During the final six years of his life, from 1967 until 1973, no character appeared in Picasso's art more frequently than the swashbuckling, seventeenth-century mousquetaire. The impetus for the emergence of this dashing and rakish figure, with his elegant beard and mustache, long wavy hair, and ruffled collar, may be traced to early 1966, when the artist was undergoing a long convalescence from surgery at his home in Mougins. Unable to work, he passed the time by reading or re-reading many classics, including Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers, a book that John Richardson claims the artist knew by heart. He also pored over the plays of Shakespeare during this period, and when Pierre Daix asked him about the sudden appearance of so many mousquetaires in his work, he replied, "It's all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare" (quoted in P. Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 355). The musketeer represents the last in a lengthy line of artist-surrogates who populate Picasso's work. Now in his mid-eighties, his vaunted sexual powers on the wane and his life increasingly circumscribed within the walls of his villa Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Picasso transformed himself into this worldly, adventurous, and virile nobleman, affirming his ability, through wit and skill, to remain master of his fate during this final stage of his long life.
Although the irrepressible proliferation of musketeers in Picasso's work did not begin until the spring of 1967, the seventeenth century cavalier was already a stock character in his late artist and model paintings well before that. This figure first appeared in one of the very earliest canvases in the artist and model series, dated 13-14 March 1963, which Picasso told his friend Hélène Parmelin represented Rembrandt and Saskia (Zervos, vol. 23, no. 171; fig. 1); he certainly had in mind a youthful self-portrait in which the Dutch master, foppishly attired in a plumed hat, frolics with his wife on his lap (fig. 2). By this time, 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. "Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt," he once claimed (quoted in F. Gilot and C. Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, Toronto and London, 1964, p. 51). During his recuperation in 1966, Picasso studied Otto Benesch's six-volume catalogue of Rembrandt's drawings, as well as illustrated books of his paintings, and even projected slides of The Night Watch (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) onto the walls of his studio. Richardson has argued that Rembrandt was "an all-powerful God-figure whom Picasso had to internalize before he died" (quoted in Late Picasso, exh. cat., the Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 34).
The artist and model series thus set the stage for the final act in Picasso's art, the mousquetaires. Following Picasso's death, when André Malraux asked Jacqueline about the origins of this last great flowering of painterly creativity, she recalled, "They came to Pablo when he'd gone back to studying Rembrandt" (quoted in Picasso in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, p. 252). Inspired by his re-reading of Dumas's classic, Picasso drew figures in seventeenth-century costume in a carnet that he used in March-April 1966, including a depiction of a cavalier-peintre in front of his model, and he then introduced the musketeer theme in two drawings done that December (Zervos, vol. 25, nos. 257-258). The first oil painting of this subject, dated 20 February 1967, again showed the cavalier as a painter (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 280). Hélène Parmelin has recalled how Picasso liked to ascribe sympathetic personas to his various musketeers, including that of the mercurial artist: "With this one you'd better watch out. That one makes fun of us. That one is enormously satisfied. This one is a grave intellectual. And that one, look how sad he is, the poor guy. He must be a painter" (quoted in Picasso: Tradition and Avant-garde, exh. cat., Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340). Marla Prather has explained, "The boundaries between the musketeer subject and the artist and model theme were obviously fluid, just as the musketeer could effectively embody the alter egos of Picasso and Rembrandt simultaneously" (op. cit., exh. cat., 2010, p. 252).
The theme of the musketeer continued to preoccupy Picasso throughout the spring of 1967, but made way for other subjects during the summer and fall. He returned to the musketeers at the beginning of 1968 and then frequently during the next four years, including some of the very last drawings recorded in Zervos. The present canvas is dated 7 April 1967 and is the first in a sequence of three closely related images that Picasso painted over the course of five days, which depict a musketeer seated beside a female nude. In one painting in the group (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 332; Musée Picasso, Paris), the dapper protagonist grasps a paintbrush in his hand and turns to gaze fixedly at his companion; in another, he reaches over to rest his hand on her almost comically inflated breast, and she responds to his impudence with a bemused, sidelong glance (Zervos, vol. 25, no. 334; fig. 3). In the present version, the musketeer clutches the hand of the nude in a chaste, courteous gesture that belies the graphic rendering of her exposed anatomy, which recall de Kooning's fully sexualized women (fig. 4). Picasso's nude is all breasts, belly, and vulva: her head is rendered as a shadowy apparition, her foreshortened arms are reduced to mere stumps, and her thighs are cropped by the bottom edge of the canvas. Picasso articulates her nipples and painted fingernails with vivid touches of red, which he wittily rhymes with the musketeer's nostrils; the nude's pubic triangle, likewise, echoes the form of the musketeer's beard, while her elongated nose functions as a stand-in for the absent phallus. The characteristic asymmetry of the musketeer's eyes here lends him a slightly bewildered look, as though he is uncertain of how his courtship should proceed. The violent lust of Picasso's 1962 variations on Poussin's L'Enlèvement des Sabines has given way five years later to a more polite game of desire and seduction, coyness and consent, which lends this subject its appealing air of sporty and often humorous eroticism.
Picasso's musketeer images (and his late works in general) have often been interpreted as a retreat from contemporary life into a world of "backward-looking romantics and nostalgic dreamers," during a time when the United States' war in Vietnam dominated the headlines (op. cit., exh. cat., 1988, p. 82). Yet the musketeer--a soldier more inclined to love-making than to fighting--may be tinged with Picasso's long-standing anti-war views. While students and workers were erecting barricades in the streets of Paris, Picasso remarked to his printer Aldo Crommelynck that he "was busy making his own revolution, right here in Mougins" (quoted in Picasso Mousqueteros: The Late Works, 1962-1972, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, p. 245). Dakin Hart has written, "As a force, Picasso's musketeers are a kind of multinational, transhistorical hippie army engaged in a catalogue of alternatives to fighting--from the many sorts of soldierly procrastination to small gestures of reconciliation, scenes of amity, and an embrace of life in the forms of lovemaking and domesticity. Behind the screen of drooping swords, avidly smoked pipes, tipsily raised glasses, fondled nudes, and other sublimations of impotency-- drinking, smoking, making music, and canoodling--they represent a fictional universe Picasso developed to explore his credo: life not death, peace not war" (ibid., pp. 256-257).
The musketeer paintings were the final major series of variations on a theme that Picasso undertook in his career. This subject provided an opportunity to investigate two aspects of art-making that were foremost among Picasso's concerns during his final years: process and tradition. Regarding the former, the artist was increasingly drawn to serial procedure, painting numerous variations on a single theme as a means of examining, assimilating, and re-interpreting a subject or style. In 1956, he told Alexander Liberman, the editor of Vogue magazine, "Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. 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). With its rich potential for formal and thematic inventiveness, the figure of the mousquetaire perfectly suited this sequential approach. Moreover, the musketeer served as a means through which Picasso could engage the great artists of the past, allowing him to arrive at a better understanding of his own position and achievement within the continuity and traditions of European painting. Besides Rembrandt, Hals, and others of the Dutch school, the musketeer theme provided a link to Velázquez (whose Las Meninas had been the basis for a series of variations that Picasso painted in 1957) and his compatriots from the Golden Age of Spanish painting, Picasso's own native tradition. With the introduction of the musketeer, the artist thus added one last lively chapter to his many paraphrases of the old masters, which together reflect the veritable musée imaginaire that Picasso constructed in his mind during his late (and increasingly reclusive) years, an edifice that contained the genius of many centuries, as well as his own.
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt et Saskia, 1963. Private collection. BARCODE 20627676
(fig. 2) Rembrandt van Rijn, Rembrandt and Saskia, circa 1635. Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. BARCODE 20627669
(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire et nu assis, 1967. Sold, Christie's, London, 18 June 2007, lot 56.
(fig. 4) Willem de Kooning, Two Nude Figures, 1950. Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museum. Gift of Lois Orswell.