Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Portrait of Jaume Sabartés with ruff and cap
Signed Picasso and dated Royan 22.10.39 in the bottom right section
Oil on canvas
46 x 38 cm
Sabartés Collection
MPB 70.241

The Work

The portrait of Sabartés from Royan in 1939 represents a milestone in the iconography of Sabartés in Picasso’s work. When painting this portrait, their lives had come together again; at that moment, not only were they united by friendship but Sabartés had become his personal secretary and most discreet and loyal witness to Picasso’s biography.

This oil portrait signifies the materialisation of an old aspiration of Sabartés. He himself has left a detailed description of the moment it was conceived: ‘To amuse himself or just because, that is, for no particular reason, when he seemed tired of keeping up a soliloquy and to make him feel I was listening, I caught myself telling him “I'd like to have a portrait of me with a ruff, in the style of 16th-century lords, and a hat with a feather to cover my head.” “I’ll do it" he said nonchalantly.’ This incident took place in 1938 and Sabartés’s wish to see himself as a gentleman from the time of Philip II was fulfilled in this portrait done in Royan in 1939 – a portrait full of irony, with a mixture of comedy and affection which was the basis of their friendship.

The drawings of the previous year were the seeds of the characterisation Sabartés wanted, and they took definitive shape in this splendid, fascinating portrait. It is a work that follows the artist’s rules at the time: the distortion of the features, the treatment of the nose, the apparent dislocation of the face that does not depart an inch from the signs of identity that make up the physiognomy and character of his old friend, to whom he makes constant allusions in his work, whether literary or graphic.