Picasso by Juan Gris

Portraits of an Artist: Pablo Picasso

He was the Minotaur, the playboy of his era, he made the rules to break the rules, he was selfish yet a genius, he had no set style but a thousand styles, he was not Pablo, only Picasso.

Pablo Ruiz y Picasso (aka Pablo Picasso) was born in Málaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. A child prodigy, at 20 years old Picasso left Spain for Paris to become a distinguished artist. For Picasso, to succeed in Paris would be to conquer the world.

Pablo Picasso, Autoportrait (1907), Oil on Canvas. 50 x 46 cm
Pablo Picasso, Autoportrait (1907), Oil on Canvas. 50 x 46 cm

In 1907, a few years after his ‘Blue Period’, and following on from his lesser renown ‘Rose Period’, Picasso entered his ‘African Period’. Due to the expansion of the French empire into Sub-Saharan Africa, African artworks were brought back to France and exhibited in many of the museums in Paris. Picasso was inspired by the abstract construction of African Sculpture, particularly the mask-like faces. This new chapter for Picasso saw the use of African forms and motifs in his artwork, bringing to its apotheosis a long interest the French had shown in the ‘exotic, the distant, and the primitive’ (Hughes: 1991, 20). Picasso’s self portrait of 1907 is his interpretation of the African mask. His face is very angular as if cut out of wood, with his features being most prominent, with a large nose. Hiding beneath the angular lines and African expressionism, you can see the birthing and early experimentation of Cubism. His painting ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (1907), which depicts a brothel located in Calle Avinyó in Barcelona, is believed by many to be the first cubist painting (Farthing ed.: 2010, 388). It was unconventional, it was radical, and it was originally disregarded by other artists and critics of the time.

In our subjects we keep the joy of discovery, the pleasure of the unexpected. – Pablo Picasso

The Birth of Cubism

Cubism was born out of the Avant-garde movement at the beginning of the 20th Century. Originally credited to Picasso, it was later attributed to both Picasso and Georges Braque (1882-1963). Both men were inspired by the flat abstract approach of Paul Cézanne (1839-1906). The Cubist movement started with Analytical Cubism in 1908 – 1911, and between 1911-1912 it evolved into Synthetic Cubism. It was in 1912 when Picasso and Braque progressed away from reducing the objects and space, and began to build up the pictures from abstract fragments in unpredictable ways, a style charged with Symbolism. From the birth of Cubism, through to 1914, when Braque went to War, Picasso and Braque’s relationship grew ever stronger, supporting and flourishing with each other. (Dempsey: 2010, 83-84).

Truth is beyond any realism, and the appearance of things should not be confused with their essence. – Juan Gris.

Juan Gris, Hommage á Pablo Picasso (1912) Oil on Canvas. 93 x 74 cm
Juan Gris, Hommage á Pablo Picasso (1912) Oil on Canvas. 93 x 74 cm

It was in 1912 that Juan Gris (1887-1927) joined the Cubist movement. At the same time, Cubism had replaced Fauvism as the leading artistic movement in Paris, and was being recognised internationally. Gris first met Picasso in Paris in 1906 after Gris moved from Madrid. Gris idolised Picasso and viewed him as his mentor, and in 1912, after being inspired by the mathematical approach of Jean Metzinger’s ‘Le goûter (Tea Time)‘, Gris exhibited for the first time. It was at the Salon des Indépendants (Society of Independent Artists) exhibition where Gris expressed his regard for Picasso with ‘Hommage à Pablo Picasso, however, according to writer and poet Gertrude Stein (1874 – 1946), ‘Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away’ (Stein:2001).

What Picasso cared about was his own vitality, his ego, his women and his art. He did not care for those who threatened any of them.

Playboy Picasso

There is no Pablo, only Picasso. – Dora Maar

Dora Maar, Portrait of Picasso, Paris. 29 Rue D’Astorg (1936). Negative gelatin silver bromide on a soft brushed surface. 12 x 9 cm
Dora Maar, Portrait of Picasso, Paris. 29 Rue D’Astorg (1936). Negative gelatin silver bromide on a soft brushed surface. 12 x 9 cm

Dora Maar first met Picasso on the set of Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de Monsieur Lange in 1935, when she was the set photographer. She was immediately drawn to Picasso and wished to meet him again. A friend of Maar’s suggested she seek him out at a café, and the two reunited at Les Deux Magots, a café in the Saint Germain des Prés area of Paris. Maar was an artist in her own right. She was intellectual and autonomous. Picasso liked to dominate his women, yet with Maar, he had met his match. For Picasso, ‘to love her would be to destroy her’ (Artists in Love: Picasso and Dora Maar, 2016). Maar became his ‘Weeping Woman’ and Picasso became her course into madness. Picasso had many women throughout his lifetime, and when Maar became his lover, he was already married to ballet dancer, Olga Khokhlova (1891 – 1955) with whom he had a son, Paulo, and a mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter (1909 – 1977) with whom he had a daughter, Maya. To Picasso, Maar was a remarkably sexual being, their love affair intense and cruel. Picasso kept all his women at a distance, and Maar was no exception. She was only allowed to visit Picasso at his studio when she was invited.

In 1937, the Spanish Republican Government commissioned a painting for the Spanish display at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne at the World’s Fair in Paris. Picasso invited Maar to stay at his studio to document the process. However, on the 26th April, 1937, the Basque town of Guernica was bombed by the Luftwaffe in support of Franco’s Spanish nationalist government. Although Picasso didn’t appear to indulge in politics, the bombing of Guernica deeply affected him and he abandoned his original idea for the Expo, and began to work on a series of new sketches which became his Guernica.

Over the many years of Picasso and Maars love affair, she photographed him numerous times. In 1936 she produced Portrait of Picasso, Paris. 29 Rue D’Astorg, an artist portrait of her lover. However, the love affair did not last, and in 1943 Picasso left Maar for painter, Françoise Gilot (1921 -), with whom he had two children, Claude and Paloma. This affair propelled Maar into a fearsome depression that saw her under the care of the famous psychiatrist Jacques Lacan (1901 – 1981), where she received a series of electric shocks, and continued to be his patient for two years. After two years Lacan believed he could either deem her mad and she would stay in hospital, or he could guide her into ‘the arms of God’. She is believed to have said, ‘after Picasso, only God’ (Artists in Love: Picasso and Dora Maar, 2016). Many expected her to take her own life, even Picasso, nevertheless, she didn’t want to give Picasso the satisfaction, believing that it would have pleasured him too much.

Salvador Dalí. Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-first Century (One of a series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dali, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.). Oil on Canvas. 65.5 x 56 cm
Salvador Dalí. Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-first Century (One of a series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dali, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.). Oil on Canvas. 65.5 x 56 cm

According to Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989), Picasso’s ugly approach to his women was mirrored by his art. Dalí respected Picasso, he viewed him as his artistic father (Salvador-dali.org, 2017), and admired many of his early works. Their relationship was certainly conflicted. ‘Picasso is Spanish; so am I. Picasso is a genius; so am I. Picasso is about 74; I’m about 48. Picasso is known in every country in the world; so am I. Picasso is a Communist; nor am I’ (qtd in Gibson: 1998, 467). Dalí believed Picasso’s paintings to be ‘ugly’ and when he painted ‘Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-first Century (One of the series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dalí, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.)’ in 1947 he placed that ugliness into the portrait. The image exudes unsightliness and yet carries symbolic motifs of respect. The portrait is Picasso as a bust, which is a symbol of importance. The goat’s horns and the mandolin symbolise Picasso’s intellectualism. Dalí captured both the genius of Picasso and the ugliness of Picasso, and it is believed that Picasso didn’t much love the portrait.

On the 8th April, 1973, Picasso died whilst he entertained friends. Only ten days before his death, Picasso was helping to assemble 201 of his paintings, dated between 1970 and 1972, for an exhibition at the Avignon Arts Festival, at the Palais des Papes. Paul Puaux, the festival director at the time, believed these works were from a changing period for Picasso. Less eroticism, more gentleness. The works depicted children, mothers, musical instruments and a very beautiful landscape, which was a subject Picasso rarely visited (Nytimes.com, 2017).

It’s been over 40 years since Picasso died. The genius he thought he was, is the genius he still is. As he said himself, ‘my work is my diary, my autobiography.’


Works Cited

Artists in Love: Picasso and Dora Maar, 2016. [TV programme] Sky Arts: Sky.

Dempsey, Amy (2010) Styles, Schools and Movements: The Essential Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern Art. London, Thames and Hudson.

Farthing, Stephen. ed. (2010) Art: The Whole Story. London, Thames and Hudson.

Gibson, Ian (1998) The Shameful Life of Salvidor Dalí. London, Faber and Faber.

Hughes, Robert (1991) The Shock of the New. London, Thames and Hudson.

Nytimes.com. (2017). Picasso is Dead in France at 91. [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0408.html [Accessed 4 Mar. 2017].

Salvador-dali.org. (2017). ‘Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-first Century (One of a series of portraits of Geniuses: Homer, Dali, Freud, Christopher Columbus, William Tell, etc.)’ | The Collection | Gala – Salvador Dali Foundation. [online] Available at: https://www.salvador-dali.org/en/museums/dali-theatre-museum-in-figueres/the-collection/134/portrait-of-pablo-picasso-in-the-twenty-first-century-one-of-a-series-of-portraits-of-geniuses-homer-dali-freud-christopher-columbus-william-tell-etc  [Accessed 5 Mar. 2017].

Stein, Gertrude (2001) The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. London, Penguin Classics.

Further Reading

Caws, Mary Ann (2000) Picasso’s Weeping Woman: The Life and Art of Dora Maar. New York. Bulfinch Press.

Gilot, Françoise (1990) Life with Picasso. London. Virago Press.

Herwig, Malte (2016) The Woman who says No: Françoise Gilot on her Life with and without Picasso – Rebel, Muse, Artist. Canada, Greystone Books.

Picasso, Marina (2002) Picasso: My Grandfather. London. Vintage.

Roe, Sue (2015) Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910. London. Penguin.



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