In July 1969 Picasso executed several large paintings on the theme of a musketeer holding a sword (fig. 1), of which the present work is a powerful example. One of the great subjects of the artist's late oeuvre, the musketeer was one of a cast of psychological avatars that were a means of projecting different aspects of his own identity. These portraits of the various archetypes (fig. 2) that populated Picasso's personal mythology were part of a late flowering, a final synthesis which merged the artist's personal history with the cultural heritage of the Western artistic tradition, and developed a direct and spontaneous style that celebrated the act of artistic creation. In choosing the iconography shared by Old Master painters such as Rembrandt (fig. 4) and Velázquez, Picasso was, at the end of his career, consciously aligning himself with the greatest artists of the Western canon.
In Picasso's late paintings the male subject 'always plays a part, or wears a disguise: as a painter at work or as a matador-musketeer, laden with his male attributes, the long pipe, the sabre or the sword. One last new figure appears in Picasso's iconography in 1966, and dominates the period to the point of becoming its emblem: this is a nobleman of the 'Siglo de Oro', half Spanish, half Dutch, gaudily dressed, sporting a ruff, a cloak, boots and a big plumed hat. 'It happened when Picasso started to study Rembrandt,' said Jacqueline to André Malraux. Other sources have been mentioned, but whether they come from Rembrandt, from Velázquez, from Shakespeare, from Piero Crommelynck's goatee beard, or from that of Picasso's father, all these musketeers are men in disguise, romantic lovers, soldiers who are arrogant, virile, vain and ultimately absurd, for all their panache. Costumed, armed, helmeted, man is always seen in action; and the musketeer sometimes takes up a brush and becomes the painter' (Marie-Laure Bernadac, 'Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model', in Late Picasso (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 81).
'I have less and less time and I have more and more to say' commented Picasso in his last decade (quoted in Klaus Gallwitz, Picasso Laureatus, Lausanne & Paris, 1971, p. 166), and the freedom and spontaneity of his late work, together with the recourse to archetypical figures and symbols, reflect both a growing awareness of his mortality, as the artist sought to ward off death through a 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 brush-strokes. 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 a contemporary style and a sense of wit entirely of his own.
The recent exhibitions Picasso et les mîtres at the Grand Palais in Paris and Picasso: Challenging the Past at the National Gallery in London, are part of an ongoing reassessment of Picasso's late oeuvre, and the works of his last twenty years are increasingly seen as a fitting culmination to the career of arguably the twentieth century's greatest artist. These late portraits actually 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 Simonetta Fraquelli commented in the exhibition catalogue, 'In an era when non-figurative art prevailing over figurative art and a linear progression of 'style' was considered more relevant than emotion and subject, it was customary for many younger artists and art critics to think of late Picasso as lesser Picasso. However, the extensive re-evaluation of his late work since his death has highlighted its undiminished power and originality. His capacity for emotional depth and painterly freedom in his late painting, together with his wide-ranging engagement with the imagery of the great paintings of the past, was to have a lasting influence on the development of neo-expressionist art from the early 1980s onwards' (S. Fraquelli, 'Looking at the Past to Defy the Present: Picasso's Painting 1946-1973', in Picasso: Challenging the Past (exhibition catalogue), National Gallery, London, 2009, p. 146).
Fig. 1, Pablo Picasso, Mousquetaire assis avec épée, 19th July 1969, oil on canvas, Private Collection
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Le Matador au cigare, 1970, oil on canvas, Musée Picasso, Paris
Fig. 3, Pablo Picasso. Photograph by Edward Quinn
Fig. 4, Rembrandt van Rijn, The Nightwatch (detail), 1642, oil on canvas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
Fig. 5, Poster for the exhibition Pablo Picasso: 1969-1970, 1970, Palais des Papes, Avignon, colour lithograph
Oil on board
Avignon, Palais des Papes, Pablo Picasso: 1969-1970, 1970, no. 67, illustrated in the catalogue
146 by 114cm. 57 1/2 by 44 7/8 in.
Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso. Œuvres de 1969, Paris, 1976, vol. 31, no. 335, illustrated pl. 100
Rafael Alberti, Picasso en Avignon, Paris, 1971, no. 196, illustrated in colour p. 201
The Picasso Project, Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture. The Sixties III, 1968-1969, San Francisco, 2003, no. 69-340, illustrated p. 213
Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris
Private Collection, Switzerland
Landau Fine Art, Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000