Main content

12. Painting the Golden Age

In the final decade of his life, Picasso's iconography began to incorporate figures wearing 17th-century fashions. These musketeers, characters from the Spanish Golden Age, were inspired by his renewed interest in Rembrandt and Velázquez. Rendered in striking colors and rapid brushstrokes, these works exude strength and energy.  

“I was born of a white father and a small glass of Andalusian eau de vie I was born to a mother the daughter of a fifteen year-old girl born in the Percheles of Málaga the handsome bull who sired me with his forehead crowned with jasmine”. Pablo Picasso. 4 May 1936.
Translated from: Picasso: Écrits, 1989, p. 128

Child with a Shovel

Mougins, 15 July and 14 November 1971 | Oil on canvas, 195 x 130 cm
Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. On temporary deposit at the Museo Picasso Málaga
© FABA Photo: Marc Domage © Sucesión Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid, 2017

Read about Child with a Shovel

The oil on canvas Child with a Shovel can be interpreted in an autobiographical manner and also in terms of its context. Firstly it is one of various large-format works of the same date – 1971 – which, if read as a group, reveal a cryptic, enigmatic Picasso. These are similar compositions measuring almost 2 metres high which represented an authentic challenge to the nearly ninety-year-old artist. Picasso began to paint this oil in the summer of 1971 and would return to it in November of that year. The composition makes use of his classic double profile, offering a clue as to its possible autobiographical nature as a kind of split or doubling between the old artist and the child that he once was. Around this time, in the early 1970s, Picasso gave up swimming in the sea, an activity he had enjoyed throughout his life.

Various writers, including Pierre Daix, interpreted this portrait of a boy playing on the beach as a type of desire to begin life over again, a reaction on the artist’s part to the end of an activity that he could no longer enjoy. The striped line at the top undoubtedly refers to a beach setting while the generally baroque nature of the composition reflects the typical calligraphy of Picasso’s final period, evident here in one of the paintings exhibited in Avignon. The oil should be analysed in parallel with another painted in August 1971, Standing Bather, which also belongs to the Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte and which may well be another self-referential work.

During that same summer Picasso produced a group of large-format compositions which for John Richardson constituted a closed group. Returning to a possible autobiographical interpretation, it is surprising to realise that on the day that Picasso completed Child with a Shovel (14 November) he also finished his great self-portrait Seated old Man, now in the Musée Picasso in Paris. Within the context of the entire history of art, Picasso is among the artists who formulated a particularly unique but simultaneously universal manner of representing childhood. Exactly seventy years passed between his celebrated exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery in 1901, in which he showed various portraits of children, to Child with a Shovel. During those decades Picasso produced a large number of portraits of children, especially his own children, represented in different styles and artistic idioms. Given its late date it can be said that Child with a Shovel is perhaps Picasso’s last great painting of childhood, particularly given that in psychological terms he may well have conceived of it as a type of wished-for self-representation.

Text: Eduard Vallés