Painting against time

Picasso would revisit the self-portrait in his late works, chiefly prints, as a method of weighing up his life. In oils, the genre enabled him to display a remarkable degree of narrative in group compositions that embraced significant iconological content and multiple levels of interpretation. The most outstanding series of self-portraits belong to Suite 347 and Suite 156, made between the ages of eighty-six and ninety. Their iconography ranges from references to old masters and self-parody to the recreation of the world of the circus, the grotesque and the feminine – his theatrum mundi. The artist becomes a sort of spectator who recreates his own personal sub-world, adopting a number of different personalities including that of an impotent old man, a tourist and a newborn baby, and transcending by far the concept of self-portrait. In the summer of 1972, barely a few months before his death and in spite of his obvious physical deterioration, he insisted on bequeathing us a disturbing series of self-portraits that constitute the final expression of Picasso's legendary 'self'.