BEARING THE WEIGHT OF ART
In conditions of the greatest secrecy, Picasso had an operation at the American hospital in Paris. The shock to his system was severe, and his convalescence lengthy. As soon as he was back on his feet, he wanted to know whether his creative powers had been affected. The Mousquetaires series of 1966, with its evocation of an entire world, is part of this rediscovery and recovery of self, a return to the golden age of painting, the age of Velasquez and Rembrandt. A reconsideration of Rembrandt's work is one of the series' constituent elements, a probing of greater depth than previous efforts of the kind. When I asked him why he had chosen the Mousquetaires, he replied with a joke: "It's all the fault of your old pal Shakespeare." For the fourth centennial of that poet's birth, in 1964, he had done a series of drawings for Lettres françaises: heads with collars and ruffs. But the first direct signal of a confrontation with Rembrandt is la Pisseuse (Pissing Woman), an extraordinary canvas of 1965, which Picasso signed on 16 April. The painting is a vehement and caustic combination of la Baigneuse of 1655 and an engraving of 1631 of a woman urinating. 1
This is the Rembrandt with whom he had always felt on thoroughly familiar terms, the Rembrandt of whom he had remarked to Kahnweiler in 1955, "Look at Rembrandt: he thought he wanted to do Bathsheba, but then he found that the servant was really far more interesting—so he did her portrait instead." Picasso called on Rembrandt for his joyous humor and for a sense almost of complicity between them, as if he were taking Rembrandt by the arm and making a confidential assertion, "You and I, old fellow, are the only ones who can paint everything." On occasion he did the same thing with Raphael or Ingres or Degas.
In 1966, with convalescence, a returning sense of well-being, and rediscovery of his own capacities, he struck a similar tone of gaiety and humor. And it is by engraving, in particular, that he put himself to the test. But the sixty plates done between August 1966 and the spring of 1967, which constitute the essential body of this testing process, were never given a general release by the artist, who only authorized reproduction by Georges Bloch in 1970. 2 Some of these, to be sure, contain white or gray "reserves"