The figures in this raucously festive, bucolic fantasy represent Marie-Thérèse Walter at left, and in the form of a bearded surrogate, Picasso at right. Picasso's association with Marie-Thérèse began in 1927 (although some commentators claim they met earlier) when she was still a teenager living with her mother. Many years later she told Life magazine, "I was seventeen years old. I was an innocent young girl. I knew nothing--neither of life or of Picasso. Nothing. I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said: 'I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together'" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1987, p. 202).
Picasso's curbside come-on to the shapely blonde Marie-Thérèse conjures up stories from classical mythology, in which the Olympian god Jupiter picks and subsequently descends on an unsuspecting nymph and spirits her away to a secret bower, hiding her from the prying eyes of his jealous wife Juno. It is appropriate that Picasso should view his liaison in these terms and to suggest these associations in this classically inspired drawing. Picasso completed his thirty etchings for Albert Skira's edition of Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide (Geiser and Baer, nos. 143-172), in which Jupiter cavorted with Semele, and the god Vertumnus pursued Pomona in 1931. By this time Picasso's liaison with Marie-Therese was well underway, albeit hidden from Picasso's wife Olga, his 'Juno', even if his young mistress' image had begun to covertly enter his work. Marie-Thérèse is clearly the subject of Picasso's well-known series of sleeping women, which he began in early 1932. In the summer of that year, Picasso saw Olga and their son Paulo off to a seaside holiday in Juan-les-Pins, while he remained at his country chateau in Boisgeloup, where he could surreptitiously meet his mistress. There, he continued to work on the plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that he had begun the year before (Spies, nos. 128-133).
On the 26th of August Picasso executed four drawings in a sketchbook (Zervos, vol. 8, nos. 26-28 and 31) showing a man playing a clarinet, or what more correctly resembles a medieval shawm or oboe, whose piercing sound may still be heard in the music of Balkan, Mediterranean and Near Eastern peoples today. A young woman stands nearby and listens. In the first drawing in this sequence, a young man plays his instrument, but already in the second sketch, he is older and bearded, a more fitting character to stand in for Picasso, who was then in his fiftieth year. This subject in his sketchbook certainly appealed to the artist, for two days later, on the 28th of August, he executed the present work on a sheet nearly twice the dimensions of the sketches, in a far more elaborate and finished manner, using extensive ink washes to fill out the drawing. While it is difficult to detect Picasso's features in the man as he puffs into his instrument (Picasso usually took great pleasure in disguising himself in his middle-period and later works) the profile of the girl is clearly that of Marie-Thérèse. She is seen as the artist often depicted her, especially in the plaster busts and related studies done the previous year with her slightly bulging forehead descending into the straight drop of her nose, flanked by moon-like cheeks and almond-shaped eyes.
Robert Rosenblum has written, "In surveying the emotional and pictorial graph of Marie-Thérèse's covert and overt presence in Picasso's life and art, there is no doubt that 1932 marks the peak of fever-pitch intensity and achievement, a year of rapturous masterpieces that reach a new and unfamiliar summit in both his painting and sculpture" (in Picasso and Portraiture, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1996, p. 361). The present drawing underscores the rush of amorous excitement that Picasso felt at this time, which the artist-musician celebrates with Bacchic abandon and release, happily "tooting his horn" to impress and entertain his girlfriend.