New York, Helly Nahmad Gallery, Soutine/Bacon, 2011, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue
Picasso's work on this theme began in the mid-1960s with a series of engravings and works on paper, and later a variety of canvases of the musketeer, festooned in colorful regalia and brandishing a symbol of his virility—a pipe, instrument, weapon, or even a paintbrush. “In December 1966,” Gert Schiff writes, “an army of seventeenth-century soldiers invaded Picasso’s pictorial world. These—soldiers of fortune, soldier-adventurers, Spaniards of the Golden Age—he referred to colloquially as ‘musketeers.’ The first contingent, mostly heads and busts, had austere faces, surrounded by long hair, ruffs and collars. Soon, however, Picasso was depicting his musketeers as full-length figures sporting swords, sabers, musket, or even the big lances with which cavalrymen of the 1600s were armed. At this point we see them clad in doublets, fancy hose, belts in vivid colors, embroidered with gold and silver, and hats adorned with multicolored plumes” (G. Schiff, Picasso. The Last Years, 1963-1973, New York, 1983, p. 30). For the present composition, Picasso has rendered his musketeer as a pipe smoker—a motif that dated back to some of the artist’s composition from the early twentieth century and recurs in the greatest examples of the musketeers series (see figs. 1 & 2).
As Picasso developed this series during the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the musketeer became a multi-dimensional figure, exhibiting a range of personalities including card players, musicians and pipe smokers, illustrating the artist's own adventures as a bon vivant. In the work under discussion, completed in 1968, the musketeer has become an amalgamation of defining symbols. Unlike earlier versions of this subject in which the artist is careful to render the likeness of the figure through costume and presentation, the present work is identifiable as part of the musketeer series only by particular attributes. Nevertheless, the figure is unquestionably a man of stature, depicted here in the dignified manner of classical portraiture.
For Picasso, the musketeer signified the golden age of painting, and allowed him to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter and explore the spirit of a past age. Here was a character who embodied the courtly mannerisms of the Renaissance gentleman, and Picasso's rendering of this image was also his tribute to the work of two painters he had adored throughout his life—Velásquez and Rembrandt (see figs. 3 & 4). Picasso had devoted a large portion of his production throughout the 1960s to the reinterpretation of the Old Masters, an experience in which he reaffirmed his connection to some of the greatest painters in the history of art. The musketeer series was a continuation of this interest and began, according to his wife Jacqueline Roque, "when Picasso started to study Rembrandt," but his appreciation of other great figures of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare, also influenced the appearance of these characters. His interest in Rembrandt’s work, however, was longstanding. Michael Fitzgerald states: “He painted Rembrandt and Saskia, based on the Dutch master’s portrait of himself and his wife... Picasso had admired Rembrandt’s art (particularly his prints) since at least the thirties. During his last decade he showed a particular appreciation for two, apparently contradictory, aspects of his predecessor’s work—the unflattering realism of Rembrandt’s late style, particularly self-portraits and depictions of the female nude, and the ornamental costumes of his early phase” (M. Fitzgerald, Picasso, The Artist’s Studio (exhibition catalogue), Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford & Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 2001-02, p. 57) (see figs. 4 & 5). No less of an influence on his artwork during his later years were works by Velázquez. In examining Velázquez's masterpiece Las Meninas, which Picasso would devote numerous canvases to, the similarities in the artist's self portrait within this massive canvas and the attributes of the musketeer in Mousquetaire à la pipe are striking. The mustache, hair and jaunty sleeves of each figure echo one another while the pipe in Picasso's canvas stands in for the brush in Velásquez's proper right hand (see fig. 3).
It was not just the artists of the more distant past who held great resonance for Picasso during this period. As a young man, much of his focus had been on the works of Paul Cézanne. Now, later in life, he took another of the most famed artists from the late nineteenth century as an object of study and fascination; one whose enthusiastic handling of paint and color dominated his final years. In Picasso’s final decade, van Gogh came to be the greatest source of inspiration: “Of all the artists with whom Picasso identified, van Gogh is the least often cited but probably the one that meant the most to him in later years. He talked of him as his patron saint, talked of him with intense admiration and compassion, never with any of his habitual irony or mockery. Van Gogh, like Cézanne earlier in Picasso’s life, was sacrosanct…. Why, one wonders, should a great artist want to paint self-portraits in the guise of another great artist?... The answer is surely that in losing your identity to someone else you gain a measure of control over them…I suspect that Picasso also wanted to galvanize his paint surface…with some of the Dutchman’s Dyonisian fervor. The surface of the late paintings has a freedom, a plasticity, that was never there before; they are more spontaneous, more expressive and more instinctive than virtually all his previous work” (J. Richardson in Late Picasso, Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972 (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London & Musée national d’art moderne, Paris, 1988, pp. 31-34). The face of Mousquetaire à la pipe is richly textured, the paint almost sculptural applied to a degree reminiscent of van Gogh's self portraits which share this thick application of pigment in the face, creating a sense of dynamism and movement within the planes and bones of brow, nose, beard, mouth and eyes (see fig. 6).
“I have less and less time and I have more and more to say” commented Picasso in his last decade (quoted in K. Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Lausanne & Paris, 1971, p. 166), and the freedom and spontaneity of his late work, together with the recourse to archetypical figures and symbols, reflect both a growing awareness of his mortality (as the artist sought to ward off death through a final burst of creativity) as well as a conscious decision to allow himself total liberty with both style and subject matter. Having gone through so many phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, Picasso now pared down his style in order to paint monumental works in quick, spontaneous brush-strokes. Rather than ponder the details of human anatomy and perspective, the artist isolated those elements of his subject that fascinated and preoccupied him, and depicted them with a contemporary style and a sense of wit entirely of his own.
The works of Picasso’s last twenty years are increasingly seen as a fitting culmination to the career of the twentieth century's greatest artist. These late portraits actually represent a psychological projection of a complex and multifaceted identity, illustrating the unruly amalgam of influences and contrary personas that made up the mental backdrop of this protean figure. As Simonetta Fraquelli comments, “In an era when non-figurative art prevailing over figurative art and a linear progression of 'style' was considered more relevant than emotion and subject, it was customary for many younger artists and art critics to think of late Picasso as lesser Picasso. However, the extensive re-evaluation of his late work since his death has highlighted its undiminished power and originality. His capacity for emotional depth and painterly freedom in his late painting, together with his wide-ranging engagement with the imagery of the great paintings of the past, was to have a lasting influence on the development of neo-expressionist art from the early 1980s onwards” (Picasso: Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 146).
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