Picasso: Protean and Prodigious, the Greatest Single Force in 70 Years of Art
Posted by eGZact on October 26, 2007
There was Picasso the neoclassicist; Picasso the cubist; Picasso the surrealist; Picasso the modernist; Picasso the ceramist; Picasso the lithographer; Picasso the sculptor; Picasso the superb draftsman; Picasso the effervescent and exuberant; Picasso the saturnine and surly; Picasso the faithful and faithless lover; Picasso the cunning financial man; Picasso the publicity seeker; Picasso the smoldering Spaniard; Picasso the joker and performer of charades; Picasso the generous; Picasso the Scrooge; even Picasso the playwright.
A genius for the ages, a man who played wonderful yet sometimes outrageous changes with art, Pablo Picasso remains without doubt the most original, the most protean and the most forceful personality in the visual arts in the first three-quarters of this century. He took a prodigious gift and with it transformed the universe of art.
Henri Matisse and Georges Braque, two painters with assured stature in modern art and both his close friends, were also original; but both developed a style and stuck pretty much to it, whereas Picasso, with a feverish creativity and lavish talent lasting into old age, was a man of many styles whose artistic life revealed a continuous process of exploration. He created his own universe, investing it with his own human beings and his own forms of beasts and myths.
“For me, a picture is neither an end nor an achievement but rather a lucky chance and art experience,” he once explained. “I try to represent what I have found, not what I am seeking. I do not seek–I find.”
‘One Step on a Long Road’
On another occasion, however, he saw his work in a different light. “Everything I do,” he remarked at 76, “is only one step on a long road. It is a preliminary process that may be achieved much later. Therefore my works must be seen in relation to one another, keeping in mind what I have already done and what I will do.”
For all his guises, or disguises, Picasso had an amazing fecundity of imagination that permitted him to metamorphize a mood or an idea into a work of art with bewildering quickness. He was, in Andre Malraux’s phrase, “the archwizard of modern art,” a man who, as a painter alone, produced well over 6,000 pictures. Some he splashed off in a few hours; others took weeks.
In 1969, his 88th year, he produced out of his volcanic energy a total of 165 paintings and 45 drawings, which were exhibited at the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, France. Crowding the walls of that venerable structure, the Picasso array drew exclamatory throngs and moved Emily Genauer, the critic, to say, “I think Picasso’s new pictures are the fire of heaven.”
Explaining the source of this energy, Picasso said as he neared 90, “Everyone is the age he has decided on, and I have decided to remain 30.”
The painter was so much known for works that blurred or obliterated conventional distinctions between beauty and ugliness and for depersonalized forms that he was accused of being an antihumanist. That appraisal disturbed him, for he regarded himself, with all his vagaries, as having created new insights into a seen and unseen world in which fragmentation of form was the basis for a new synthesis.
A Bull From a Bicycle Seat
“What is art?” a visitor once asked him. “What is not?” he replied. And he substantiated this point once by combining a bicycle seat and a pair of handlebars to make a bull’s head.
“Whatever the source of the emotion that drives me to create, I want to give it a form that has some connection with the visible world, even if it is only to wage war on that world,” he explained to Francoise Gilot, who was one of his mistresses and herself a painter.
“Otherwise,” he continued, ” a painting is just an old grab bag for everyone to reach into and pull out what he himself has put in. I want my paintings to be able to defend themselves, to resist the invader, just as though there were razor blades on all surfaces so no one could touch them without cutting his hands. A painting isn’t a market basket or a woman’s handbag, full of combs, hairpins, lipstick, old love letters and keys to the garage.
“Valery [Paul Valery, the French poet] used to say, ‘I write half the poem. The reader writes the other half.’ That’s all right for him, maybe, but I don’t want there to be three or four thousand possibilities of interpreting my canvas. I want there to be only one and in that one to some extent the possibility of recognizing nature, even distorted nature, which is, after all, a kind of struggle between my interior life and the external world as it exists for most people.
“As I’ve often said, I don’t try to express nature; rather, as the Chinese put it, to work like nature. And I want that internal surge–my creative dynamism–to propose itself to the viewer in the form of traditional painting violated.”
In the long course of upending traditionalism, Picasso became a one-man history of modern art. In every phase of its turbulent (and often violent) development he was either a daring pioneer or a gifted practitioner. The sheer variousness of his creations reflected his probings of modern art for ways to communicate the multiplicity of its expressions; and so Picasso could not be categorized as belonging to this or that school, for he opened and tried virtually all of them.
In his peripateticism he worked in oils, water-colors, pastels, gouaches, pencil and ink drawings and aquatints; he etched, made lithographs, sculptured, fashioned ceramics, put together mosaics and constructed murals.
One of his masterpieces was “Guernica,” painted in 1937 and on loan for many years to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. An oil on canvas 11 1/4 feet high and 25 1/2 feet long, it is a majestic, stirring indictment of the destructiveness of modern war. By contrast, another masterpiece was a simply and perfectly drawn white pigeon, “The Dove,” which was disseminated around the world as a symbol of peace. But masterpiece or something not so exalted, virtually all Picasso were interesting and provocative. Praised or reviled, his work never evoked quiet judgments.
A Different View
The artist, however, held a different view. “There is no such thing as a bad Picasso,” he said, “some are less good than others.”
Exhibitions of his work, especially in his later years, were sure-fire attractions. The mention of his name was sufficient to lure thousands, many of them only barely acquainted with any art, to museums and galleries and benefits. Reproductions and prints were nailed up in homes all over the Western world, a certain mark of the owner’s claim to culture. Originals were widely dispersed, both in museums and in the hands of collectors wealthy enough to meet Picasso’s prices. And they were steep. In 1965 he charged London’s Tate Gallery $168,000 for “Les Trois Danseuses,” a painting he did in 1925. For a current painting, private collectors felt that $20,000 was a steal and $35,000 not too much.
For the last 50 years there has been no such thing as a cheap Picasso. Indeed, Leo and Gertrude Stein and Ambrose Vollard, a Paris dealer, may have been the last to get a Picasso for $30, and that was in 1906 and 1907.
Income Grew With Fame
As Picasso’s fame grew, so did his income until it got so that he could manufacture money by sketching a few lines on a piece of paper and tacking on his dramatic signature. He was probably the world’s highest paid pieceworker, and there were many years in which he garnered more than $1-million.
“I am rich enough to throw away a thousand dollars,” he told a friend with some glee.
The artist, however, was canny about money, driving hard bargains with his dealers and keeping the bulk of his work off the market. He released for sale about 40 of his paintings a year out of a production of hundreds, so that the market for his work was never glutted. What he did not sell (and he said that many of these constituted the best from his palette) he squirreled away in bank vaults, studios, in a castle not far from the Riviera and in empty rooms in his villa near Cannes. Picasso did not exactly hide his collection, for on occasion he permitted special friends to see it, to photograph it and to publish the results.
Toward the close of his life he donated 800 to 900 of his finest early works to a Barcelona museum. Worth a multimillion-dollar fortune, his works represented his Spanish period and were given in memory of Jaime Sabartes, his long-time secretary. In 1971 he gave an early constructed sculpture, “Guitar,” to the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Mostly, though, Picasso took a merchant’s delight in acquiring his money. “Art is a salable commodity,” he once observed. “If I want as much money as I can get for my art, it is because I know what I want to do with it.” But just what that was only a few intimates knew. He is said to have owned a great deal of real estate in France and to have made some excellent stock investments.
Contrary to Miss Gilot’s suggestion that Picasso was tightfisted, he gave large sums to the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and then to refugee groups that cared for the defeated Republicans who had fled to France.
“He was a very generous man,” Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, his principal dealer since 1912, said of him. “He supported for many years more than a dozen indigent painters, most of whom would have been living in poverty but for his help. And whenever he was asked to help some charities, he always gave something.”
He was, surprisingly, even open-handed in a quiet fashion with women of his past. One of these was Fernande Olivier, who was his mistress for a number of years until 1912 and whose book about her experiences with him was not flattering. However, when Picasso heard that her funds were running low, he saw to it that she was supplied with money.
Nonetheless, his generosity, like his temperament, could be fitful. Once, when the faking of Picassos was a small industry, a friend brought the painter a small work belonging to a poor artist for authentication so that it could be sold. “It’s false,” said Picasso.
From a different source the friend brought another Picasso, and then a third. “It’s false,” Picasso said each time.
“Now listen, Pablo,” the friend said of the third painting. “I watched you paint this with my own eyes.”
“I can paint false Picassos just as well as anybody,” Picasso replied. And then he bought the first Picasso at four times the amount the poor artist had hoped it would fetch.
As for himself, Picasso, from the time he began to take in appreciable sums until his death, lived like an Okie, albeit one who never had to worry about where his next meal or his next pair of trousers was coming from. “I should like to live like a poor man with a lot of money,” he had said in the days when he was desperately poor and burning some of his paintings for heat.
Collector of Oddments
All his studios and homes–even the 18-room rambling La Californie at Cannes–were crammed and cluttered with junk–pebbles, rocks, pieces of glass, a hollow elephant’s foot, a bird cage, African drums, wooden crocodiles, parts of old bicycles, ancient newspapers, broken crockery, bullfight posters, old hats, weird ceramics. Picasso was a compulsive collector of oddments, and he never threw any of them away, or permitted anyone to move any object once he had dropped it, tossed it or placed it somewhere.
To compound the chaos inside La Californie, the villa’s lawn was home to clucking chickens, pigeons, at least one goat, dogs and children. They all disported among bronze owls, fountains and statuary scattered about the grounds. Freedom for animals and children was a cardinal belief.
In later years this villa became a weekend residence, while his main home was Notre Dame de Vie in nearby Mougins. He also owned two chateaus, Vauvenargues, in Provence, and Boigeloup, in Normandy.
Despite the disorganization with which he surrounded himself, Picasso was a most methodical man. When he drove to Cannes or to Arles he invariably followed the same route; and when he lived in Paris he walked or rode the same streets in a fixed order. When his Paris studio was at 7 rue des Grand-Augustins on the Left Bank, he almost always dined at La Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard Saint-Germain and then cross the street to the Cafe Flore to join friends in a mineral water and conversation before going home.
One Picasso day was, in outline, much like the next. He arose late, usually around 10 or 11, devoted two or three hours to friends, conversation, business, letters and lunch; then, at 3 or 4, he would go to his studio to work in Trappist silence, often for 12 hours at a stretch, breaking off only for dinner around 10:30. Afterward, he sometimes worked until 2 or 3 in the morning.
When Miss Gilot was living with Picasso in Paris, she found that one of her most difficult tasks was to get him started on his day. “He always woke up submerged in pessimism, and there was a definite ritual to be followed, a litany that had to be repeated every day,” she recalled in her book, “Life With Picasso,” published in 1964 by McGraw-Hill.
The rigamarole, as Miss Gilot recounts it, had largely to do with reassuring Picasso that his lamentations were falsely based. “Well, I do despair,” he would say in Miss Gilot’s reconstruction, “I’m pretty nearly desperate. I wonder, really, why I bother to get up. Why should I paint? Why should I continue to exist like this? A life like mine is unbearable.”
Eventually, of course, Picasso permitted himself to be convinced that the world was not in conspiracy against him. Part of his maledicent mood could perhaps be traced to the physical aspects of his bedroom.
“At the far end was a high Louis XIII secretary,” according to Miss Gilot, “and, along the left-hand wall, a chest of the same period, both completely covered with papers, books, magazines and mail that Pablo hadn’t answered and never would, drawings piled up helter skelter, and packages of cigarettes. Above the bed was a naked electric-light bulb. Behind the bed were drawings Pablo was particularly fond of, attached by clothespins to nails driven into the wall.
Letters Pinned on Wires
“The so-called more important letters, which he didn’t answer either but kept before him as a permanent reminder and reproach, were pinned up, also with clothespins, onto wires that stretched from the electric-light wire to the stovepipe. There was almost no other furniture, except a Swedish chair in laminated wood.”
By early afternoon, Picasso, amid the bustle of the household and friends who came to pay him court, was bubbly and sunny. He liked not so much to converse as to talk, and his monologues were usually witty. His agile mind leaped from subject to subject, and he had almost total recall.
He always had several projects in hand at the same time, and to each he seemed equally lavish with his talent. “Painting is my hobby,” he said. “When I am finished painting, I paint again for relaxation.”
“He used no palatte,” Miss Gilot wrote of his working habits. “At his right [as he addressed his easel] was a small table covered with newspapers and three or four large cans filled with brushes standing in turpentine.
“Every time he took a brush he wiped it off on the newspapers, which were a jungle of colored smudges and slashes. Whenever he wanted pure color, he squeezed some from a tube onto the newspaper. At his feet and around the base of the easel were cans–mostly tomato cans of various sizes–that held gray and neutral tones and other colors that he had previously mixed.
Stood for Several Hours
“He stood before the canvas for three or four hours at a stretch. He made almost no superfluous gestures. I asked him if it didn’t tire him to stand so long in one spot. He shook his head.
“‘No,’ he said. ‘That is why painters live so long. While I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.'”
“Occasionally he walked to the other end of the atelier and sat in a wicker armchair. He would cross his legs, plant one elbow on his knee and, resting his chin on his fist, would stay there studying the painting without speaking for as long as an hour.
“After that he would generally go back to work on the portrait. Sometimes he would say, ‘I can’t carry that plastic idea any further today,’ and then begin to work on another painting. He always had several half-dry unfinished canvases to choose from.
“There was total silence in the atelier, broken only by Pablo’s monologues or an occasional conversation; never an interruption from the world outside. When daylight began to fade from the canvas he switched on two spotlights and everything but the picture surface fell away into the shadows.
“‘There must be darkness everywhere except on the canvas, so that the painter becomes hypnotized by his own work and paints almost as though he were in a trance,’ he said. ‘He must stay as close as possible to his own inner world if he wants to transcend the limitations his reason is always trying to impose on him.'”
Mood was a vital ingredient of Picasso. Everything he saw, felt or did was for him an incomplete experience until it had been released and recorded. Once he was lunching on sole and happened to hold up the skeleton so that it caught his glance. He got up from the table and returned almost immediately with a tray of clay in which he made an imprint of the skeleton. After lunch he drew colorful designs around the filigree of the bones, and the eventual result was one of his most beautiful plates.
Here, as in other art areas, when the inspiration was upon him he worked ceaselessly and with such concentration that he could, for example, paint a good-sized picture in three hours.
Just as intensely, Picasso loved to mime, to clown, to play charades, to joke. To amuse his friends (and himself) he would don a tuxedo, red socks and funny hats; or he would put on Chaplinesque garb and engage in horseplay.
Disguises for Visitors
“The moment when disguises are called for most urgently is on the arrival of visitors, especially those from abroad,” Roland Penrose, a British friend, wrote in his “Picasso: His Life and Work.” “The less known or the more intimidating the guest may be, the more likely it is that he will find himself confronted by the master not as he expected to find him but as a burlesque little figure wearing perhaps a yachting cap with horn-rimmed spectacles, a red nose and black side-whiskers and brandishing a saber.”
He put on disguises, too, to romp with children, and they loved him for the ease with which he entered their fantasy world.
Picasso was a short, squat man with broad, muscular shoulders and arms. He was proud of his small hands and feet and of his hairy chest. In old age his body was firm and compact; and his cannon-ball head, which was almost bald, gleamed like bronze. Set into it were deep black eyes of such penetration and alertness that they became his hallmark.
Photographs from his younger years showed him a handsome man with jet-black hair. Apart from the absence of hair, the description of him by Miss Olivier, his first long-term mistress, could have applied to the artist of later years.
“Small, dark, thickset, unquiet, disquieting, with somber eyes, deep-set, piercing, strange, almost fixed,” she wrote. “Awkward gestures, a woman’s hands, ill-dressed, careless. A thick lock of hair, black and glossy, cut across his intelligent, obstinate forehead. Half Bohemian, half workman in his clothes; his hair, which was too long, brushing the collar of his worn-out coat.”
Although at various times in his life Picasso dressed as a dandy, he was never comfortable in conventional clothes. He preferred corduroy or heavy velvet jackets, a T shirt and heavy trousers made of a blanket type of wool. These, after he could afford them, were custom-made in odd designs. Sometimes he varied his get-up by wearing a striped jersey pull-over; and sometimes he just walked around in shorts. It was all a matter of whim.
Scores of Close Friends
Although whim at times governed whom he would see and for how long, Picasso was generally a hospitable host in the Spanish manner. He had scores of close friends–Mr. Kahnweiler, Jean Cocteau, Paul Eluard and Louis Aragon among many others.
However, as with most illustrious men, Picasso attracted gushing admirers and sycophants. Some called him “maestro” and fawned on him for the subsidiary fame that came from standing in his light. He was not above their company; and, indeed, he seemed to have relished some who gave him favorable publicity.
Women were one of Picasso’s most persistent preoccupations. Apart from fleeting affairs, there were seven women significant in his personal and artistic life. He married two of them, but his relationships with the five others were well recognized and generally respected. Two of his companions bore three of his four children.
The artist’s wives and mistresses served as his models, organized the domestic aspects of his household so far as that was possible, petted him, suffered his mercurial moods and greeted his friends.
In Picasso’s early days in Paris, his mistress was Miss Olivier, a young painter and teacher, who lived, as he did, in the Bateau-Lavoir–a Montmartre building called that by the poet and painter Max Jacob because it swayed like a creaky Seine laundry boat.
“I met Picasso as I was coming home one stormy evening,” Miss Olivier recalled. “He had a tiny kitten in his arms, which he laughingly offered me, at the same time blocking my path. I laughed with him. He invited me to his studio.”
Their liaison lasted until 1912, when Picasso met Marcelle Humbert, the mistress of a sculptor friend. The two ran off together, and there followed a series of superb canvases expressing the artist’s happiness. He called Miss Humbert “Eva” and signed two of his works “J’aime Eva.” Miss Humbert died in 1914.
In Rome, early in 1917, he met Olga Khoklova, a ballerina with Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. He painted her in a Spanish mantilla, and he and Olga were married in 1918. Three years later a son, Paolo–Italian for Pablo or Paul–was born.
Separated for 20 Years
The marriage broke up in 1935, and Olga died in southern France 20 years later. The couple were never divorced. One reason, it is said, was that they had been married under a community property arrangement that would have obliged Picasso to divide his fortune with her.
At the time of the separation Picasso’s mistress was his blond model, Marie-Therese Walter. In 1935 she bore him a daughter, Marie de la Concepcion.
A portrait of the girl, known as Maia, was one of Picasso’s most fetching naturalist studies.
Dora Maar, a young Yugoslav photographer, was the painter’s next mistress. Their companionship lasted until 1944.
The same year, when Picasso was 62, he began an 11-year liaison with Miss Gilot. Their children were Claude, born in 1947, and Paloma, born in 1949. In 1970 Miss Gilot was married to Dr. Jonas E. Salk, the polio-vaccine developer.
Picasso’s final attachment was to Jacqueline Roque, who became his mistress in 1955, and his wife in 1961, when she was 35 and he was 79. Miss Roque had a rather wry sense of her role in the painter’s life. A member of a movie crew that was making a picture at their home asked her quite innocently who she was. “Me, I’m the new Egeria,” she replied; and from all accounts she was happy in devoting her life to her husband’s.
Amid the Bohemian clutter in which he lived and thrived, despite the concomitant disarray of his personal affairs, Picasso maintained a strong, consistent and lasting emotional bond to the country of his birth. This bond influenced his painting and, after 1936 and the Spanish Civil War, propelled him for the first time into politics. His attachment to Spain was romantic and passionate; and the fact that he shunned Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s Spain yet kept his Spanish nationality was an expression of his umbilical feeling for the country.
There were two principal consequences of this bond: One was “Guernica” and the other was his membership in the French Communist party, which he joined in 1944. “Up to the time of the Spanish Civil War, Picasso was completely apolitical,” Mr. Kahnweiler, his agent, recalled. “He did not even know the names of the different parties. The Civil War changed all that.”
Previously, Picasso’s insurgency had been that of every artist against the constrictions of conventional life. But with the outbreak of conflict in his homeland, Picasso became instinctively an aroused partisan of the Republican Government.
In January, 1937, he began etching the two large plates of “Sueno y Mentira de Franco” (The Dream and Lie of Franco). These showed the rebel leader as a perpetrator of symbolic horrors–himself ultimately transformed into a centaur and gored to death by a bull. Countless copies of these etchings were dropped like propaganda leaflets over Franco territory.
But it took the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica y Luno on April 26, 1937, to drive Picasso to the heights of his genius. At 4:30 on that cloudless Monday afternoon, German airmen, who had been provided to Franco by Adolf Hitler, descended on Guernica, a town of no military importance, in a test of the joint effect of explosive and incendiary bombs on civilians. The carnage was enormous, and the news of it appalled the civilized world.
At the time Picasso had been engaged by the Loyalist Government to do a mural for its pavilion at a Paris fair later that year. The outrage at Guernica gave him his subject and in a month of furious and volcanic work he completed his great and stunning painting.
In Trust for the Nation
The monochromatic mural, stark in black, gray and white, was retained by the artist in trust for the Spanish nation. It was to be given to the nation when it became a republic again.
Assessing the picture’s searing impact on viewers over the years, Roland Penrose wrote:
“It is the simplicity of ‘Guernica’ that makes it a picture which can be readily understood. The forms are divested of all complications which would distract from their meaning. The flames that rise from the burning house and flicker on the dress of the fallen woman are described by signs as unmistakable as those used by primitive artists.
“The nail-studded hoof, the hand with deeply furrowed palm and the sun illuminated with an electric-light bulb are drawn with a childlike simplicity, startling in its directness.”
“Guernica” was responsible for one of Picasso’s most noteworthy ripostes. During the Nazi occupation of France in World War II, a German officer visited the artist’s studio, where a large reproduction of the mural was on display.
“Ah, so it was you who did that,” the German said.
“No,” snapped Picasso. “You did it!”
Picasso painted two other major historical pictures, “The Korean Massacres” and “War and Peace.” The two large compositions are in an old chapel in Vallauris, France. Both were intended to arouse the conscience of mankind to the horrors of war.
Toward the close of World War II the artist joined the Communist party, and L’Humanite, the party daily, marked the occasion by publishing almost a full-page photograph of him. Although his decision seemed clearly motivated by the Spanish War and the ensuing World War, there were many who thought at first that the action was another of Picasso’s caprices.
He responded to such charges with a statement published in Les Lettres Francaises, which said in part:
“What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only his eyes if he is a painter, or his ears if a musician, or a lyre at every level of his heart if he is a poet, or, if he is merely a boxer, only his muscles?
“On the contrary, he is at the same time a political being, constantly alert to the heart- rending, burning, or happy events in the world, molding himself in their likeness.
“How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people and, because of an ivory- tower indifference, detach yourself from the life they bring with such open hands?
“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war, for attack and defense against the enemy.”
Denounced by Soviet Critic
But Picasso’s brand of Communism was not Moscow’s, at least in the Kremlin’s Stalinist period. In 1948, his works were denounced by Vladimir Kemenov, a Soviet art critic, as an “apology for capitalistic esthetics that provokes the indignation of the simple people, if not the bourgeoisie.”
“His pathology has created repugnant monstrosities,” Mr. Kemenov went on. “In his ‘Guernica’ he portrayed not the Spanish Republic but monsters. He treads the path of cosmopolitanism, of empty geometric forms. His every canvas deforms man–his body and his face.”
Picasso was pained but unmoved by the attack. “I don’t try to advise the Russians on economics. Why should they tell me how to paint?” he remarked to a friend.
About that time, according to one account, an orthodox Soviet painter said to Picasso on being introduced, “I have known of you for some time as a good Communist, but I’m afraid I don’t like your painting.”
“I can say the same about you, comrade,” Picasso shot back.
After Mr. Kemenov’s appraisal, Moscow’s attitude to the artist fluctuated. “The Dove” helped, quite unintentionally, to create a thaw, and it came about this way:
One day in 1949 Matisse came to visit Picasso, bringing a white fantail pigeon for his friend’s cote. Virtually on the spot, Picasso made a naturalistic lithograph of the newcomer; and Louis Aragon, the Communist poet and novelist, who saw it shortly afterward, realized its possibilities at once.
The lithograph, signed by the artist, was first used as a poster at a World Peace Conference. And from that introduction it flew around the world, reproduced in all sizes and in all media as a peace symbol.
Picasso got into Communist hot water again, however, in 1953. This time the attack came from his French comrades. The occasion was Stalin’s death and a crayon portrait that the artist sketched. The imaginative likeness of Stalin as a young man stirred up the working-class members of the French party. Mr. Aragon, who had published it, felt obliged to recant in public, and Picasso was not amused.
“When you send a funeral wreath, the family customarily doesn’t criticize your choice of flowers,” he said.
Nevertheless, in 1954 Moscow appeared to relent, for it took out of hiding its 37 precious early Picassos (they had never been shown to the Soviet public) and lent them to a Paris exhibition. And two years later the Soviet Union marked the painter’s 75th birthday by showing a large number of his pictures and ceramics to the public.
Picasso’s distortions of reality, to which Mr. Kemenov objected, also baffled less political critics who were unaccustomed to the artist’s private language and private mythology or who did not appreciate the esthetics of plane and solid geometry and of Mercator-like projections of the human face and form.
Born on Spain’s South Coast
The man who so largely created the special esthetic of modern art was born on the night of Oct. 25, 1881, in Malaga, on Spain’s south coast.
Picasso’s father was Jose Ruiz, an Andalusian who taught for small pay in the local school of arts and crafts. His mother was Maria Picasso, a Majorcan. Pablo could draw as soon as he could grasp a pencil, but as a pupil in the ordinary sense he preferred looking at the clock to doing sums and reading. Save for art, he managed to avoid all but the rudiments of formal schooling. He was obstinate about this, as in other matters.
As a child, Picasso often accompanied his father to the bullfights. These made an indelible impression, for throughout his life bullring scenes and variations on them were a significant part of his work, recurring more persistently than any other single symbol. His first oil, at the age of 9, was of the bullring.
In 1895 the family moved to Barcelona, where Pablo’s father taught at the School of Fine Arts. By that time the youngster’s talent was truly Mozartean, so obviously so that his father solemnly presented him with his own palette and brushes. This confidence was justified when Pablo, at 15, competed for admission to the art school. A month was ordinarily allowed, but he completed his picture, a male nude, in a single day and was admitted to classes in 1896.
He remained there for a year before going to Madrid for further study. During an illness he lived among the peasants of Catalonia, the poverty and barrenness of whose lives appalled him. From them and from the countryside, he said later, he learned “everything I know.”
Dropped Father’s Name
Late in 1898, the young artist dropped his father’s name from the signature “P. Ruiz Picasso” for reasons that have never been made clear. (His full baptismal name had been Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Nepomuceno Paria de los Remedios de la Santisima Trinidad Ruiz Picasso.)
Picasso paid his first visit to Paris in 1900 and after three more visits settled in Paris in 1904. On one of these visits he met Max Jacob, who was, next to Pierre Reverdy, his most appreciative friend until his death in a Nazi concentration camp. Picasso also became acquainted with Berthe Weill, the art dealer, who purchased some of his paintings, and Petrus Manach, another dealer, who was to support him briefly at the rate of $37.50 a month.
Meanwhile, Picasso’s “blue” pictures had established him as an artist with a personal voice. This period, ending about 1904, was characterized by his use of the color blue to depict fatalistically the haunting melancholy of dying clowns, most of them in catatonic states, and agonized acrobats. “La Mort d’ Arlequin” is one of the most widely known of these.
When the artist moved into the Bateau-Lavoir, his rickety and drafty studio became an important meeting and talking place for persons later to be famous in arts and letters. In addition to Mr. Jacob there were Guillaume Apollinaire, the poet; Andre Salmon, the writer; Matisse; Braque: Le Douanier Rousseau; Juan Gris, the Spanish painter; Cocteau, Dufy, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Utrillo, Lipschitz and Marcoussis. Apollinaire, Picasso’s spiritual guide in those days, introduced him to the public with a long article in a Paris review in 1905.
One of Picasso’s lifelong habits, painting at night, started during this time, and for the simple reason that his day was frequently absorbed by friends and visitors. It was also the time of his two-year “rose period,” generally dated from 1904 to 1906, so-called because hues of that color dominated his pictures.
Near the rose period’s close, he was taken up by the Steins, American expatriates in Paris. Leo and Gertrude did not so much discover the painter as popularize him. He, in turn, did a portrait of Gertrude with a face far from representational. When Miss Stein protested that she didn’t look like that, Picasso replied, “But you will,” and, indeed, in her old age Miss Stein came to resemble her picture.
The year 1907, the end of a very brief “Negroid” or “African period,” was a milestone for the painter, for it marked the birth of cubism in an oil of five distorted nudes called “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.”
With cubism, Picasso–along with Braque–rejected light and perspective, painting not what he saw, but what he represented to himself through analysis. (The name “cubism” was coined afterward, and it was based on the cube forms into which Picasso and Braque tended to break up the external world.)
“When we painted as we did,” Picasso said later, “we had no intention of creating cubism, but only of expressing what was inside us.
“Cubism is neither a seed nor a fetus, but an art which is primarily concerned with form, and, once a form has been created, then it exists and goes on living its own life.”
This was also the case when Picasso added a new dimension to cubism in 1911 or 1912 by inventing the collage by gluing a piece of imitation chair caning to a still life. Later he went on to an even less academic cubism, sometimes called rococo cubism.
Invention of the Collage
These expressions in the cubist manner were not Picasso’s total expression in the years from 1907 to 1917, for at the same time he was painting realistically.
His first substantial recognition came in this period through an exhibition in New York in 1911 and one in London in 1912. His pictures began to fetch high prices–almost $3,000 for “Acrobats” in 1914.
With the war and his marriage to a ballerina, Picasso was a costume designer and scenery painter for the Ballet Russes up to about 1925, all the while painting for himself, mostly in a neoclassic and romantic manner. “The Woman in White” is among the best-known of these naturalistic pictures.
With the advent of the surrealist movement in the middle twenties, the artist’s work turned to the grotesque. Some of his figures were endowed with several heads, displaced noses, mouths and eyes, overenlarged limbs. Turbulence and violence seemed to be at the bottom of his feelings.
Then, in 1929, Picasso returned somewhat abruptly to sculpture, of which he had done little for 15 years. But again it was not a full preoccupation, and he was soon attacking his easel, this time with variations within a distinctive generally surrealistic framework. One typical picture was “Young Woman With a Looking-glass,” painted in 1932.
With these and other pictures of a similar genre, the artist’s renown and income reached new heights. Life was also quieter for him, especially after 1935 when Dora Maar helped put routine into his daily existence. She was also the model for a notable series of portraits in which the Mercator projection principle was applied to the human face.
Serenity, or as much of it as ever was possible for Picasso, persisted until the fall of Paris in 1940. He rejected an opportunity to escape to the United States, and, instead, remained in Paris throughout the war, painting industriously amid considerable personal hardship and the prying of Nazi soldiers. It was forbidden to exhibit his pictures or to print his name in the newspapers.
Lithography and Ceramics
After the war, Picasso became enchanted by lithography, which he taught himself. In a short period he turned out more than 200 lithographs. He was at the same time painting, in Paris and in Antibes, and restlessly investigating pottery. Ceramics entranced him, and his work with clay created an industry for the town of Vallauris, not far from the Riviera. In a single year he made and decorated 600 figures and vessels, all different.
Even this concentration on one medium seemed not to diminish the intensity with which he, at the time, painted, sculptured and illustrated books.
His painting style, although it had moments of naturalism, contained wild reinventions of anatomy but in such an idiosyncratic way that surrealism or any other “ism” did not appear to apply. Picasso had isolated an idiom for himself.
Toward the close of his life he also produced a number of seascapes and paintings as a composer would write variations on another’s theme. Among Picasso’s more notable variations were 10 on Cranach’s “David and Bathsheba,” 15 on Delacroix’s “Femmes d’Alger” and 44 on Velazquez’s “Las Meninas.”
He also painted scores of portraits of his wife in a variety of poses–on a bed fondling a cat, seated nude in his studio, reading. They were portraits only in the sense that they were vaguely representational of Jacqueline Roque, for the figure and the face were almost always distorted.
Many of these pictures were published in “The Artist and His Model.” They gave the impression of a man of unlimited vitality in a perpetual state of creation. As if in confirmation of this, Picasso told a visitor who admired the vigor of the works:
“A painter never finishes. There’s never a moment when you can say, ‘I’ve worked well and tomorrow is Sunday.’ As soon as you stop, it’s because you’ve started again. You can put a picture aside and say you won’t touch it again. But you can never write The End.”
Landscapes were another fascination. Some were of the sunlit terrain near his villa at Notre Dame de Vie; others were of countryside painted from an undimmed memory.
Although the bulk of his paintings were not placed on the market, many were published in color reproduction by Harry N. Abrams in New York, an art book house.
Acclaim Mounted With Age
Popular acclaim for Picasso seemed to mount with his age. In 1967, when he was 86, “Homage to Picasso,” an exhibition of some of his works, drew throngs to museums here and abroad. His sculpture was given a special exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One example of his sculpture, “Bust of Sylvette,” is a 60-ton, sand-blasted work that rests in University Plaza, in downtown New York.
A Picasso play also attracted attention, not to say notoriety. It was “Desire Caught by the Tail,” which he had written in three days on a sickbed in 1941. It was produced privately in Paris three years later with a cast that included the playwright, Simone de Beauvoir, Valentine Hugo, Albert Camus, Raymond Queneau and Jean-Paul Sartre. The main prop was a big black box that served as a bed, bathtub and coffin for the two principal characters, Fat Anxiety and Thin Anxiety. The play’s action was earthy.
When “Desire” was commercially staged in St. Tropez in 1967, it aroused protests even in that resort town’s atmosphere of tolerance. The objection was that some of the characters were expected to urinate on stage. Although this did not take place, the play was thought overly suggestive.
Picasso wrote a second play, “The Four Girls,” in 1965, but it was not produced.
The painter did not venture to St. Tropez for his play, nor did he often leave his hilltop villa in his last years. He seemed to feel the world slipping away from him, especially when his old friends died one after another. He shut himself up, refusing to answer the telephone, for example, to mourn Ilya Ehrenburg in September, 1967.
But for the most part he painted. Rather than stand, he sat down, bending almost in half over his canvas. Age lines in his face underscored an intensity of purpose hardly abated by time. And as he painted his nostrils flared, his eyes widened, he frowned and all the while his hand was never still.
He was, in the words of a friend, “like a sturdy old oaken tub brimful of the wine of life.”
“You would think,” another friend said, “he is trying to do a few more centuries of work in what he has left to live.”
Picasso–Symbol of a Conquest in Art
By John Canaday
Whatever else he was, Pablo Picasso was the most potent single force in the art of the 20th century. Matisse and Kandinsky might rival him as second leaders in the most violent revolution since the Renaissance. But neither of their revolutions was quite as drastic, as far reaching, as varied in manner of assault and foray against tradition as Picasso’s. And yet as soon as the word “tradition” is mentioned, Picasso must be thought of as a colleague of the masters of the past as well as the artist who seemed most to reject them. It has always been typical of Picasso that he could not be captured within a single net. He was this, he was that, he was the other–at one moment a poet, at the next an inspired buffoon; tender and romantic to the point of sentimentality, intellectual to the point of frigidity; now a cynic, now a compassionate man; ebullient in one painting, despairing in another; exquisitely refined, and deliberately brutal.
To think of Picasso as dead is next to impossible. Two generations ago he was already, with Matisse, the most commanding presence in art for an avant-garde that at that time was still small and was still opposed by the academic legions. But for a generation Picasso has been the established symbol not only of the revolution of modern art but also of its conquest of the intellectuals, the collectors, the schools, and the last academic fortresses–the museums. The conquest is so complete that there aer schoolchildren who know Picasso’s name but have never hear of Giotto’s. There are college students who can tell you more about the cubist revolution than the Russian Revolution. Picasso turned the avant-garde into a mass audience.
The one thing that hold’s Picasso’s tremendous body of work together in spite of its unparalleled variety of styles is the sense it gives, in total retrospect, of restlessness, of dissatisfaction with any achievement, of constantly uncovering something new, of throwing it away, picking it up again, inventing, recombining, always searching. Picasso once said, “I do not seek–I find,” but nothing he found ever satisfied him for long.
In a critique, Hilton Kramer suggested that Picasso’s preoccupation during the last years of his life with playing variations on masterpieces of the past was a way of satisfying his hunger for the monumental themes that the past offered its artists. This must be true. Our century has somehow denied even its geniuses among painters themes comparable to the great religious cycles and the glorification of rulers that were once valid, and which were extendable beyond their specific subjects into explorations of the human spirit.
In a century when faith is questioned and government is a matter of practical organization, we are accustomed to saying that modern artists have rejected the world and are content to deal with trivialities or with ivory-tower esthetic problems. But the choice has not been theirs. Michelangelo surely could not find today within religion and society the impulses that generated the Sistine Ceiling, or any substitute for those impulses. It is significant that Picasso, in his one great social statement, the greatest social statement made in painting in this century–his “Guernica”–does not celebrate a victory or an ideal but elegizes a defeat. And now, with his death, the probability that Picasso was defeated by his century becomes clear.
One can no longer wonder what Picasso is going to do next: The line has been drawn. For 70 years his torrential energy constantly burst through conventional boundaries to discover new releases, but his genius, comparable to that of the old masters, never found expressive consummation comparable to theirs. He produced, in a dozen manners, bodies of painting and sculpture that could have been the impressive life work of a dozen artists. He shifted, in his single life as a man, from one creative life to another. We can say again and again that he exhausted a field of experiment–that he exhausted the poignant lyricism of the Blue and Rose periods, exhausted the technical experiment of cubism, exhausted even the nostalgic recall of ancient Greece, exhausted his castigation of the violent and the monstrous, and exhausted them simply because the inexhaustible themes of the past had been shattered into individually exhausted fragments.
But Picasso could not stop working. His creative energy welled up incessantly and demanded incessant release. He was left time and time again with no outlet for his fantastic genius except wit, showmanship and legerdemain. In wit, showmanship and legerdemain he was unsurpassed, but the work that poured out seems sometimes to have been poured out desperately, in the double desperation of releasing intolerable creative pressures and the desperate realization that this great force must be spent trivially.
But the triviality is only comparative. Picasso is being thought of here along with Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Rubens, for he was a gigantic figure in spite of everything. If he is also a tragic figure, it is by the conventions of tragedy that demand a kingly figure fatally vulnerable to a tragic flaw. And in this case the flaw was not in the protagonist, but in the relationship of this century to its artists.
By ALDEN WHITMAN