By the 1950s, Picasso’s de facto uniform had transitioned to the Breton-inspired striped shirt featured in the present work and had already made appearances in his earlier painting (see figs. 1 & 2). This simple sartorial choice identified the artist with his adopted country of France as well as the hardy navy seamen who popularized the design in the nineteenth century. While a number of works from 1964-65 featured sitters in similarly striped attire, Jeune garçon. Buste stands as one of only two drawings which feature the same nautical apparel but with a markedly younger subject. Whereas Picasso’s male subjects traditionally display more pronounced adult masculine characteristics like facial and body hair, and often include innuendo-laden objects like pipes, cigarettes and paintbrushes, Jeune garçon. Buste presents a decidedly youthful figure, wide-eyed and smooth-faced. Replacing the broad shoulders and square jaws of related compositions are the narrow chin and gaunt neckline of a young boy not yet grown into his body. In the pared-down style of his late work, Picasso captures a breadth of emotion in his decisive and expressive use of line. The boy’s eyes are outlined in purposeful strokes of teal and dotted with eyelashes, endowing the subject with a sense of childlike innocence. In bold, directional swathes, Picasso layers pigments of bright blue, purple, green and white over the grays and blacks of the background and figure’s hair, building depth at an almost frenetic pace and making the present composition one of the most fully-finished drawings from the series. The vigorous marks are balanced by the thoughtful delineations of the face, revealing a nuanced, intuitive sense of compositional harmony within an energetic spell of inspiration.
Ever stand-ins for the artist himself, Picasso’s figures chart the course of his own life, with the increased portrayal of masculine figures coinciding with the final decade of the artist’s life. Though the artist remained as prolific and inspired as ever during these years, his subjects can be read as ruminations on younger days marked by vitality and virility. It is perhaps from such reflection that the present work springs, with the chimeric subject shifting here to an even younger, more sensitive figure. Jeune garçon. Buste may indeed encompass wider musings on family during these years as well (see fig. 3); at the time of this work’s completion in June of 1964, the artist’s youngest son Claude had just turned seventeen, nearing the threshold between adolescence and adulthood. Jeune garçon. Buste, whether a reflection of a boyish Picasso or the artist’s progeny, puts forth a rare and empathetic glimpse of a vulnerable male figure, and has belonged to the same family collection for more than half a century.
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