Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Avignon, Palais de Papes, Picasso, 1970-1972, 1973, no. 152
Lisbon, Museu do Chiado, Picasso e o Mosqueteiro, 1967-1972, le final des Mousquetaires, 1997-98, no. 38
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1971-1972, vol. 33, Paris, 1978, no. 275, illustrated pl. 93
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Final Years, 1970-1973, San Francisco, 2004, no. 72-010, illustrated p. 267
Mousquetaire aux oiseaux is one of Picasso's last canvases on the theme of the musketeer, a character that became his emblem at the end of his life. This subject first emerged in his production in 1966, the year after his ulcer surgery and during a lengthy period of convalescence when he wanted to prove to himself that his creative ability had not lost its luster. The musketeer was a subject that invigorated Picasso's artistic spirit during this fragile period of his life, compelling him to create a series of canvases that celebrated the gallantry of manhood in its prime. Inspiration from this theme was not without precedent: Matisse had found refuge in reading The Three Musketeers while recuperating from his illness in the south of France and enjoyed the escapism and flights of fancy that these stories offered. But it was Picasso who significantly incorporated the character into his painting, devoting a large proportion of his late work to this theme. He first produced a series of engravings and works on paper that explored this theme and, later, a variety of canvases of the musketeer, festooned in colorful regalia and brandishing a symbol of his virility - a pipe, instrument, weapon (see fig. 1), or even a paintbrush.
As he developed this series during the late 1960s and into the 70s, the musketeer became a multi-dimensional figure, exhibiting a range of personalities including card players, musicians and pipe smokers, illustrating his adventures as a bon vivant. In the work under discussion, completed just two years before the artist's death, 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, as in Personnage à la pipe (see fig. 2), the present work is identifiable as part of the musketeer series only by particular attributes. 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 that 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 - Velasquez and Rembrandt. Picasso had devoted a large portion of his production throughout the 1960s to the reinterpretation and investigation 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," in the 1950s but his appreciation of other great figures of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare, also influenced the appearance of these characters.
Shortly after Picasso's death in 1973, Mousquetaire aux oiseaux was included in a memorial exhibition of the artist's works, held at the Palais des Papes in Avignon. This exhibition featured a selection of the artist's most accomplished works from his last years, and the present work hung in the great Gothic exhibition hall among these important pictures (see fig. 3).
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire a l'oiseau, 1972, oil on canvas, Thomas Ammam Fine Art, Zurich
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Personnage a la pipe, 1971, oil on canvas, sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 5, 2003, lot 29
Fig. 3, The exhibition Picasso 1970-1972, 201 peintures, Palais des Papes, Avignon, 1973, with the present work at the bottom right
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