P ainted in 1969, Buste d’homme is a striking self-portrait by Picasso which epitomises the bold energy of his late works. Throughout his career Picasso referred to his painting acting as a diary of sorts and that is also true of the art he made during the last years of his life. In 1961 he entered his eighth decade; as the acknowledged master of twentieth century art he had nothing to prove and yet, as he recalled, he was gripped by the feeling that he had: ‘less and less time and I have more and more to say’ (Picasso quoted in K. Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Lausanne & Paris, 1971, p. 166). This feeling is the driving force behind the creativity and spontaneity of his mature work and his significant recourse to archetypal figures and symbols. The seemingly limitless energy that characterises so much of his work reaches its apotheosis in this final burst of creativity.

André Villiers, Pablo Picasso with a Cowboy Hat Given to Him by Gary Cooper, La Californie, Cannes, 1958, photograph, Musée Rèatu, Arles © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New york

Combining expanses of vivid primary colours with strong black lines and geometric shapes, Buste d’homme is typical of Picasso’s work from this period. The bright blue of the background evokes the Mediterranean skies of his home, Notre Dame de Vie in the South of France; the painting is full of warmth and vitality. At the same time, the male figure is immediately recognisable as one of the musketeers that reappear throughout the paintings of this decade – identifiable in this case through the playful half moustache on the left of the figure’s face.

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 – Diego Velázquez, Frans Hals and Rembrandt. Indeed, Picasso 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. As Elizabeth Cowling observed: ‘In old age, when he no longer went to Paris and left his country house outside Mougins with the greatest reluctance, Picasso immersed himself in masterpieces like Poussin’s Massacre of the Innocents (1630-1), Rembrandt’s Night Watch (1642) and a van Gogh Self Portrait (1889) by projecting slides blown up to a gigantic scale onto his studio wall’ (E. Cowling in Picasso. Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, pp. 12-13).

Present lot
Vincent van Gogh, Autoportrait au chapeau de paille, 1887, oil on cardboard, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Vincent van Gogh was the artist Picasso admired most and he referred to him frequently throughout his career. 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’ (John 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).

Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624, oil on canvas, The Wallace Collection, London

Buste d’homme belongs to a small group of works in which Picasso deliberately explored one of Van Gogh’s most powerful portraits – his Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat from 1887. The allusion is made clear by the bright yellow hat that the figure wears, but Picasso also captures the chiaroscuro of the face and the intense focus of the eyes that balance one each side of the strong vertical of the nose. In combining this reference to Van Gogh with the figure of his alter-ego – the musketeer – Picasso is making a powerful statement about his place in the history of art.

Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire à la pipe, 1968, oil on canvas. Sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2019 for USD 20.7 million

The work was exhibited in a one-man show that Picasso planned in the hallowed halls of the Palace of the Popes in Avignon. Each work displayed in this exhibition was hand selected by Picasso for inclusion. The grand scale of the setting was ideally suited to the monumental scale and tone of Picasso’s paintings, many of which, including the present work, were thinly-veiled depictions of himself. This self-reverential exhibition at the former seat of the Papacy was the ultimate act of self-canonization for the artist, who was already considered a god in the world of art. As Susan Galassi commented in 2009: ‘With this last chapter he closes the circle of his art and at the same time opens the way for a younger generation of artists, those who followed the abstract expressionists and reacted against their dogmatic cult of originality. For the 1960s pop artists and the succeeding generations of post modernists Picasso’s variations entered into the mainstream of iconic masterpieces and served themselves as source for re-creation’ (S. Galassi in Picasso. Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), op. cit., p. 117).

1 969年的畢加索自畫像《男子半身像》,展現其晚年作品的懾人力量。綜觀其漫長的藝術生涯,畢加索一直將自己的創作視為日誌一樣,最後數年的作品也不例外。1961年,80歲的他已然是二十世紀享負盛名的藝術大師,其創作固然已達至爐火純青之境。但如他自己憶述,已步入耄耋之年的他仍然思如泉涌:「時間一分一秒消逝,我想表達的卻越來越多」(引述自畢加索,K・加爾維茨,《畢加索.勞雷阿圖斯》,洛桑及巴黎,1971年,頁166)。畢加索無人能及的氣慨,為他的經典人物角色、象徵題材提供了充足的養分,驅使他繼續創出成熟而即興的傑作。我們甚至可以說,藝術家生命最後的一章同樣精彩,全賴他這股川流不息的原動力。


對於畢加索而言,火槍手象徵繪畫的黃金年代,他得以藉此脫離當代藝術主題的限制,自由探索往昔時代的精神。「火槍手」亦代表文藝復興時期紳士的莊嚴氣度。以此,畢加索三位他畢生敬慕的畫家致敬——迭戈・維拉斯蓋茲、弗蘭斯・哈爾以及倫勃朗(林布蘭)。60年代,畢加索醉心研究並重新演繹古典大師的傑作。他亦承認,這種手法最能讓他與各歷史上的藝術大師接通。如伊麗莎白・考林(Elizabeth Cowling)所言:「晚年的畢加索無法再前往巴黎、離開自己在法國穆然的鄉間別墅。他因而選擇在工作室的牆壁上,放大投影出各古典大作,浸淫其中。這些大作包括:普桑的《無辜者的大屠殺》(1630至01年)、林布蘭的《夜巡》(1642年),以及梵谷的《自畫像》(1889年)」(E・考林,《畢加索・挑戰歷史》(展覽圖錄),國家美術館,倫敦,2009年,頁12至13)。



《男子半身像》曾經在亞維農教皇宮內舉辦的畢加索個展上展出,這場個展的每一幅作品皆是由他自己親自挑選。這座教皇宮內部莊嚴宏偉、氣派堂皇,這樣的展覽空間顯然非常適合畢加索作品的巨大尺幅和豪邁氣魄,而當中不少展品如本作一樣,雖然表面看不像是畢加索的自畫像,卻都是他的自我表達。教皇宮曾經是教廷聖座的所在,畢加索決定在此處展出多幅以自己為主題的作品,這樣的舉動無疑可以被理解為他對自我的肯定,回應他在當時在藝術界早已「封神」的地位。2009年,蘇珊・加拉西(Susan Galassi)提出:「畢加索為自己晚年藝術作結的同時,又為年輕一輩的藝術家打開了一道新的大門。這些年輕藝術家繼承抽象表現風格,同時抗拒接受被上一代人奉為圭臬的藝術原創性。對於60年代的普普藝術家、以至再後來的後現代主義藝術家而言,畢加索豐富多樣的創作儼然成為主流的經典大作,他們以此為靈感和基礎,重新創作出其他藝術品。」(引述自S・加拉西,《畢加索・挑戰歷史》(展覽圖錄),同上,頁117)