(quoted in Picasso: Tradition and Avant-garde (exhibition catalogue), Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340).
This intimate depiction of a handsomely-bearded gentleman painted in 1967 is from the dashing musketeer series that Picasso undertook in the 1960s. Symbolising his own waning energy, the iconography of the musketeer is indicative of Picasso's enlightened self-awareness in his later years, forging an alter-ego whose virility and stature would persevere through his art. His works of the 1960s reflect a mature and seasoned protagonist. Gone are the veiled references to the artist as a victorious gladiator or centaur, instead bringing to the forefront the representation of the musketeer, a consummate choice of avatar, which offers a spectrum of interpretations.
Picasso devoted a considerable amount of time during the 1960s to the reinterpretation of the old masters, which was a pointed affirmation of his deserved place in the revered lineage of the great figures within the art historical canon. The figure of the musketeer has a long history in visual art, represented in works by Frans Hals, Rembrandt van Rijn, El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. The subject of the musketeer allowed Picasso to escape the limitations of contemporary subject matter and fully explore the spirit of a past age. The genesis of the musketeer in Picasso’s œuvre stems from when the artist was recuperating after surgery in late 1965, in his home in Notre-Dame-de-Vie in Mougins. He immersed himself in classical literature, devouring the works of Shakespeare and novelists such as Alexandre Dumas, Charles Dickens and Honoré de Balzac.
Le Peintre. Buste de profil’s iconography of the artist, equipped with his brushes, evokes Picasso's Spanish heritage, while reconciling his role as a painter. 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' (M.-L. Bernadac in Brigitte Léal, Christine Piot & Marie-Laure Bernadac, The Ultimate Picasso, New York, 2000, p. 455).
The artist’s own explanations of his musketeers provide a tantalising insight into his personality and shows how he employed a contemporary style and sense of humour entirely of his own. The critic and art historian Hélène Parmelin recalled how Picasso would play games in front of the canvases with her and her husband, the painter and sculptor, Edouard Pignon. Picasso would point to various musketeers and remark: ‘with this one you’d better watch out. That one makes fun of us. That one is enormously satisfied. This one is a grave intellectual. And that one, look how sad he is, the poor guy. He must be a painter’ (quoted in Picasso: Tradition and Avant-garde (exhibition catalogue), Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2006, p. 340).
Picasso’s male figures are the embodiment of masculine power, always rendered with an intensity which convey the bravura of the artist himself. Having gone through numerous phases of stylistic and technical experimentation, the present work illustrates how Picasso utilises a modern, pared down style. Painting in quick, spontaneous brushstrokes, he almost mimics the technique of the Abstract Expressionists who were working at the same time. The energy and complexity which results from this synthesis ultimately reflects Picasso’s ceaseless creativity and unwavering work ethic. As the Catalan poet and Picasso’s friend, Jaime Sabartés observed: ‘Picasso’s art is the repeated exemplification of his desire, of his need to explore. To him, the results attained, and even the goal set, count for less than the effort expended. He is never deterred by difficulties, no matter how enigmatic the riddle he has set himself to solve. Work, to him, is always adventure. Picasso’s state of mind is continually changing with the light, the place and the perspective.’ (Jaime Sabartés, Variations on Velazquez’ Painting of ‘The Maids of Honor’ and Other Recent Works, New York, 1959, n.p.)
Brimming with painterly verve and stylish invention, the paint in Le Peintre. Buste de profil is manipulated in order to wonderfully present a person with a startingly vivid presence. While conveying the spirited character of a musketeer, the work simultaneously conveys the personality of the artist due to the key paraphernalia of the brush and the palette. Conveyed in his chosen disguise via liberated brushstrokes, Le Peintre. Buste de profil reflects the complexity of Picasso’s sentiments regarding his role as an artist. Devoid of a female model which previously accounted for a large part of his creative output, Picasso is entirely focussing on himself and his artistic practice. The process of creating a picture was more important for him than the finished result: ‘I am down to the stage when the movement of my thought is of more interest to me than the thought itself’ (quoted in K. Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Paris, 1971, p. 166).
Le Peintre. Buste de profil constitutes a brilliant exercise of journeying through time, one that followed a route from Picasso’s Mougins studio in the late 20th century to Dumas’ novel, The Three Musketeers, in the mid-19th century and further back to the Baroque old masters in the 17th century. Le Peintre. Buste de profil does not relinquish his vital identity as a painter but creates an inner world without boundaries, time or place, a direct reaction to his old age, where physical delight in the real world was sadly diminishing. The attributes of the musketeer - his charming curled moustache and wavy hair - comprise his chosen mask that he held up most frequently to the world during the remaining years of his life. Through his exceptional talent, Picasso created a channel of exploration into his identity, presenting the geniuses of many centuries, but most importantly, the ingenuity of himself. A vital and immediate power emanates from this combined personality of artist and musketeer; it is a manifestation of Picasso’s thirst for life and his desire to paint without restraint, thought or impairment.
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