Art of the 20th Century




A Revolution in the Arts




 





Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 


 

 

 

 
 

 
 


Pablo Picasso



The Image of the Artist  1881-1973
The Making of a Genius  1890-1898
The Art of Youth  1898-1901
The Blue Period  1901- 1904
The Rose Period  1904-1906
In the Laboratory of Art  1906-1907
Analytical Cubism  1907- 1912
Synthetic Cubism  1912-1915
The Camera and the Classicist  1916-1924
A Juggler with Form  1925-1936
War, Art and "Guernica"  1937
The Picasso Style  1937-1943
Politics and Art  1943-1953
The Presence of the Past  1954- 1963
The Case of "Las Meninas"  1957
The Old Savage  1963-1973
The Legend of the Artist


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appendix:

Pablo Picasso - Erotic Drawings 1968-1972
Pablo Picasso and his Women

 

 
 

 

 

 



A Juggler with Form
 1925-1936




 

 

In 1928, in the Paris studio of the Spanish sculptor Julio Gonzales, Picasso made four constructions using iron wire and sheet metal, three of which have survived. Gonzales had been familiarizing his countryman with soldering technique since that March, so that by October Picasso was able to play with some ideas he had for a sculpture. These pieces are models towards a large-scale work he was planning. They are thus fairly small, from 38 to 60 centimetres high, and economical in their use of iron wire of various thicknesses. The straight wires were arranged in long parallels or at acute or obtuse or right angles, and wires bent into arcs or ellipses were added, the whole soldered complex creating an intricate visual image. The impact draws as much upon the combination of linear and spatial elements as on the interplay of straight and curved forms and the varying thickness of the wire.

At first glance these constructions look complicated and confusing. But on closer inspection we see two fundamental features. On the one hand, they present a juxtaposition of geometrical shapes, rectangles, triangles and ellipses grouped spatially into irregular stereometric configurations - extended pyramids, squashed cubes. These figures overlap and interpenetrate each other, so that we see new ones depending on where we stand. On the other hand, at points there are details - small spheres, discs, irregular tricorn ends - recalling, however remotely, the human figure. This encourages us to read the works entirely differently: what looked totally abstract at first now seems to be a stylized representational figure.

The works are like picture puzzles. Picasso's remarkable and noteworthy handling of the fundamentals of sculpture is striking. The use of wire translates form into an issue of linear definition. This is a principle of the draughtsman, not the sculptor. The work created in this way is on a sheet of metal, like a plinth, yet the shapes are in the open, challenging our sense of the tactile impressions that should be conveyed by sculpture. Our literally tactile "grasp" of the work is now transferred to the understanding eye. It is wholly a matter for the intellect, and depends on association. Picasso's approach has serious implications for three-dimensionality, which is fundamental to all sculpture. From any angle, these works become non-spatial patterns of lines. True, we can change our point of view by standing elsewhere, as with any genuinely volumed sculpture; but what we see is not a new spatial shape but a new pattern of lines. Unlike traditional sculpture, these works require an act of the intellect to complete the spatial transfer. The plinth helps us get our bearings. Strictly speaking, these works are three-dimensional transfers of two-dimensional graphics. They were given the label "spatial drawings" by Kahnweiler.

 


Figures (Maquette for a Memorial to Apollinaire)
1928

 

It is an apt label, as Picasso's preliminary studies show. These possess practically the same degree of three-dimensionality. The sculptures evolved from pure draughtsmanship. In 1924, Picasso did well over fifty linear ink drawings in a sketchbook, using curved and straight lines and adding solid circles at the bridge points. As we know from statements the artist made in 1926, maps of the night sky inspired these drawings. Picasso was fascinated by astronomical charts, which represented stars as thick dots and joined them up with thin lines to show constellations. The representational and the abstract interacted. It was only an act of assertive recognition that gave significance to the meaningless figure. Picasso took the same approach. He used a technical method to craft concrete forms empty of content, and then imposed meaning on them in an arbitrary act of the maker's will.

 

The ambiguity of formal meaning, the open expressive significance of an art object, the fundamental doubts concerning images conveyed by draughtsmanship - all these basic issues entered into Picasso's picture puzzles, on page and plinth alike. It was a new approach to something that had repeatedly concerned Picasso since his Rose Period: thinking about the nature of art became itself the occasion for an artwork and its meaning. But now, unlike in earlier periods, the principle was foregrounded and stood alone. The genre of artwork, its material form, was now primarily of a pragmatic nature. The nature of Picasso's work underwent a clear change, compared with the period immediately preceding this phase.

From 1916 to 1924, because he was testing the visual media, painting and drawing predominated. Autonomous art and applied art were as polarized as cause and effect. From 1925 to 1936, Picasso tackled sculpture, with an intense copiousness of production that can only be called explosive. He juxtaposed all the two-and three-dimensional forms of expression, or used them sequentially. The unceasing alternation of media was matched by an interplay of forms. In 1928, for instance, he did two small plaster figurines, later cast in bronze. The restless shapes, shifting sharply from thick to thin, from open form to closed, have been made into figures largely abstract in character yet still reminiscent of human shapes. Everything is rounded; the flux of form seems fluid, as if a dynamic process were arrested and frozen. Legs, breasts, heads, eyes, noses protrude in a transitional smoothness from what seems an almost amorphous mass. These figures also took their origins from drawings, this time of an illusionist, three-dimensional nature rather than a purely linear character.

 


Bather (Metamorphosis I)
1928


Bather (Metamorphosis II)
1928

 

 

 

Sketchbooks dating from 1927 show endless variations of a basic figure. This is Picasso looking back; but he is doing so in pursuit of a decided transformation of form. The subject of bathers, of which he had already done numerous studies in 1920-1921, is now dealt with purely in terms of formal impact. The parts of the body are elongated or compressed or thinned out almost to lines in a process that seems mechanical, but are also conveyed in organic softness - the mechanical and organic loosely or tightly combined into a whole. At last, in 1928, Picasso rigorously dissected the structures, and on his drawing paper he worked on configurations geometrical in leaning. They are angular and straight, flat and solid, spheres and elliptical shapes that look as if they were made of stone. The sculptures that resulted were organic in form - and that was how the "Metamorphoses"came about. In paintings, though, Picasso revised the thematic function of his abstraction, placing it in bathing scenes where the compositions feature a veritable ballet of amorphous shapes on the beach.

 


Sketchbook No. 95
1927

 


Bather with Beach Ball (Sketchbook No. 96)
1928

 


Bather with Beach Ball (Sketchbook No. 96)
1928

 


Bather
1928

 


Bather Opening a Beach Cabin
1928

 

 


Ballplayers on the Beach
1928

 

 


Bather
1928

 

 


Bathers on the Beach
1928

 

 


The Swimmer
1929

 

 

Some years later, in 1932, this chain of variations culminated in the oil "Bather with Beach Ball". The visual opulence of this work at once proves it a peak achievement, a final point along a development, the sum of a long series of studies, experiments and insights. The composition, seemingly simple and yet subtle, is typical Picasso in its use of correspondences and contrasts. Angular forms are juxtaposed with rounded ones; naturalistic features appear alongside abstract. Spheres and shapes like clubs, thick, sweeping, dense, form a figure that has a distantly human appearance. Legs apart, arms crossed as she leaps, the bather has just caught a ball that makes a distinctly tiny impression beside her bulky body. The figure almost completely fills the canvas, this, with Picasso's use of a vertical diagonal, making the sense of movement all the more dynamic. Taken with the clumsiness of this body, the crass pattern of the bathing suit, the beach cabin and the blue sea, Picasso's view of life at the seaside is distinctly humorous.
 

 


Bather with Beach Ball
1932

 

 

But for Picasso form in itself was devoid of content; so he considered himself at liberty to interchange forms and substitute other contents. A 1931/1932 set of variations on a female portrait is almost programmatic in this respect. His starting point for a large number of drawings, graphic works, sculptures and paintings was the head of a woman with what is known as a Greek profile, an arc that might have been drawn with compasses tracing the line from brow to skull to a falling curtain of hair. The chin seems an exact reversal of the forehead. Picasso treats these two areas as equivalent in formal terms; he takes them apart and reassembles them into new, capricious forms. In one sculptured bust, for instance, he fashions the hair and brow into a solid, fleshy roll. He leaves this in the position where we would expect to see this kind of shape in a face, and simply scratches in a few parallel lines to indicate a hair-do and nose. The eyes and mouth, by contrast, are in an almost conventional albeit coarsely mimetic style. The head is a synthesis of the mimetic and the arbitrary.
 


Head of a Woman
(Marie-Therese Walter)
1931


Bust of a Woman
(Marie-Therese Walter)
1931

 

In a work done on 2 January 1932 Picasso drew on the fruits of his sculptural work and transferred those insights, with slight variations of detail, to paint. This picture, "Reading", shows a seated woman, her body disassembled and reconstructed. Picasso proceeded to work variations on this process. One shows a woman seated in a red armchair, her arms, hands, torso, breasts and head spherical or club-like shapes, as if hewn from stone. Picasso was transferring the tactile qualities of sculpture into his painting. In the combination of semi-abstract, stylized forms with clear reminiscences of the human body, such paintings continue the 1927-1928 variations on the subject of bathers which Picasso had repeatedly drawn.

This series peaked in April 1932 in the painting "Woman with a Flower". Two-dimensional areas of colour, boldly and sweepingly outlined, are juxtaposed with similar areas that bear witness to a modelling, three-dimensionalizing instinct. The head is like a kidney, with lines for mouth, nose and eyes. The picture is related to a sculpture done the previous year in which the long, irregular cylinder of the stand looks like an Alice in Wonderland neck and supports a head made of a number of smoothly interlocking heart-shaped solids. The eyes are scratched in as flat, pointed ovals. The mouth is a declivity walled about by a roll of flesh. And the nose has been displaced.

 


Reading
1932

 


Woman with a Flower
1932

 


Seated Woman in a Red Armchair
1932

 


Woman in a Red Armchair
1932

 


Head of a Woman
1931


Bather
1931

 

 

 

Picasso's juggling with form found support at that period in another new movement that had emerged from Dada: Surrealism. In summer 1923 Picasso met the leader of the movement, the writer Andre Breton, and did an etching of him. In 1924 Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto. In it he proposed that the subconscious was a more valid mode of perceiving reality than rational thought and sense. He advocated dreams and the visions of madness as an alternative to reason. He was inspired by Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic writings, and by the poetry of Rimbaud, Mallarme, Lautreamont and Apollinaire, from whose work the label of the new movement was indirectly derived. Surrealism's aim was to reveal the subconscious realm of dreams by exploring avenues opened up by psychoanalysis. It disregarded the causal order of the perceptible world and set out to counter it with an unlimited use of the irrational. In this way, individual life would undergo a revolutionary transformation: feeling and expressive potential would be infinitely enhanced and extended.

The Surrealists were opposed to all artistic procedures based on conscious reason. In its place they put chance, trivia, and a revaluation of plain everyday sensation. Originally a literary movement, it quickly embraced the visual arts too, and a number of new techniques were developed. The most important of them were frottage, which (like brass rubbing) calls for the production of visual, textural effects by rubbing, and grattage, a kind of reverse frottage, in which paint is thickly applied and then scraped off revealing the layer underneath. Nor should we forget Ecriture automatique, the Surrealists' rediscovery of automatic writing and equivalent procedures in painting and drawing whereby what mattered was to suspend rational control and allow the subconscious to express itself directly via the text or image produced.

 

One of their points of reference was also Picasso, as a pioneer of art and inventor of new methods. His playful approach to the meaning of form, his loose disdain for convention, made him appear a fellow spirit. A sculptural construction of Picasso's was reproduced in the first number of their periodical, "La Revolution surrealiste", in December 1924. In the second, in January 1925, two pages of the sketchbook of "Constellations" which he had done in summer 1924 at Juan-les-Pins were reproduced. The fourth issue used Picasso's painting "The Dance" and - reproduced for the first time in France - "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". In 1925 Picasso exhibited at the first joint Surrealist show-in the Galerie Pierre in Paris. He did portraits of Surrealist writers for their books, and in 1933 one of his collages was taken for the title page of the new magazine, "Minotaure".

 


Minotaur and Horse
1935

 

 

This contact, though continuing for several years, was not without conflict. When the ballet "Mercure" was first performed in 1924, with Picasso's set design and costume, several Surrealists protested at his involvement, claiming the event was merely a benefit show for the international aristocracy. It is true that Etienne Comte de Beaumont was involved in producing the ballet. But Breton, Louis Aragon and other Surrealists, impressed by the fertility of Picasso's imagination, published an apology in the "Paris Journal" headed "Hommage a Picasso". Picasso, for his part, accused the Surrealists of not having understood him, in a lengthy statement on the aims and intentions of his art published in 1926. To prove his point, he referred to the interpretations the Surrealists had written to accompany the sketchbook drawings printed in their magazine in 1924. In the 1950s, he observed that his work before 1933 had been free of Surrealist influences.

 

We might reply by pointing to the publication of his work in Surrealist periodicals, and to his close personal relations with certain members of the group, such as Paul Eluard, a lifelong friend. The fact is that Surrealist influences in his art are many and various. From de Chirico to Joan Miro, he registered Surrealist painting precisely, taking it as a model, and was particulary inspired by Surrealist sculpture, especially works by Alberto Giacometti.

Not that the borrowings were ever isolated occurrences. Picasso adapted what he took to his own purposes, and combined it with borrowings from altogether different kinds of art. Thus his 1931/32 sculptures of women's heads are related to Matisse's bust "Jeannette V", made between 1910 and 1913, and also to the mask-like "Portrait of Professor Gosset" done by Raymond Duchamp-Villon in 1918, in which Cubist and Futurist elements are combined.. Picasso was also inspired by designs for female busts and full-length figures the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz was doing after 1930. The latter's broken-form sculptures, called "transparents", alongside Picasso's own sketches of "constellations", were the most important source for the wire constructions of 1928.

 



Bullfight: Death of the Toreador
1933

 

 

Like the Surrealists, Picasso too explored the visual potential of tactile qualities. There are a number of affinities in technical methods, the use of montage, and the further development of collage and assemblage. Yet still the tensions that existed between Picasso and the Surrealists were the product of deep-seated differences. It is no exaggeration to say that their respective aims and intentions were in fact diametrically opposed. For that very reason there were superficial overlaps in the approach to artistic experiment and the transformation of conventional techniques and modes of expression. The assemblages Picasso did in spring 1926, which were published that summer in "La Revolution surrealiste", point up the differences of creative method nicely. The assemblages consist of just a few, simple, everyday things. Scraps of linen and tulle, nails, string, buttons and newspaper are put together to make almost abstract images.

 

In "Guitar", for instance, Picasso has arranged a piece of sackcloth, a scrap of newspaper, two long nails and some string in such a way that what looks like a random collection of objects takes on the appearance of a "picture". By referring to the title we can read this picture as representational. The cut-out circle in the middle of the cloth echoes the hole in a guitar's soundboard, and the two nails loosely suggest the strings. The yellowed newspaper denotes the side and bottom of the instrument, and the string must presumably represent the (oddly angled) neck. The image is wholly non-naturalistic, and the form contrasts with that of an actual guitar. But in its details there are enough similarities to establish the concept of a guitar. Picasso is continuing the line of Synthetic Cubism here, seeing the picture as a system of signs, the arbitrary nature of which leaves the imagination leeway for untrammelled invention. The possibility of recognition is anchored in concepts and definitions, and happens entirely in the intellect.

Surrealism does exactly the opposite. It too primarily operates with a conceptual system, but its techniques and aims alike depend on the irrational. Scarcely controlled creative acts may produce random results, or logical and meticulous labour may produce images beyond rational interpretation; that is not the point. In the former case, form expresses the artist's subconscious and appeals to the beholder's emotions. In the latter, the beholder's subconscious is activated via feeling even though he has no rational access to the work. In terms of form and the meaning of form, however, emotion plays no part at all in Picasso's work.

 

 


Guitar
1926

 

 

This is not to say that no feeling is involved in the impact of his work. But it is different. For the Surrealists, form is the trigger of a chain of associations which are suggestive of emotional states and linked to the spiritual condition of instinctual mankind. In Picasso, form is free, autonomous. He appeals to the emotions to prompt conflict or even shock, starting an intellectual process in the course of which we reflect not on ourselves but on art. That was the aim of the picture-puzzle line-and-point sketches of summer 1924 which led to the wire sculptures of autumn 1928. These works avowedly play off the abstract against the representational, the spatial against the graphic. But Picasso had a particular reason, drawn from the theory of art, for using linear studies to make constructions. Their form reveals his purpose.

Linearity and space are dialectically juxtaposed. The iron rods stand for tactile, material volume. But they also look like lines, and seem two-dimensional. Since we interpret them as denoting outlines, they establish figures. But the material they outline is air -neither visible nor palpable. Paradoxically, these sculptures use a substance the spatial content of which is literally immaterial. What Picasso has sculpted is nothing-ness. This was what he was after.

 

The maquettes were done in response to a commission. The Association of Friends of Apollinaire planned to erect a memorial to the poet on the tenth anniversary of his death, and approached Picasso, who aptly tackled the project in the spirit of a phrase Apollinaire had written: "the statue made of nothing, of vacancy". Apollinaire was thinking of a monument to a poet; so it seemed doubly appropriate to Picasso to borrow this thought from his friend. The evident relation to the human figure derives its meaning from this consideration too: Picasso evolved his idea in order to put the 19th century's outmoded notions of memorials aside, for good. The representational, figural echo alludes to the tradition of monuments, but in a radical form that departs conspicuously from the tradition. Unfortunately Picasso's idea was too daring and progressive for his contemporaries. The committee turned it down.

Not till much later did the artist have the chance to realize his ideas, at least in part. In 1962 he himself had two large-scale versions of the four maquettes made, one 115 centimetres high, the other 200, intended as intermediate stages towards a finished version on a monumental scale. In 1973, shortly before his death, one version over four metres high was put up in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. No longer able to see it for himself, Picasso followed the progress of the work through reports and photographs. Finally, in 1985, when the Picasso Museum was opened in Paris, another version almost five metres high was put up there.


Man and Woman
1927

 

 

The basic idea remained alive in Picasso's oeuvre. In 1931 he used 16 of the 1924 sketches to illustrate a bibliophile edition of Honore de Balzac's tale "Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu". Again the line-and-point constructs, neutral in themselves, were placed in a theoretical context. Balzac's story of the unknown masterpiece is about translating the absolute into art. It tells of a 17th-century painter whose ambition is to express an ideal, perfect illusion of life, beyond all specifics of form, colour and perspective. When he has been at work on his masterpiece for ten years, friends - among them the French painter Poussin - persuade him to let them see it. What the shocked group see, instead of the portrait of a lady they have been led to expect, is a chaotic jumble of colours and lines.

At that time, Picasso was particularly interested in the applied art of book illustration. The subjects he searched out were closely connected with his own work towards self-reflexive art. He employed a variety of etching processes (cold needle, line etching and aquatint) for this work, which included thirteen classicist etchings also for Balzac's novella, thirty etchings done in 1930 for publisher Albert Skira for an edition of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" which appeared the following year, and one hundred plates done between 1930 and 1937 which became the "Suite Vollard" in 1939. The same familiar repertoire of subjects recurred: painter and model, bullfight, bathers, nudes, acrobats. The works have titles such as "Sculptor Resting with Model in his Arms" or "Sculptor with Model at a Window". Sculptors or painters with models account for the greatest part of these works. Painters and sculptors, themselves drawn naturalistically, can make abstract figures from real originals, Picasso is saying - or naturalistic images from abstract models. These sequences of graphics, deconstructed twofold, bring home the work of the artist. This applies to the return to antiquity too, a constant in Picasso's work since his youth. It was not only the classical style that provided a point of reference for formal matters, but also the subject matter of myths illustrated.

 

Ovid's "Metamorphoses", the most illustrated of all books after the Bible, deals with the entirety of the ancient world's mythology. Its presence in European art has been a long and signal one. On a political level, it moves from the beginning of the world to the new Golden Age under Emperor Augustus (Ovid's contemporary). In a sense the "Metamorphoses" are sublime propaganda. The book, true to its title, tells of heroes and heroines transformed into animals, plants, streams, stars and so forth. Metamorphoses of this order are the proper province of the creative artist. If he wishes he can use the aesthetic norms and subjects of antiquity; but he can also make a faun into an artist, transform a stone into organic substance, and then metamorphose it back to a stone.

As always, Picasso did not observe the bounds of one artistic genre. He combined elements from various sources, and transferred his figurations and motifs from drawings to printed graphics, from etchings to paintings. Thus in the 1933 "Silenus Dancing in Company" we have a gouache and India ink variation on a baroque theme. In late 1931, in "The Sculptor", Picasso transferred to an oil painting the 1931/32 female busts from the painter-and-model theme, and transposed the formal puzzle component to both figures, the artist and the statue created by him. The motifs are repeated in a distinctly different 1933 treatment in ink, India ink, watercolour and gouache which again shows the sculptor and his work.

 


Silenus Dancing in Company
1933

 

The Sculptor
1931

 


The Sculptor and His Statue
1933

 

 


Sculptor and Kneeling Model
1933

 

 


Table of Etchings
1931

 

 

A large number of Picasso's etchings are responses to Rembrandt. In three, the Dutch baroque painter appears with his model, but many other plates in the "Suite Vollard" document Picasso's approach to Rembrandt. One unfinished Rembrandt etching shows the artist and his model. Picasso not only played numerous variations on the theme of a female nude seen from the rear together with an artist seen frontally. He was also interested in formal aspects of the Rembrandt work. He adopted the contrast of richly cross-hatched areas with plain outline drawing, using it elsewhere with different subjects. Both types of quotation - of form and of motif - acted as an analysis of the artist himself. Picasso was placing himself on a par with Rembrandt - a high ambition indeed, for Rembrandt is widely seen as the master of etching, and in Picasso's time was considered the greatest artist of all time. Picasso was asserting that he himself was Rembrandt's legitimate successor, that he himself was the most important 20th-century artist.

There is a contrast to Surrealist intentions and techniques. Picasso transfers a clearly definable content to his pictures, his system of signs directly related to the message to be conveyed. In Surrealism, the visual sign is an enigma, an instrument of encodement; deep and inward meditation is required to decode the image. For Picasso, form and content are mutually determinant, in a way that is ultimately perfectly traditional. They serve either the exploration of visual problems or the analysis of a subject. Picasso's titles define the content; Surrealist titles add a layer of obfuscation.

In summer 1925, in his painting "The Dance", Picasso reworked studies drawn that spring when visiting the Ballets Russes in Monte Carlo, purely representational ones playing off linear effects against economical three-dimensionality. He now combined this interplay with what he had learnt from the papiers colles, finding a way of heightening the ecstatic dynamism of the action in the most evocative of styles. But there is far more to the picture. In a gap towards the top right, silhouetted against the blue sky, we see the profile of Ramon Pichot, a friend of Picasso's who had recently died. The painting is dedicated to him. What looks like a pure celebration of joie de vivre turns out to portray the old Spanish custom of dancing around the dead when they are laid out. This redefinition of the subject is perfectly matched to the redefinition of form; as in the later maquettes for the Apollinaire memorial, the picture-puzzle component has a distinct function.

 

 


The Dance
1925

 

 

That year, Picasso created another masterpiece of formal metamorphosis, "The Kiss", a truly awful picture - but wonderful too! A manifesto of new ways of expression, it presents the aggressive, violent and primitive aspects of the act of love with a brutality scarcely ever attempted before. It makes demands on us. We have to disentangle what we see, gradually discovering at the top, amidst the seeming chaos of loud colours and contrasts, mouths locked in a devouring kiss; a figure at left, holding another in an embrace; an exploded backbone atop straddled legs. But what looks like a mouth or eye, soulfully intimate, is in fact a vagina about to be "eaten", and at the bottom of the picture we are provocatively confronted with an anus - balancing the composition in ribald parody of classical laws of composition. Not until late work done in the 1960s did Picasso again treat sexuality thus.
A picture as aggressive as "The Kiss" was of course not merely the articulation of an artistic programme. It came out of personal experience. Picasso's marriage to Olga was not a happy one. They shared few interests, neither communicating nor enriching each other's lives. Art here mirrors reality, expresses it vividly.

 

 


The Kiss (The Embrace)
1925

 

 

A similar process is at work in the female bust that recurs frequently in the sculptures, drawings, graphics and paintings from 1931 on. The features are those of Marie-Therese Walter, Picasso's young lover. In January 1927, aged 45, he had met the girl, then aged just 17, outside Lafayette's, a Paris department store. The story goes that he used the corniest approach in the book: "You have an interesting face, Mademoiselle. I should like to paint you. My name is Picasso." The name meant nothing to her, but she agreed. Within months she was his lover. But he was still married, and had to keep the relationship secret. In the years that followed there was many an undignified scene and incident. It was not till 1935 that Picasso finally left his wife, when Marie-Therese gave birth to their daughter Maja. The artist called it the worst time of his life. But it was also the climax of a fraught situation that had been affecting the subjects and formal approaches of his art for years. We need only look at the 1932 painting "Girl Before a Mirror". The girl is Marie-Therese. Picasso preferred this picture of his lover to all the others. In the paradoxical tension between the motif of tranquil contemplation and the agitated style in which it is painted, Picasso has conveyed far more than an everyday moment. Marie Therese is studying her reflected image closely; but this simple attitude is transformed by the wild colours and assertive lines. It is as if we were seeing her at once clothed, naked, and revealed in X-ray image. The picture is full of sexual symbolism. In other works of the period, distress and violent feeling are apparent in the visible tension.

 

 


Girl Before a Mirror (Marie-Therese Walter)
1932

 

 

 From 1930 on, we frequently find the Christian motif of the crucifixion, partly using historical originals such as Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim altarpiece, of which Picasso did a small paintingand a 1932 series of India-ink variations. Above all, he dealt with relations between the sexes, in numerous variations on his artist-and-model subject but also in a new version of his bullfight pictures: the motif of the Minotaur. Picasso approached the mythical subject in characteristic fashion. In Greek myth, the Minotaur was the son of Pasiphae - wife of Minos, King of Crete - by a white bull. The king had the half-human, half-animal creature confined to a labyrinth, and every ninth year (at the close of every Great Year) seven Athenian youths and seven Athenian maidens were offered up to the Minotaur - till finally Theseus, with Ariadne's help, slew the beast. In the 19th century the Minotaur was increasingly divorced from its mythic context, and the Surrealists took it as a symbolic figure. Andre Masson portrayed it, and a Surrealist magazine started in 1933, to which Picasso contributed, had its name for a title. Picasso used the subject as a vehicle for personal and historical material.

 


The Crucifixion
1930

 


The Crucifixion (after Grunewald)
1932

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