As a youth in Nice, Yves Klein frequently met with his two friends, the fledgling poet Claude Pascal and Armand Fernandez, who later became famous as the master of accumulation under his pseudonym Arman. In Arman's basement, the three young men meditated, played jazz music and contrived to conquer and divide the universe among themselves, with Pascal assuming reign over all words and texts, Klein ruling the etherial space surrounding the planet, and Arman presiding over the abundance of accumulated material objects that comprise the physical world.
The three youths maintained their friendship throughout their lives. While working in Madrid as a judo instructor in 1954, for example, Klein published two booklets, Yves: Peintures and Haguenault: Peintures, both of which featured a preface by Claude Pascal which consisted merely of a series of lines in lieu of text. Later, Arman and Klein exhibited together on numerous occasions, including the now legendary premier exhibition of the "Nouveaux Réalistes" at the Galleria Apollinaire in Milan in May 1960.
In February 1962, shortly before his death, Klein began work on a series of portraits of himself and his closest friends. His intention was to create head-to-knee-length casts of nude figures in a regal, frontal pose. These were to be painted in I.K.B and set against a gold panel, with the exception that his own self-portrait would be gold against a blue background. The figures were meant to appear as though floating in an undefined space, similar to the artist's infamous "Leap into the Void", which was documented by the photographer Harry Shrunk in 1960. The use of gold for the background suggests that this void was by all means a divine, spiritual space and not unlike the gold backgrounds of Byzantine icons which, like Klein's portraits, were not meant to represent likenesses or personalities, but rather the metaphysical presence of the person depicted. Like Klein's "Cosmogonies", the portraits can be viewed as being "cast impressions, the vestiges left behind as phenomenological markers of life. Since all the figures are shown without any accoutrements, set in the same pose and enveloped in a monochrome ambience, time and place specificities disappear even as the particularities of personal identity remain visible. Reality thus effectively conjoins with the indefinable world." (in: Yves Klein, Sidra Stitch, Stuttgart 1994, p. 244).
Because of Klein's unexpected death in June 1962, the series was never completed. Although the plaster casts of his closest friends from Nice, including Arman, Claude Pascal and Martial Raysse, had indeed been made, the only portrait fully completed was that of Arman, which Klein recast in synthetic resin, impregnated in I.K.B. and set against a large wooden panel covered in gold-leaf. In 1965, Rotraut Klein, the artist's widow, authorised the Galerie Bonnier in Geneva to produce an edition of six.