Alexander Iolas, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner in July 1984
By 1968 Picasso had left the villa La Californie where he had lived in the 1950s and settled in a new home in Mougins. 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 wilfully naïve style serves to emphasize their spirit of directness and intimacy’ (S. Fraquelli in Picasso. Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 145).
Whilst stylistically his paintings become more spontaneous and vivid during this period, Picasso’s choice of subject is also indicative of his state of mind. It was in his hilltop home 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 (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 ibid., pp. 12-13). Certain subjects and motifs appear and reappear in different guises in the paintings of the 1960s; the musketeer is a key figure, always signalling an allusion to the old masters and through that, Picasso’s desire to paint himself into the European artistic canon. When choosing a musketeer Picasso might also have had in mind the work of his old friend and rival, Matisse (fig. 2). When Matisse died in 1954, Picasso responded by beginning his celebrated Femmes d’Algers series, describing his work as a continuation of Matisse’ paintings, and the memory of that other ‘great’ of twentieth century art stayed with Picasso throughout his final years.
The significance of Picasso’s late paintings lies in the way that the artist incorporates the subjects and motifs of art historic tradition into works that are profoundly modern in their spirit and style. 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 ibid., p. 117).
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