Parmelin wrote at length about Picasso’s paintings of the late 1960s, many of which she saw under production at the artist's studio at Notre-Dame-de-Vie: "During Picasso's last years — marked by his Avignon paintings — he often speaks of the obscure direction that his research has taken, a movement closer and closer to reality. The canvas becomes so true that, he says, 'One can no longer see the difference between it and reality. It is natural.'" (Op. cit., p. 288). Picasso's objective to paint 'nature' is in direct opposition to the examples of abstraction and minimalism that proliferated the art world during the 1960s. Grounding his work in figuration, he embarked on a major series of monumental paintings featuring the theme of the musketeer, which became one of the key subjects of his late work. Picasso had devoted a large portion of his time and passion 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," but his appreciation of other great figures of the Renaissance, including Shakespeare, also influenced the appearance of these characters.
Towards the end of his life, the image of the musketeer evoked Picasso's Spanish heritage and his nostalgia for the youthful vigor of his early years. As Marie-Laure Bernadac has observed: "If woman was depicted in all her aspects in Picasso's art, man always appeared in disguise or in a specific role, the painter at work or the musketeer. In 1966, a new and final character emerged in Picasso’s iconography and dominated his last period to the point of becoming its emblem. This was the Golden Age gentleman, a half-Spanish, half-Dutch musketeer dressed in richly adorned clothing complete with ruffs, a cape, boots, and a big plumed hat … All of these musketeers are men in disguise, romantic gentlemen, virile and arrogant soldiers, vainglorious and ridiculous despite their haughtiness. Dressed, armed, and helmeted, this man is always seen in action; sometimes the musketeer even takes up a brush and becomes the painter" (B. Léal, C. Piot & M.-L. Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 455).
As the character of the musketeer developed in Picasso’s paintings in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he became a multi-dimensional figure, exhibiting a range of characters including card players, musicians and pipe smokers, often with swords or accompanied by female nudes. The present work features the character in a bust-portrait, reminiscent of the noble self-portraits of the old masters with whom the artist identified during his final years. The influence of salon painters such as Velázquez and Delacroix are evident in Picasso’s works from this period, yet with his fluid technique, Picasso made no attempt here to create a realistic portrait. Rather, his flat layers of paint give the musketeer’s face a mask-like quality and his garment are reduced to geometric planes and undulating lines. The energy which results from this synthesis of styles and subject matter reflects the passion Picasso maintained into his later years.
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