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



_______

appendix:

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

 
 

 

 

 



The Presence of the Past
 1954-1963




 

 

 

 

On 2 and 3 June 1954 at Vallauris, Picasso painted two portraits of a mystery woman called "Madame Z". One shows her in three-quarter profile, in a crouch, arms crossed around her knees; the other is a bust profile pure and simple. Both are profiles in the sense that they convey the characteristics of the sitter; but they are also experiments in the complementary effects of draughtsmanly methods in painting. The canvas in each case has been divided up into large, irregular blocks of colour; the figures themselves are mere outlines, defined with a few economical lines. Black and white contrast baldly, with each other and with the strong colours. Hatched areas pick up the line emphasis of the portraits. The use of correspondences extends into details: crudely painted dark grey patches of shadow match other zones of restless brushwork, and both are at variance with the clear lines and even areas of colour. Some months later, in October 1954, Picasso returned to his subject in two further versions of the crouching woman in which he pursued his play with form. The June composition was the point of departure for both works, in which Cubist dissociation and elements of the synthetic "Picasso style" interact. Picasso was now highlighting different colour effects. Blue, violet and grey alongside white and matt orange, in one, produce a gradation of tonalities; in the other painting, green and blue bluntly juxtaposed with red and yellow explode in contrastive brightness. One more time, in January 1959, Picasso returned to the subject in a series of fairly small canvases. The changes we see him making in the compositional nature of the subject serve to explore the tensions between colourful zones and white. It is the colour areas that vary, red in one painting, green in the next. The figure and the interior setting are placed with just a few lines and simple blocks; Picasso was plainly little interested in conveying the specific nature of his subject, as had still been the case in the 1954 portraits. Now the pictures are things of haste, done for effect. They reduce the art of painting to first principles. The craftsman's mastery is of secondary importance. And the series principle triumphs too.

All of this is characteristic of Picasso's work from the later 1950s on, a period customarily seen as one in which he expressed personal experience in his creative work.

 

 


Portrait of Jacqueline Roque with Flowers
1954

 

 


Portrait of Jacqueline Roque with Arms Crossed
1954

 


Jacqueline in a Crouch
1954

 


Jacqueline in a Crouch
1954

 

 

 There is some justice in this view of course. In the "Madame Z" cycle that justice is self-evident: the woman is Jacqueline Roque, whom Picasso met in summer 1953 when his relationship with Francoise Gilot was coming to a gradual end, and whom he would marry in 1961. Picasso's private life also entered his work in pictures of Claude and Paloma, his two children by Francoise. But, as in the Jacqueline portraits, the meaning of these paintings is not solely a personal one. Both works, dating from 1954, show the children drawing, once on their own, once under the eye of a female figure. In painting his own children drawing, Picasso was reflecting upon his own art: the paintings were not so much original works as new versions of older ones. The motif went back to 1923 when he portrayed his son Paul. The scene including a watchful mother, dated 17 May 1954, was a variation on a 1943 painting showing a mother helping her child in its first attempts to walk, in turn a variation on the 1937 "Great Bather with Book".

 

 


Claude Drawing, Francoise and Paloma
1954

 

 


Claude and Paloma Drawing
1954

 

 

Personal material and constant repetition were twin faces of the same phenomenon. Picasso was now scarcely concerned to mirror the outside world. Instead, he took his own work as the centre of the creative universe. As in the Twenties and Thirties, this self-reflexive vein led him to the studio itself, and archetypal scenes of the artist at work with his model, as subjects.

In 1955 Picasso bought La Californie, a sumptuous 19th-century villa splendidly situated on the hills above Cannes, with a view right across to Golfe-Juan and Antibes. He established a studio on the upper floor, and in the numerous 1955-1956 studio scenes motifs from that studio blend with the villa's architectural features. La Californie's opulent art nouveau decor, the garden with its palms and eucalyptus trees, the furniture, the painting paraphernalia, all prompted detailed, assured, harmonious paintings, among the finest of Picasso's old age, combining simple representation with the techniques of his Cubist period in sophisticated ways. An overall formal unity was supplied by the prevailing linearity of La Californie's interior. The cupboards, windows, walls, easels and paintings constituted a loose ensemble, the elements of which lent weight to each other. In the picture done on 30 March 1956, Picasso used a simple but witty device to underline his own creative inventiveness, placing at the centre of the studio scene a fresh, virgin canvas awaiting the artist. The pure, white, empty space contrasts with the rest of the picture and is also its prime subject. The picture within a picture was one of Picasso's traditional motifs; through it, he grants us access to the very essence of the creative process. Picasso is showing us his power. He can make a world out of nothing.
 

 


The Studio at "La Californie", Cannes
1956

 

 

The marginally later "Jacqueline in the Studio" makes the same point in a slightly different way: Picasso's partner, seen in a villa interior, is positioned against an empty canvas in such a way that we cannot be certain whether her image is Jacqueline herself or a portrait of her within the portrait.

As Picasso well knew, creative power such as his had its less happy side: freedom accompanied by a sense of compulsion, the virgin canvas crying out to be painted on, for the artist to supply constant proof of his power. But still his studio picture is optimistic, showing that Art can vanquish the void: beside the blank canvas, two others in varying degrees of completion are on the floor. Not that work already done can serve as a substitute for present work; it is no more than proof of past productiveness. This insight may explain the frenetic output of Picasso's late years. At times he painted three, four, even five pictures in a single day, driven by the compelling urge to prove himself anew over and over again.
 


Jacqueline in the Studio
1956

 


Woman in the Studio
1956

 

 

In his old age, Picasso transferred to his art the task of expressing the vitality which was ebbing from his life. And his tireless activity was also a way of confirming his own accomplishment, perhaps even going further: more, it had to be more. Hence, for instance, the new graphic works which, when successful, articulated lifelong fascinations in a succinct and impeccably judged manner - for instance, the 1957 etching series "La Tauromaquia". All of the etchings are precise records of carefully-observed scenes, using just a few dabs and strokes, quickly but perfectly done. All but the title leaf were aquatint etchings, which enabled Picasso to use solid-printed blocks. The complexity of the process is essentially at odds with spontaneity or the snapshot recording of bullfight scenes, and it is this incongruity that lends Picasso's series its particular genius. Using the most economical of means he achieves a maximum of effect. A handful of lines mark the extent of the arena and grandstand; dabs represent the spectators; and grey and black patches add up to the precision-placed image of a torero, say, driving his banderillas into the neck of an attacking bull. Picasso's style succeeds particularly well in conveying the physical bulk of the bull, its dynamic presence, and its nimble movements. The renderings may appear hasty, but in fact Picasso's images are the product of many years of interest in the subject. It was an interest that united personal experience and art history. Picasso was taking his bearings from Goya, transposing the older painter's classic treatment of the bullfight theme into modern terms and, in the process, proving himself Goya's equal. Similar proof was provided by over a hundred sheet-metal, collapsable sculptures done between 1959 and 1963, continuing what had begun in a smith's workshop at Vallauris in 1954. As early as "Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle", for instance, the bottle was not the usual full-volumed object, but rather sheet metal soldered together. Picasso was out to challenge spatial perception with contrastively juxtaposed kinds of visual experience. Now, he continued this line with three-dimensional works, taking the transfer from the two-dimensional plane to spatial presence as their first principle. He cut out paper shapes, folded them as he required, then, blowing up the size with meticulous precision, had a smithy make sheet-metal versions. The last stage was to paint them in such a way as to establish spatial effects that he had sketched in on his paper maquettes. These metal creations were a variation on what he had been doing in his sculptural collage work in the synthetic Cubism phase, but also harked back to the wire constructions thought out for the Apollinaire memorial in 1928: the graphic and the sculptural constructs coincided in such a way as to question principles of transfer.

 


Bullfight Scene
1955

 


Bullfight Scene
1955
 


La Tauromaquia (3)
1957

 


La Tauromaquia (12)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (14)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (16)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (17)
1957

 


La Tauromaquia (18)
1957

 


La Tauromaquia (19)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (20)
1957

 


La Tauromaquia (21)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (23)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (25)
1957
 


La Tauromaquia (26)
1957
 

 

The extent to which Picasso was drawing on his own work in these sheet-metal sculptures can be demonstrated down to details of motif. The 1961 "Football Player" is a perfect example of this. The figure, seen in mid-game, has his left arm raised, his right swung down in an arc. There is a classical contrapposto in the position of the legs, the left providing the vertical axis of the composition, the right wide and high. The figure has been foreshortened as in a picture, the limbs appearing in different sizes - a fact which we have been trained by convention to interpret as registering different distances from the point of view. The impression is one of power and energy, heightened by the S-shape of the figure. The footballer is plainly about to put his full force into a kick. However, no player would strike quite this attitude. Not that the movement in itself is impossible; but it is untypical, because in kicking a long shot no player would raise the arm on the same side of his body as the leg he is standing on, or lower the arm on the same side as the leg he is taking the kick with - the energy that went into the opposed movements would cancel out, and little power would be left to go into the kick itself. A real football player would automatically behave in exactly the opposite way. Picasso's figure only makes sense if we imagine him moving forwards as he jumps. His unstable position recalls a dancer; and in fact the figure originated in a dance environment. The artist was drawing on studies he had drawn of the Ballets Russes in 1919 and which he had worked on further in the Twenties. Calling the figure a football player is sleight of hand. The trick is made plausible purely by the painted shirt, shorts and boots. Sculpture such as this is not intended as a mimetic representation of reality; rather, it sets out to play with the basics of visual experience. And deception is the fundamental principle of this art.
 

 


Football Player
1961

 

 

This was nothing new in the Fifties; Picasso was reworking principles he had already established. We might analyse the great figural group of "Bathers", which Picasso made in 1956, in much the same terms. In it, the emphatically simple principle of construction becomes the true subject. The stereometric quality of the group links it to the block-and-line works of the Twenties; the importance of the material recalls the assemblages of the Forties and early Fifties; and, like the collapsible sheet-metal sculptures, the roots of the work lie in the material collages of synthetic Cubism. The sculpture looks back to Picasso's own innovations in technique; and the subject is retrospective in character too, recalling the series of pictures of bathers which Picasso did in the Twenties. In several of those compositions he was playing with relief Tike volume and geometrically-inspired forms. The plasticity of the 1956 "Bathers" results from the transfer to another material. At times, Picasso's habitually self-referential mode can seem hermetic.

 


The Bathers
1956

 

 


Bathers on the Beach at La Garoupe
1957

 

 

His self-referential habit distinguished the Picasso of old age fundamentally from earlier Picassos. His great fame and his withdrawal from public life were the twin poles of his existence: inevitably, they accompanied an artistic isolation that was far-reaching. This is only paradoxical at first glance. As a popular figure - comparable to film stars or politicians who are constantly in the limelight -Picasso had been mythologized into a living legend, stripped of everyday normality in the public mind. He left Paris in order to work undisturbed in the pleasant climate of the south; and his isolation inevitably grew. The situation was complicated by the fact that the post-occupation now beginning in political and cultural life, which had claimed Picasso as the figurehead of rehabilitated and revitalized Modernism, had obscured a fact which was already becoming apparent in the 1940s: Picasso was no longer in the contemporary mainstream of developments in art.

Since Surrealism, innovation in modern art had been taking quite different courses. Be it in the USA or in France, the prevailing mode was abstract art, of one kind or another. The various abstract camps had already been dominant in the French arts opposition during the occupation years, and after the Second World War abstract art bore all before it. 1947 was the turning-point in public terms. In that year, independently of each other, young artists exhibiting at galleries in New York and Paris made apparent the special expressive potential of the new formal idiom. They all dispensed with the figure - which for Picasso, whether he retained or deconstructed it, nonetheless always remained central; and this departure was associated with automatic processes linked to the subconscious, to which Picasso, whose work proceeded along intellectual lines, had a fundamental antipathy.

 

Building on Surrealist ideals and the improvisations of Paul Klee, the young international abstract artists evolved new techniques allowing subconscious processes ungoverned by the will into their work. Tachism, lyrical abstraction, Abstract Expressionism: these were the major labels attached to a new style of painting that deliberately bypassed prevailing norms and advocated radical individualism. From the dripping method of the American Jackson Pollock, who covered entire canvases with paint dripped from holed buckets, to the action painting of French artist Georges Mathieu, often covering huge surfaces in a rapid frenzy with crowds looking on, elevating speed itself to a cardinal principle, abstract art was busy foregrounding anti-intellectual processes. Emotion, moods, the pure impact of colours and shapes, regardless of rational criteria in art, also informed the paintings of a Hans Hartung or Serge Poliakoff. The psychologization of creative principles peaked in the work of Jean Dubuffet, who took the work of the mentally handicapped as his model. Even in art that retained the figure, expressive tendencies were dominant: for example, in the work of the COBRA group. The tragedy of late Picasso was that these currents in art dominated, indeed smothered the scene till 960. To the general public, he became a figure to be identified with, almost a guardian of

 

tradition - quite the opposite of what he intended. Compared with the brusque unfamiliarity of a new art that made no concessions, Picasso's work came to seem comprehensible and accessible, and to afford a familiar point of orientation amidst the chaos. Tellingly, his "Sylvette" pictures were immensely popular. In 1954 he had met a young woman, Sylvette David, who sat for him. He did over forty drawings and oils of her; they were very quickly published and seen in reproductions all over the world. Two factors influenced the fame and impact of the series. One was the look of the girl herself, her hair in the pony tail then fashionable, the hallmark of an entire generation of young women. The other was that the "Picasso style" rendered the defamiliarization tactics of modern painting accessible. Picasso did both naturalist representations of his sitter and abstractive, schematic, anti-figural renderings of the real image. The latter subversively took the details of head and body apart into lines and blocks, reassembling them in new forms subject to the artist's caprice. It was a textbook illustration of the principles of dissociation; and, since it referred constantly to the real figure of the sitter, it was an act of artistic creation that could readily be understood. Even those who disliked deformed figures had to acknowledge and respect Picasso's artistry. He had become the great go-between, easing relations between the shockingly new and established tradition.
 


Portrait of Sylvette David
1954

 


Portrait of Sylvette David
1954

 


Portrait of Sylvette David in a Green Armchair
1954

 


Portrait of Sylvette David (I)
1954

 


Portrait of Sylvette David (II)
1954

 


Portrait of Sylvette David (III)
1954

 

 

To see Picasso thus was of course to misunderstand him. He would doubtless have been unaffected by the process if his work and person had not been assigned an absolute status. Everything he did was hailed with rapture. Apart from attacks of the familiar sort, he was now exempt from even the smallest criticism, public comments on Picasso, paeans and panegyrics, tending to make a demigod of him. It was good for business, of course, sending his prices soaring, even for minor work. But it had a devastating effect on the artist's creative spirit. He had always been one to assimilate and process new stimuli: his engagement with Surrealism, for instance, a movement so very different in nature from his own art, was extraordinarily productive, because it prompted him to constant re-examination of his own approach. Such fertile interchange was now a thing of the past. He was out of sympathy with contemporary art; in the eyes of young artists he was a grand old man of yesteryear, admired for his onetime achievements but of no present use except perhaps as an ideological guide.

 

Though his work still served as a point of reference, it was his early work the younger artists went to, not the later. Henry Moore, for instance, took his bearings from the sculptural metamorphoses Picasso had done in the late Twenties; Francis Bacon evolved new figure images from Picasso's achievements of the Thirties.

Picasso's isolation from the art scene, and the cult that attached to his own person, only served to confirm traits that were already his. His work took on an avowedly universal character. He turned, for instance, to new modes of graphic art. He made engravings on celluloid, and in particular from the late 1950s on he turned to linocuts. At the time the technique was enjoying unusual popularity. Picasso used it primarily for work in colour, playing off large blocks against small, and used the printing plate webs as a linear grid, employing an approach that had been developed for woodcuts by other 20th-century artists.

Picasso's interest in public art was revived in autumn 1957 when he agreed to paint a work for the delegates' foyer at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

 

 It was his first commission to do a mural since "Guernica". As with the Spanish Civil War painting, Picasso's first thought was of a subject concerning the artist's role. But what he in fact painted, in 1958, was a seaside scene with standing and reclining figures and one dark figure plunging with outstretched limbs into the great blue waters. Georges Salles gave the work the title "The Fall of Icarus" in order to add a pro-founder intellectual dimension. The central figure evolved from a child's plaything, a swallow made of folded paper. Picasso was evidently deeply indebted to the simple technique of folding paper; it also governed his work in sheet-metal sculpture. Picasso returned to this motif in a stage set design he did in 1962 for a Paris Opera House production of a ballet, "The Fall of Icarus".
 

 


The Fall of Icarus
(mural)
1958

 

 

Work of this nature placed Picasso alongside the other masters of classical Modernism. Fernand Leger, for instance, had painted the great hall of the United Nations building in New York in 1952. Leger's art in turn inspired Picasso to paint frieze-like compositions featuring crudely stylized figures seen against vast areas of bright colour. These works were marked by a simple allegorical tone and a quality of populist humanism. Leger's large-scale paintings rendered everyday life in a pronounced, accessible style by combining elements of classic Modernism with aspects of folk or propagandist art. Picasso, tending towards compositions in strong colours, was also toying with Fauvism. He was after an entree into the practices of contemporary art, even though it was at variance with his own aims; and so expressive traits of style, pure colour effects, and actionist aspects, all began to be increasingly noticeable in his work. But unfortunately real dynamics and expressive force were frequently sacrificed to mere bustle, as he continued to produce work for the sake of it.

 


Beach at La Garoupe (first version)
1955

 


Beach at La Garoupe (second version)
1955

 


Great Reclining Nude with Crossed Arms
1955

 


Great Reclining Nude with Crossed Arms
1955

 


Great Reclining Nude (The Voyeurs)
1955

 

 

The 1959 variations on a portrait of Jacqueline prove the point. The artist was trying to meet the Picasso mystique halfway by boosting production; but the quality suffered all too often. He had always tried and tested his ideas in long series of studies; now, at the expense of artistic discipline, he extended the principle tremendously. His habit of returning to his own work, of reworking earlier innovations, was now merely ticking over, no more than an end in itself. The sterility that was now in Picasso's work can be measured by the paraphrases of old masters done at this time (and only at this time).

 

 


Portrait of Jacqueline
1957

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy