The newborn baby was blue and
made no sound. The midwife thought it was dead, but not Don Salvador, both
its uncle and doctor, who was reading his newspaper in the next room. He
had the presence of mind to blow a whiff of cigar smoke into the face of
the nearly suffocated baby. It began to draw in breaths of air and to
encountered and conquered death in the first moments of his Ions life.
What would there be left for him to fear? The world admired his impressive
vitality, his passion for sheer hard work and the overwhelming
self-confidence displayed by the brilliant artist, who had exhibited his
first picture by the time he was fourteen. Picasso, who lived to be nearly
ninety-two, was celebrated for his talent all his life. At the age of
eighteen in Barcelona, he used to meet the city's intellectual avant-garde
in the "The Four Cats", an artists' cafe. The youngest of the artists who
frequented the cafe, he was soon the most popular: "He exerted such a
powerful charisma that he became the leader of the entire group", related
moved to Pans. He is said to have burned drawings to keep the stove ablaze
— and to have painted the walls of his empty room with furniture. All this
may be the stuff of legends, but it does reflect the conditions in which
he lived at that time. Because he had broken with academic convention,
preferring instead to paint the down-and-out, clowns and prostitutes, he
had to struggle to earn his livelihood in his youth. Even among friends
his work remained controversial. The biggest scandal caused by the young
firebrand erupted over the painting entitled Les Demoiselles
d'Avignon. Not long before its completion, he had visited
and, in his flat, had picked up the first African sculpture he had ever
seen. "He didn't put it down all evening. And when I arrived at his studio
the next morning, the floor was covered with sheets of paper. They all
bore the same motif: the head of a black woman. The same woman then
emerged on his canvases; sometimes there were two of them, sometimes
three. Suddenly there was Les Demoiselles A'Avignon, a
picture as big as a wall", recalls the poet Max Jacob.
The writers and artists of the nineteenth century had
depicted distant lands as being like paradise, exotically transfiguring
and glamourising reality.
on the other hand, was interested solely in the aesthetics of exoticism.
His defiance of convention in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon,
which was decried as being "aggressively erotic", set off shock waves.
Contemporaries thought the figures' faces looked "as if they had been hewn
with an axe". Construed as the artists homage to the shrill world of
deformation and deconstructed myth, it was widely interpreted as a general
attack on the ideals of European art. In retrospect, however, this
picture, with its synchronicity of different perspectives, represents the
beginning of a new era for painting — a break with the past and a
challenge for the future.