1961 was indeed a significant year for Picasso. On 2 March 1961, Picasso married Jacqueline Roque (see note to lot 34). In June of 1961, he moved from his château La Californie in Vauvenargues, into Notre-Dame-de-Vie, a spacious villa above the hills of Cannes, near the village of Mougins. This would be his last residence and place of work. The present painting was executed there just two months after moving in; it is dated and inscribed 'N[otre] D[ame] de Vie' on the reverse. A few months later, on 25 October, Picasso celebrated his 80th birthday. The small town of Vallauris proclaimed a local holiday and rejoiced with festivals of music and dance. The celebrations in homage to Picasso extended beyond this little town, to tributes and exhibitions held throughout the world. This painting, executed in this memorable year, was among those that ushered in his final productive and prolific decade, fueled in part by his superstitious desire to ward off death, for he felt that as long as he painted, he would live.
Indeed, many of his friends from his youth were by now dead or estranged. In their absence Picasso embarked upon a vast series of "dialogues" with masters of the past, such as Rembrandt, Velásquez, Delacroix and Manet. Picasso's often burlesque sparrings with Manet's notorious Déjeuner sur l'herbe inspired no less than twenty-seven paintings and nearly two hundred works on paper. As Pierre Daix wrote, "It is quite correct, therefore, to regard this new investigation of Manet as part of a broad consideration of the artist. Divided between some ten periods of work--from August 1959 through December 1961--and the three studios of Vauvenargues, La Californie and a new house (the mas de Mougins), Picasso's reflections on Manet were nourished and enriched by the various experiences of his life during that time" (P. Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 343).
Douglas Cooper wrote that, "Right from the start Picasso's treatment of the subject is thoroughly personal; in consequence, his Déjeuner takes on a very different orientation from Manet. This painting is no longer about a boating party of Parisian bourgeois enjoying a leisurely picnic. Instead we have a group of typical Picassian figures brought together, like those in Giorgione's Concert Champêtre, in order to make an effective, visually eloquent picture. There is no question of representing an actual scene, nor yet of imitating or interpreting Manet's Déjeuner. Inspired by the theme and the familiar composition, Picasso embarked, for reasons of his own, on a series of imaginitive variations in which he felt free to move each of the figures around, to undress them, or to put them into other costumes if need be, even give them different occupations or proportions if his sense of design and expressive intentions required it. Most of the time an idyllic mood will prevail, but sometimes Picasso indulges in a humorous effect, sometimes he introduces a little mockery and sometimes he seems to transport us into a nightmare world. Throughout his series of Déjeuners, however, Picasso maintains a dramatic intensity of which there is no suggestion in the Manet" (in op. cit., p. 14).