Portrait of a Bearded Man

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‘Early stoic portraits like this one of an unidentified bearded man place the young Picasso in the tradition of such seventeenth-century Spanish masters as Velázquez, Murillo, and Ribera. At the same time, the sitter’s solemn demeanor announces Picasso’s move into the sober portrayal of social outcasts that will become a major endeavour of his Blue period (1901-1904).

Although it has been suggested that this undated painting was executed in Barcelona from 1895 to 1897, the work shares many characteristics of the small number (less than two dozen) of Corunna portraits recognized and dated by Josep Palau I Fabre to the winter of 1894 or early spring of 1895. Like them, this portrait derives its power from its rustic nature and raw emphasis on the human condition. It is devoid of any type of setting and lacks the social context and accoutrements favoured in late nineteenth-century European painting and sometimes found in other portraits by Picasso of family and friends. Here, the painter concentrates on the sitter’s face and the downward tilt of the model’s head. For four years, Picasso lived with his family in Corunna. The present work was most likely executed there in 1895 before he entered the fine arts school, La Llotja, in Barcelona in the autumn of that year.

Neither pretentious nor complicated, the portrait recalls two paintings from Corunna in the Museu Picasso in Barcelona (MPB 110.114, 110.058) and two in the Musée Picasso in Paris (MP 1, 2), which in their pathos equally seems to echo Ribera’s intense baroque realism. For more than three-quarters of a century, the artist or his family kept all these works, as well as a series of slightly larger painting, also from 1895, depicting an older bearded man.

[…] This portrait was thickly painted on a fine, tight-woven canvas. Patches of exposed canvas, visible at regular intervals on either side of the model, suggest that the work was removed from its original stretcher and remounted. In the lower right corner, traces of writing are visible’ [1].

[1] GIMÉNEZ, Carmen (ed). Collection Museo Picasso Málaga. Malaga: Museo Picasso Málaga, 2003, pp. 66 and 68.


What was happening in 1895?

  • Picasso’s sister Conchita Ruiz Picasso dies of diphtheria.
  • The archaeological remains at Atapuerca are discovered during the construction of a railway.
  • Cinema is invented with the film ‘Workers leaving the Lumière Factory’.
  • The Cuban War of Independence breaks out.

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