In early 1966, while convalescing in his home in Mougins from surgery, Picasso reread Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. Within a short time a new character entered Picasso's repertory of artist-surrogates -- the musketeer, or more generally, the 17th century cavalier, the rakish nobleman skilled with the sword, daring in his romantic exploits, and in his tastes and appetites a worldly gentleman who enjoyed all that life had to offer. In the early 1960s Picasso was fond of depicting himself in the figure of a brawny Mediterranean fisherman, either young or old, with a tossled beard and in a striped sailor's vest. In the late-1960s the musketeer replaced the fisherman as the artist's primary persona-of-choice. Now in his mid-80s, able to travel only locally, and with his vaunted sexual powers finally on the wane, Picasso transformed himself into the brave, adventurous and virile musketeer, wearing an elegant beard and long wavy hair, and clad in doublets and ruffled collars. This became the mask he would hold up most frequently to the world during the remaining years of his life.
It may seem odd that in the fall of 1968, when the present painting was done, while America's war in Vietnam filled the headlines and Paris was still recovering from the throes of the great student uprising earlier that year, the world's greatest living artist should retreat in a world of "backward-looking romantics and nostalgic dreamers" (M.-L. Bernadac, Late Picasso, exh. cat., The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 82). Picasso's view of the musketeers is invariably comic and mock-heroic; these soldiers of derring-do are often ridiculous and overblown in their grandiose self-confidence. But at the same time Picasso must have lamented in the contemporary world a growing absence of the recklessly individual spirit, the man of purposeful idea and action, a world-transforming genius, as he had been in his youthful career. In this respect, Picasso's appropriation of the musketeer image was an attempt to reclaim a heroic stance in life, to affirm his ability, through wit and skill, to remain master of his fate during this final stage of his long life.
The first appearance of the 17th century cavalier in Picasso's late work occurred in one of his artist and model paintings, dated 13-14 March 1963, which Picasso revealed to his friend Hélène Parmelin as being "Rembrandt and Saskia" (fig. 1). Picasso had in mind a similarly titled work by Rembrandt, in which the young Dutch artist, wearing a stylish hat and sword, frolics with his wife Saskia (fig. 2). Picasso had entered into a close and extended study of Rembrandt; he increasingly identified with the Dutch artist, who likewise had a long career, and was also fond of inserting himself, in one guise or another, into his paintings. Picasso was especially interested in Rembrandt's drawings and etchings, the quality and variety of which he sought to emulate in his own works in these media. John Richardson found a set of the six-volume catalogue of Rembrandt's drawings by Otto Benesch in Picasso's library in 1986.
Then, several years later, inspired by his reading of Dumas' The Three Musketeers, Picasso drew figures in 17th century costume a carnet that he used in March-April 1966, including the depiction of a cavalier/painter in front of his model (fig. 3). Picasso then introduced the musketeer theme in two drawings done in December 1966 (Z. vol. 25, nos. 257-258). He commenced a series of large ink wash bust-length portraits of musketeers later that month (Z. vol. 27, nos. 448-454). The first oil painting of this subject, done on 20 February 1967, again showed the cavalier as a painter, (Z. vol. 25, no. 280). Many musketeer heads followed, and Picasso then began to paint full-length seated portraits in April 1967 (fig. 4). This theme preoccupied Picasso through the late spring, but made way for other subjects during the summer and fall.
Picasso returned to the musketeer theme in January 1968, and treated it occasionally until October, when he painted the present work as one in a series of large, dramatic busts and full-length musketeer portraits in which the subject is seen smoking a pipe. This group marks the peak of Picasso's interest in this subject, and includes many of his most richly expansive versions in this genre. The figure in the present painting has been conceived on a grandly baroque scale; within its powerfully jagged silhouette, seen against the brilliant yellow background, the component forms angle and curve, undulate and jut forth. The artist pulled out all the stops with his resounding use of color, jarring contrasts alternate with more delicate harmonies. While Picasso returned to the musketeer theme frequently over the course of the next four years--including some of the last drawings recorded in Zervos -- no later sequence of variations on this subject matches this series in its formal variety and inventiveness, vivid palette, sustained dynamism and irrepressible joie de vivre.
The introduction of the pipe in this sequence contributes significantly to its overall character of boisterously good humor and contentment. Superficially, the pipe alludes to genre paintings of the 17th century Dutch school, and even more recent models, such as Eugène Manet's Le bon bock (Wildenstein, no. 213; Philadelphia Museum of Art). The pipe was, more significantly, a meaningful motif within the context of Picasso's own oeuvre, aspects of which the artist was fond of revisiting in his late years. It was, of course, an important accessory in Picasso's famous Garçon à la pipe (Z. vol. 1, no. 274). The pipe was a frequent component in his cubist still-lifes. The manly recreation of pipe-smoking takes on a sexual connotation as well; with its exaggerated length the pipe becomes a phallic symbol. Picasso himself made the association between smoking and love-making as he was commiserating in a conversation with the photographer Brassaï: "Age has forced us to abandon smoking, but the desire remains. It's the same with love" (quoted in M.-L.Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 455).
The musketeer paintings were the final major series of variations on a theme that Picasso undertook in his late period. This subject provided an opportunity to investigate two aspects of art-making that were foremost among Picasso's concerns during these final years: tradition and process. Regarding the former, the musketeers served a means through which Picasso could engage the great artists of the past whom he admired, thereby allowing him to arrive at an understanding of his own position and achievement within the continuity and traditions of European painting. Having emerged from his study of Rembrandt, the musketeer theme also provided an avenue to further treating Velázquez, his greatest, lifelong love among all painters, and the grand heritage of Spanish Siglo de Oro painting.
Moreover, the musketeers subject perfectly suited Picasso's work habits at this time. The artist was drawn to serial procedure, painting numerous variations on a theme as an effective means of examining, assimilating and re-interpreting a subject, style or manner. Indeed, Picasso had become increasingly engaged in painting as "process", in which the act of painting, not the completed painting, was a sufficient end in itself. Picasso described how he took special pleasure in the "movement of the painting, the dramatic effort from one vision to the next, even if the effort is not carried through. I have reached the stage where the movement of my thought interests me more than the thought itself" (quoted in K. Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Paris, 1971, p. 166). In 1956, Picasso told Alexander Liberman, the editor of Vogue magazine, that "Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. All of them are researches. I search incessantly and there is a logical sequence in all this research. That is why I number them. It's an experiment in time" (quoted in D. Ashton, ed., Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p. 72).
The Musketeer series was indeed an "experiment in time", and in more than one sense. It was in fact a significant exercise in sequential imaging, as Picasso describes above. Moreover, this series was also a "journey into time," one that followed a route from Picasso's Mougins studio in the late 20th century to Dumas' novel written in the mid-19th, and then three centuries further into the past to the Baroque era of Rembrandt and Velázquez. As Picasso became very old and reclusive, and the real world of physical delight receded into the distance, an inner world without boundaries of time or place evolved in its stead. Picasso constructed a veritable musée imaginaire, an edifice that he maintained in his own mind of which he was artificer, arbiter and curator, that contained the genius of many centuries, as well as his own.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt et Saskia, 13-14 March 1963.
(fig. 2) Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt and Saskia, circa 1635. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden.
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Peintre et modèle, 10 April 1966 (sale, Christie's, New York, 11 May 1995, lot 133)
(fig. 4) Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire assis, 19 April 1967 (sale, Christie's New York, 17 May 1983, lot 80).