Lot 14
  • 14

Pablo Picasso

8,000,000 - 12,000,000 USD
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  • Pablo Picasso
  • Tête d'homme
  • Signed Picasso (lower left); dated 16.10.69 (on the reverse)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 45 1/2 by 35 in.
  • 116 by 89 cm


Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

Private Collection, Europe 


Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso: 1969-1970, 1970, no. 93, illustrated in the catalogue (titled Buste d’homme)


Hommage à Yvonne Zervos, Paris, 1970, illustrated in a photograph n.p. 

Rafael Alberti, Picasso en Avignon, Paris, 1971, no. 184, illustrated in color n.p. (titled Homme au fauteuil

Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, oeuvres de 1969, Paris, 1976, vol. XXXI, no. 466, illustrated pl. 139

The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Sixties III 1968-1969, San Francisco, 2003, no. 69-471, illustrated p. 255

Catalogue Note

Tête d’homme, a stunning self-portrait by Picasso which epitomizes his obsession with and admiration for Van Gogh, was painted in 1969, the year viewed as the most astounding and prolific of his later period. Picasso indeed was so fixated on Van Gogh that he carried in his wallet for years the original news article detailing Van Gogh’s self-mutilation of his ear. Closely examining Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat from 1887, Picasso captures in the present work the chiaroscuro face, deft red delineation of the neckline of the shirt, and swirling strokes of color in the background which serve to push the energy of the painting towards the haunting male face at center. Each figure is topped with a straw hat, a device also used in male portraits of the late 1930s. Painted a little more than a week before his 88th birthday, Tête d’homme was first 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. Its grand scale, sweeping Gothic arches and quatrefoil windows were 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. This would be the first of two spectacular showings of Picasso’s late works in Avignon, but the only one held during the artist’s lifetime. The present work, which featured prominently on the great stone walls of the Chapel of Clement VI, is a stunning example of the magisterial works on view.

Tête d’homme is a remarkable example of Picasso's mature style; brimming with painterly verve and stylish invention. The artist's astonishing capacity for handling paint is wonderfully present in Tête d’homme. Lustrous passages of color cover the whole canvas endowing the figure with a startlingly vivid presence. Throughout his oeuvre, Picasso's images of the male figure embody masculine power, and are rendered with a bravuric intensity “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 mature work, together with the recourse to archetypal figures and symbols is visual evidence of this. The seemingly limitless energy that characterizes so much of his work is extant in this 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 brushstrokes. 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 an extraordinary sense of wit entirely of his own.

Several years earlier, Picasso and Jacqueline moved to their new residence of Notre Dame de Vie. La Californie, where they had lived since 1955, had become surrounded by other buildings, and constant attention from those who sought Picasso’s ear. Simonetta Fraquelli discusses this change in scenery and its impact on Picasso’s work: “In a bid for more privacy, Picasso and Jacqueline moved to the hilltop villa ‘Notre Dame de Vie’ near Mougins in 1961. The artist became more reclusive and this is reflected in his paintings which are more strikingly intimate and self-reflective, often concerned with his own mortality. For him, passivity signified death and the energy of his last works, with their summary abbreviations and speed of execution, demonstrate his desire to recapture a childlike form of expression. As the palette becomes looser and brightly coloured, the willfully naïve style serves to emphasize their spirit of directness and intimacy” (Picasso, Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 145). Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s companion in his final decades, was a ceaseless champion of her husband’s work. In a salute to his greatest supporter in his later years Picasso playfully signed his name with her nail polish at the center left of Tête d’homme.

It was here on his hilltop in Notre Dame de Vie that Picasso would further deepen his study of the old masters. According to Elizabeth Cowling “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 (1930-1), 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” (ibid, pp. 12-13). 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 (J. Richardson in Late Picasso, Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, The Tate Gallery, London & Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, 1988, pp. 31-34).

The last decade of Picasso’s production has historically been the least understood amongst critics and scholars. Painting in a representational style he went against the grain of pure abstraction and of the renewed popularity of earlier movements such as Dada. The year 1969 would mark a culminating point in the career of the twentieth-century’s arguably greatest artist. The few self-portraits of the period 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 artist. 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” (Picasso: Challenging the Past, op.cit., p. 117). It was not just Picasso’s last years that proved so inspirational to the new generation of artists. His immediacy and constant regeneration across his storied career affected all who came in contact. Speaking of his early years as the painter Francis Bacon stated “You know, I didn’t begin painting until I was thirty and I never learnt it at school. One day, I tried it, without really knowing why. Maybe because I liked painting. I think I’d seen an exhibition of Picasso (quoted in Bacon, Picasso: The Life of Images (exhibition catalogue), Musée Picasso, Paris, 2005, p. 34)