Homme assis (Mardi gras)

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  • Condition Report

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  • Provenance

    Amman Fine Art, Zurich
    The Mayor Gallery, London (acquired from the above in June 1983)
    Acquired from the above by the present owners on 16 September 1985

  • Exhibited

    Avignon, Palais des Papes, Picasso, 1970-1972, 201 Peintures, 23 May - 23 September 1973, no. 174, p. 235 (illustrated, p. 202)
    London, The Mayor Gallery, Picasso, 22 March - 29 April 1983, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Literature

    Rafael Alberti, Picasso: Le rayon ininterrompu, Paris, 1974, p. 238, no. 192 (illustrated as no. 193)
    Christian Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1971 - 1972, vol. 33, Paris, 1978, no. 317, p. 111 (illustrated)
    Picasso: Mosqueteros, exh. cat., Gagosian Gallery, New York, 2009, fig. 73, pp. 165, 266 and back cover (Palais des Papes, Avignon 1973 installation view illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    The last window of indulgence before the long fast of Lent, Mardi Gras is traditionally associated with notions of permissiveness and hedonism. Yet for Pablo Picasso, the carnival celebrations that took place on 15 February 1972 were limited to his studio: on that day, he completed three oil paintings, a formidable effort for a man who had turned ninety the previous year. Of these, Homme assis (Mardi gras) shows one of Picasso’s celebrated ‘Musketeers’, the dashing warriors who leapt from the courts of the 17th century into the works of the painter’s brilliantly-productive last decade. The painting was selected by Picasso for his famous exhibition held in the Palais des Papes in Avignon in 1973, yet as the artist suffered from heart failure on 8 April 1973, he regrettably never saw his work hung in the Palais’ grandiose setting.

    Picasso affectionately referred to the dapper warriors in his paintings of this period as his ‘Musketeers’. In doing so, he aligned them with a history of swagger and swashbuckling doubtlessly looking back to the precedents from his own native Spain, where the original mosqueteros were painted by celebrated 17th century artists. Picasso himself ascribed the source of this marauding gang of dashing cavaliers to a singularly British source, telling his biographer Pierre Daix that, ‘It's all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 355). This was a reference to some drawings that Picasso had created in 1964 at Daix’s request, marking the quatercentenary of the English playwright’s birth.

    By the time that Homme assis (Mardi gras) was painted, the ‘Musketeers’ had been strutting through Picasso’s paintings for over half a decade. In fact, they had emerged in the mid-1960s, shortly after Shakespeare’s quatercentenary, and more importantly when he was recovering from an operation that took place in Paris in 1965. Jacqueline Roque, Picasso’s widow, would later tell the French politician and author André Malraux, himself a friend of the artist, that the musketeers ‘came to Pablo when he'd gone back to studying Rembrandt' (Jacqueline Roque, quoted in André Malraux, Picasso’s Mask, New York, 1976, p. 4). This was during his recuperation, when he devoured all sorts of media, not least the newly-published six-volume set of Otto Benesch’s catalogue of Rembrandt’s complete drawings. Picasso was even known to use a projector to show a slide of Rembrandt’s Night Watch, 1642, the celebrated masterpiece in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, against a wall, allowing the characters to become life-sized, immersing himself and his assembled company in their universe. Homme assis (Mardi gras) and its fellow paintings can be seen as parallel processes, with the 17th century characters strutting from the wall and into our worlds.

    'Every painter takes himself for Rembrandt,’ Picasso said (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso, New York, 1964, p. 51). Nowhere is this more evident than in Picasso’s works from the 1960s and early 1970s. Only the day after Picasso painted Homme assis (Mardi gras), he created another work showing a nude female figure, based on Rembrandt’s etching Naked Woman Seated on a Mound of circa 1631. Sometimes, direct references to the figures and compositions of Rembrandt’s pictures can be discerned through Picasso’s own works, whereas in other cases the similarities are more in the nature of allusion and atmosphere. In the case of Homme assis (Mardi gras), it is the entire era of the curls, beards and swords of the 17th century that is being conjured, with Rembrandt an important conduit for those visual references. This had been all the more the case from 1969 onwards: that year had seen the proliferation of a number of exhibitions and publications on Rembrandt, celebrating three hundred years since his death. By the time that Homme assis (Mardi gras) was painted, Rembrandt was everywhere.

    In a sense, Picasso was turning to history to find the yardsticks with which to measure his own achievements. This would see him looking at other figures such as El Greco and Diego Velázquez. In one case, he would even sign a picture with the invented and elaborate pseudonym: 'Domenico Theotocopulos van Riyn da Silva [sic]’. He was tracing a new imaginary genealogy, paying tribute to artists whom he had revered at different points throughout his career. 'What is a painter after all?’ Picasso asked. ‘A collector who creates his collections by painting other people's pictures that he admires' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Klaus Gallwitz, Picasso: The Heroic Years, New York, 1985, p. 114).

    In the case of Homme assis (Mardi gras), another artistic precedent may be the French artist Philippe de Champaigne. Certainly, Picasso had used de Champaigne’s portrait of the famous Cardinal Richelieu as an inspiration for a number of pictures. Here, however, Picasso has created a picture whose composition echoes the portraits that de Champaigne painted of Richelieu’s ruler, King Louis XIII of France. Picasso would have known both versions: a larger one, with background drapery recalled in Homme assis (Mardi gras), is in the Louvre, Paris, a museum that he knew intimately. Meanwhile, another smaller portrait showing the king in the same position but in a composition more like that of Homme assis (Mardi gras) is in the Prado, Madrid, having been sent there as a gift from Louis’ wife, Anne of Austria, to her brother King Philip IV of Spain. Picasso had spent long hours in the Prado at several junctures of his life, not least when he had created his own variations upon the portraits by Velazquez and El Greco as a young artist. Later, during the Spanish Civil War, he had also been named the director of the Prado by the Republican government, although the conflict prevented him taking up that office in person. That Louis XIII was also the king in Alexandre Dumas’ tales of The Three Musketeers, which Picasso knew so well, serves to strengthen this possible kinship. Certainly, there is a similarity in the pose, in the long nose and tumbling hair and in the treatment of the ruffs and armour, as well as the drapery behind. While the knob shown next to the subject of Homme assis (Mardi gras) recalls those on the chairs of some of Picasso’s seated cavaliers, it may also be a balustrade of some sort, indicating that the subject may not be seated after all, but instead shown standing like Louis.

    The great Old Masters were Picasso’s artistic companions and comrades—all the more so as he had outlived so many of his own contemporaries. By the time Homme assis (Mardi gras) was painted, his great friend and rival Henri Matisse had been dead for almost two decades. More recently, other friends such as Georges Braque, André Breton, Jean Cocteau and his old poet and secretary Jaime Sabartés had all died. Picasso, an artist with a notorious and even superstitious fear of death, was left fighting the rearguard action. It was this painful awareness of his own limitations and indeed his mortality that appears to have been the greatest spur to the creative drive that saw Picasso painting some of his most vivid paintings during this period. Looking at Homme assis (Mardi gras), there is an intoxicating immediacy to the brushwork. Some of the texture of the picture is rendered through vigorous squiggles; the hair is a combination of curls and dots that appear to show the artist almost stabbing the canvas. Meanwhile, other lines have been rendered with a balletic grace that belied Picasso’s age. The picture sings of the sheer amount of energy that the artist channelled into the act of its creation. Picasso once said, in words that clearly apply here, that, 'Each picture is a phial filled with my blood' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Marie-Laure Bernadac, 'Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model’, pp. 49-94, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., London and Paris, 1988, p. 92).

    The extent to which Picasso has distilled himself into the composition of Homme assis (Mardi gras) is indeed clear to see. The painting is filled with brushwork that speaks of his effortless ability to conjure realities through paint. The sheer dizzying range of visual effects that Picasso has achieved with only a deliberately-limited palette speak volumes of his capacity for invention. Some of the marks reveal the manner in which he could use what was almost a short-hand as an eloquently economical means of expression, conjuring the subject’s face and indeed character. Picasso had condensed almost a century’s knowledge into his skills, and this was reflected in his pictures now, which saw him looking to his own past works as an inspiration, as well as those of his artistic forebears and contemporaries. Thus, in Homme assis (Mardi gras), one sees distortions in the face of the cavalier that recall the Cubism with which he changed the course of modern painting. At the same time, the band of purple that falls down the middle of the subject’s face recalls the famous raie verte, or ‘green stripe’ of his old friend and ardent colourist Matisse, from the celebrated 1905 portrait of his wife—a bold Fauve masterpiece that would serve as a springboard for the inspiration of many other artists. Meanwhile, emphasising the incredible array of autobiographical strands that underpin the ‘Musketeers’, Picasso may also have been thinking of the first artist he had known—his father, who was a painter and art teacher. ‘Every time I draw a man, I find myself thinking of my father’, Picasso confessed. ‘To me, a man means “Don José”, and it will always be so, all my life... He wore a beard... All the men I draw I see more or less with his features’ (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Marie-Laure Bernadac, 'Picasso 1953-1972: Painting as Model’, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 94).

    John Richardson has speculated that Picasso’s own appreciation for Rembrandt during the 1960s and early 1970s was sharpened because he identified with the fact that his artistic forebear’s late works were underappreciated at the time (John Richardson, Late Picasso: Paintings, sculpture, drawings, prints 1953-1972, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, 1988, p. 36). Certainly, Picasso’s own efforts were not receiving the plaudits to which he had become accustomed. However, he had some supporters who saw the strides that he was making in his paintings during this period. A few years earlier, Roland Penrose had written to Sir Herbert Read of Picasso’s works of the time that, ‘I have a feeling that they are the great achievement of his life, and that they tackle with extraordinary freshness the problems of painting’ (Roland Penrose, quoted in Visiting Picasso: The Notebooks and Letters of Roland Penrose, London, 2006, p. 280).

    Picasso was still a pioneer, then, throwing caution to the wind in his attacks on the entire nature of the creative act, and it is this that underpins, or rather shines through, pictures such as Homme assis (Mardi gras). The entire mechanics of the making of an image are deconstructed and reassembled. Received concepts of taste are torn up while the canon of Western art is being reassembled. Picasso’s works of this period, then, can be seen in the context of the Art Informel that had swept across Europe, as a response to contemporary issues as well as a conversation with his artistic predecessors. Picasso himself clearly felt this, saying at the time, 'If I'm painting better, it's because I've had some success in liberating myself... And every so often, there is just that little something extra' (Pablo Picasso, quoted in Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 365).

  • Artist Bio

    Pablo Picasso

    Spanish • 1881 - 1973

    One of the most dominant and influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso was a master of endless reinvention. While significantly contributing to the movements of Surrealism, Neoclassicism and Expressionism, he is best known for pioneering the groundbreaking movement of Cubism alongside fellow artist Georges Braque in the 1910s. In his practice, he drew on African and Iberian visual culture as well as the developments in the fast-changing world around him.

    Throughout his long and prolific career, the Spanish-born artist consistently pushed the boundaries of art to new extremes. Picasso's oeuvre is famously characterized by a radical diversity of styles, ranging from his early forays in Cubism to his Classical Period and his later more gestural expressionist work, and a diverse array of media including printmaking, drawing, ceramics and sculpture as well as theater sets and costumes designs. 

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Property from the Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection

Homme assis (Mardi gras)

titled and dated 'Mardi gras 15.2.72 II' on the reverse
oil on canvas
129.5 x 97.2 cm (51 x 38 1/4 in.)
Painted on 15 February 1972.

Estimate
£2,500,000 - 3,500,000 ‡ ♠

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Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 27 June 2019