Homme assis, (Seated Man) is a painting dating from 1969, when Pablo Picasso was enjoying an almost unassailable reputation as the world's greatest living artist. Picasso was one of the giants of Western art during the 20th Century. Again and again, he had transformed the entire landscape of art, the way in which the world was seen and was shown.
His Blue Period, Cubism and his involvement with Surrealism would all have a marked impact on the artists of his own day, and even today; his works from throughout his life can be seen in museums throughout the world. Many of his images have become hugely iconic - as has Picasso himself, immortalised in countless photographic portraits, many of them characterised by his intense, piercing, apprising gaze.
Picasso's thirst for invention remained as sharp as ever in 1969, when Homme assis was painted. This was one of the most productive years of his entire career. During it, he explored a range of themes, often treating them in an almost serial form, creating variation upon variation of a subject. Looking at Homme assis, it appears that he was here invoking the 'musketeers' who had cavalierly rushed into his pictures from the mid-1960s. These were dashing 17th century figures, often warriors, sometimes shown with swords. In Homme assis, by contrast, the man is shown sitting in an antique chair; he is wearing a colourful outfit that is complemented by his hair, itself a lively mixture of purple and blue.
Picasso has here taken a subject from pictures from several centuries ago, for instance the works of Rembrandt, of Rubens or even of his compatriot Velázquez, and has dramatically reconfigured them. He has taken away the sheen of realism that was so striking in their works during the 17th Century, replacing it with vigorous brushwork. Looking at the surface of Homme assis, Picasso appears to have deliberately used the paint in a manner that heightens the sense of its thickness. There is an incredible variety of touches upon the surface, ranging from thick, peaky impasto to the complete absence of paint: in some areas, Picasso has allowed the wood of the panel to show, keeping the surface in reserve. In this way, his work has a calligraphic air: he has demonstrated his incredible artistic virtuosity through the sheer, mind-boggling selection of means of applying paint to the surface, showing his complete facility with the medium, developed over the decades of his experience.
The 'musketeer' works had emerged from a variety of sources. Picasso had already spent a great deal of time painting his own versions of Old Master paintings such as Las meninas by Velázquez and Les femmes d'Alger by Delacroix. Earlier in his life, he had often painted copies and variations based on pictures in the Prado, the great art gallery in Madrid. The musketeers were inspired by Rembrandt, to an extent even by Shakespeare, whose image Picasso had drawn some years earlier to commemorate the fourth centenary of his birth. Picasso may have been staking his claim to the ranks of the great artists by using musketeers and other historical figures in his work. At the same time, he may have been mocking some of his earlier contemporaries, the painters in Spain and France at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Centuries who capitalised on creating historical images of cardinals and cavaliers. However, for Picasso, the subject matter was merely the pretext for the creation of an image, a crystallisation of his own life force in oils. Of his work from this time, his friend and biographer Roland Penrose, after visiting Picasso during 1969 when Homme assis was painted, would write in his notes:
'Painting now not careful intellectual research of cubism, rather an exuberant and complete liberation of all [...] his abilities.
Astonishing variety and invention within given range of subjects -
subject the peg to hang daring experiments in form & colour - but
expression in face & eyes never slighted' (Penrose, quoted in E.
Cowling, Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland
Penrose, London, 2006, p. 318).