out of the introduction of a cavalier/painter into one of the artist and model paintings done in 1963 (Zervos, vol. 23, no. 171). The 17th century cavalier became a subject on its own in 1967-1968, after Picasso reread Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers while convalescing from surgery. The brave, noble and lusty musketeer became Picasso's favorite surrogate in his final years, and the theme served as an opportunity for the artist to explore Baroque painting, including the work of two artists that he was particularly intersted in, Velázquez and Rembrandt. While discussing the above mentioned 1963 cavalier/painter and model painting with his friend Hélène Parmelin, Picasso exclaimed: "It's Rembrandt and Saskia!" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 358), referring to Rembrandt's painting in which the young Dutch artist frolics with his wife (fig. 1).
Picasso's late paintings and drawings were often serial in nature, and following these variations on a theme, one can sometimes detect a loosely narrative thread, from one drawing to the next, or in works done days or even weeks apart. Homme et femme followed a crayon drawing on a same-sized sheet of ochre paper done on 24 January 1971 in which the cavalier/painter is seen drawing his nude model (Zervos, vol. 33, no. 31). In the present drawing, the artist and model have cast aside all propriety and self-restraint, and finally make love. Even the bordello-red color of the sheet proclaims their unbridled lust. In this comic tryst the female model is a mountain-like giantess when compared to the puny figure of the bewigged, cross-eyed and aroused cavalier, suggesting that Picasso, near the end of his long life, would not hesitate to admit that women and love--and, allegorically, art--are realities the artist may attempt to grasp, but are ultimately too enormous and uncontrollable to hold and possess.
(Fig. 1) Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt and Saskia, circa 1635 (coll. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden)