Pablo Picasso: A New View
By: J. Marlando
Years ago when I worked as an art reviewer and critic I would sometimes be asked to give lectures on creativity to art students and what I called back-porch painters who wanted so much to paint and perhaps even be recognized as painters. One back-porch painter who I reviewed, Andy Lakey, ended up being world famous as an artist. In any case, whenever a student would ask me what to do to better their technique I would always say study Picasso.
Picasso is clearly the grand master painter of modern times and most well-known. Indeed, people who have never heard of Dali, O’Keeffe, Degas or even Matisse know about Picasso.
Beyond all else Picasso was a most prolific artist—he painted, he drew, he sculpted made prints and even ceramics; his paintings were what made him the focus of the art world, however. His fame began with controversy. In this 1907 oil on canvas
Another favorite of mine is The Old Guitarist
The painting was a portrait from what came to be called, Picasso’s Blue Period, no doubt a time when Picasso was feeling an existential aloneness. However, that aloneness was not merely an artistic whim. It was during this time that he had lost his best friend Carles Casagemas. Carles and Picasso had traveled to Paris from Madrid together but after arriving Carles fell in love and when that love affair fell apart, he committed suicide. The tragedy obviously threw young Picasso into a deep depression and that depression is revealed in the paintings of those early years of his career.
Picasso himself was as complex as his work is manifold, magnificent and often beautiful. The rest of this article will attempt to capture the artist and his art; a phenomenon of temperament and talent.
Pablo Picasso: Art and other Lovers
Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain
Once, after his father had become professor at the School of Fine Art—this was in 1891 after the family had moved to Coruna—he found his son working on a sketch of a pigeon. Pablo Picasso was only thirteen at the time. The father was so impressed with the boy’s technique and detail that he immediately thought that his son was far better than himself and actually swore never to paint again. While Papa Picasso did paint again, he did so knowing that his son was “a natural” and there is little doubt that his admiration served to encourage Pablo a great deal.
In 1895 when Pablo was fourteen he endured his first real tragedy. His beloved sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After this, the family moved to Barcelona where his father took an important position at the School of Fine Art. There Papa convinced the board at the academy to permit his son, Pablo, to take an entrance examine for the advanced class. This examine took most students a month to complete but Pablo completed it in a week to astonish the officials at the school.
Believing so much in Pablo’s work, his father rented the thirteen year old a room of his own so he could paint in solitude. At the same time Papa Picasso would check on the boy sometimes several times a day and, when he did, he would often make comments about Pablo’s work. Young Pablo was not at all disciplined in his life or his art so he and his father would have arguments constantly. Nevertheless, Papa Picasso and his brother (Pablo’s uncle) decided to send the boy to Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando, Spain’s most revered art school.
Young Pablo disliked formal instruction, however, and simply quit attending classes which he felt a waste of his time. Nevertheless, while at the Academy he had discovered (or rediscovered) El Greco who was often controversial himself as this painting reveals:
Pablo had been intrigued and, for once in his life, even artistically influenced especially by El Greco’s technique of mysticism shown in the painting above and even more prevalently revealed in other works. How much of El Greco’s inspiration is in Pablo Picasso’s work we cannot know but that it is there, we can say for sure.
The early years in Paris—this self-portrait
It was around this time that Pablo would meet his contemporary, Henri Matisse; the two would remain friends--and rivals—for the rest of their lives.
Ageing Matisse Blue Still Life by Matisse
With a touch of success and having his foot in the door of Paris’s most wealthy Picasso drifted into his rose period. Yet, one can clearly see solemnness maintained in his paintings during this time such as this, “Family of Saltimbanques” showing their weariness in life
During his transition between his blue and rose period Picasso met a bohemian artist by the name of Fernande Olivier
Fernande was married when she moved in with Picasso and working as a model for other artists. Picasso demanded that she quit modeling for others over the seven years they stayed together. Then sometime around 1911 it seems that Picasso turned his eyes toward another young woman. Marcelle Humbert also known as Eva Gouel
It is an interesting observation of how Picasso painted so many women often in moods and temperaments of femaleness in all its vulnerability and subjectivity. And yet, this painting of his mother
Picasso’s next love was with Olga Khokhlova
Actually Olga adored high-society while Picasso was more common in his interests; much too bohemian to satisfy his wife who wanted a much more “fashionable” life than he did.
The marriage was nearly always in turmoil so Pablo Picasso packed up and moved into a flat across the street from his home. He hadn’t bothered to tell Olga, his wife about young and vital Marie-Therese
Olga finally had to be told about Marie, however because of Marie’s pregnancy. As a result, Olga was hurt, angry and jealous but Picasso would never agree to a divorce to keep her from obtaining half of his fortune. As a result Olga remained Mrs. Pablo Picasso while young Marie was pregnant with his second child. It was during that very time when Picasso began falling in love with Dora Maar
Dora was a smart lady well-poised and talented who grew up in Argentina. She quickly became Picasso’s friend and lover. He captures her in this rather strange and mysterious portrait giving her green fingernails—perhaps a symbol of greed or jealousy or both?
But when it comes to fascinating portraits “Dora with Cat” becomes most intriguing of all.
It is said that Dora responded empathetically to the assortment of Picasso’s moods. Indeed, he often called her his “muse.” We see some of the “muse” in the portrait shown immediately above which, incidentally, sold for no less than $90 million not too long ago.
Dora with the Cat is certainly my personal favorite of all the many portraits he did of wives and lovers. For one thing is seems to give the lady a wonderful duality of mind and human passion. At the same time she sits almost queenly (or goddess-like) in a simple but elegant throne chair.
Actually, Dora was a sincere human being who obviously had both love and devotion for the artist but the roving eyes of Picasso were at it again. He “exchanged” his private muse for a young art student by the name of Francoise Gilot. They are seen together here
Francoise was more than beautiful. She was highly intelligent and talented; extremely charming and also self-reliant. It was she who left Picasso in 1953, tired of his moods and his affairs with other women. At the time he was going with a 24 year old by the name of Genevieve Laporte who left him at the same time that Francoise did. This time the ageing Picasso was on the losing end of the broken romance but it didn’t take him long to recover: He met and married Jacqueline Roque
This ended the story of Pablo’s personal life as it publicly unfolded one year (and one lover) after the next. What if we approve or disapprove of the artist’s lifestyle matters not. That his was the personality and temperament that created over 18,000s painting and 50,000 art pieces during his life is what interests us. We remain only curious about how he managed to do all that work and romance the ladies too. Yet, to this very day, he remains modernisms most prolific and well-known artist. What gave him such world-wide esteem, we will explore next.
Picasso: A Work of Genius, a Genius at Work
To understand Pablo Picasso’s genius, I always first refer to his “Three Musicians.” Painted in
The style of painting had been named Analytical Cubism at its inception. The idea was to create an intellectualized form of real things and/or people by repeating “analytic” structures both geometrically simple and flat. The technique was developed by Pablo Picasso and George Braque.
Braque Braque’s Cubism
Some early Analytical Cubism actually used real paper or cloth to augment the flat look on the canvas and to keep colors mute and plain. Here’s such a painting by Picasso using oil, oilcloth and paper called “Still Life with Chair Caning"
The sheer brilliance of this piece is impossible to miss even by those who are not fans of modern art. Pablo Picasso, however, had such a learned and innate understanding of art that he was able to work on many styles (techniques) at the same time, each with such enlightened precision. While pouring out Synthetic Cubism he did not want to lose his contact with the classical or favor and/or contact with the museums. One result of this was “Mother and Child” as seen here
Again Picasso’s genius peers through in that he makes no attempt to capture the essence of sweet motherhood or the pleasures of infancy but gives us a blatant classical look as if it might have been painted thousands of years ago. Indeed, this might have been a statement of Picasso’s sardonic humor but, of course, we will never know. Then in 1925 came his “Three Dancers.”
I have always loved this particular Picasso because while it is a masterful example of Synthetic Cubism, it also reveals, at a deeper level, Picasso’s daring to take on yet another and newer technique into his grip…Surrealism.
While the Three Dancers are a blatant declaration of Synthetic Cubism the shapes seem to give us a surrealistic view across the entire canvas where there is a lacking of the typical overlapping of colors to support the flat imagery of the painting. Not that there isn’t any, certainly the rich brown is used in the traditional sense but Picasso, it seems, is toying with the surreal. He would recreate this same mixture of art styles with his famous “Guernica” painting as seen here.
I have never seen this painting in person but it is gigantic; an oil on canvas 11’6” X 25’8.” This piece was commissioned by the Spanish Republican government to present at the 1937 World Fair in Paris. It was created in response to the Nazis and Italians bombing Guernica a Basque village in northern Spain
Picasso hated war but was living in Paris when the Germans occupied France. The Nazis did not appreciate Picasso’s art but because Picasso, by then was so famous they basically left him and his artistic work alone. On the other hand, the Nazis outlawed bronze casting in Paris. This did not stop Picasso from doing what he wanted to do, however—he continued sculpting with bronze smuggled to him by the French Resistance. Here’s a sample of an earlier bronze piece by the artist:
This was certainly Picasso, a man who from boyhood had, as the song goes, “done it his way.” In 1944 he joined the French Communist Party which was popular at the time with artists and other intellectuals. For one thing the Communists claimed to be devoted to the worker and to equality amidst people. Indeed, in the U.S., Eugene Debs was an open communist and ran for president in 1912 on the Socialist’s ticket. He lost the election but nearly a million Americans gave him their vote. And certainly, in the beginning early U.S. unions were communist motivated. What Picasso and a great many other intellectuals failed to see, however, was that communism is and always has been an elitist’s camp, only painted and masked in altruism. Nevertheless, Picasso was a devout communist and remained so until his death.
It is difficult to summarize here because Pablo Picasso was such a complex person both professionally and privately. That he was temperamental and often difficult to be around is widely known but, as the old saying goes, what can we really know about anyone until we’ve walked a mile in their moccasins?
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