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



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





The Picasso Style



In "Guernica" Picasso had arrived at the formal idiom with which we automatically associate his name. It was to inform a diverse range of works without ever again breaching his system from within. Thus his work from 1937 till his death can be seen as expressing that one style - though of course shifts in emphasis indicate changes in the artist's major interests.

The first phase saw the years in which Picasso tested the possibilities of his new style. Initially individual in character, this process of evolution ran its course at a time that could hardly have been more turbulent, dangerous or uncertain, a time of great political crisis in Europe followed by the Second World War. Picasso's art did reflect the existential menace of the age, but only indirectly. Considered dispassionately, his work seems to reverse its profile. "Guernica" had been a commissioned work, with a brief to articulate history. Under the powerful pressure of events, form had become a counter-world, art a counter-attack. This in itself was an eminently political stance. And the full dimensions of that stance become apparent if we assess the hallmarks of the Picasso style.

Since the great experiment of "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", the subsequent further development of Cubism, and the years of so-called classicism, two mutually contradictory principles of depiction had coexisted in Picasso's art. They may be labelled dissociation and figuration. Figuration is mimetic, representational art, handed down by tradition; dissociation is autonomous art, non-representationally departing from its subjects in the given world. In Picasso's work they alternate and exert a mutual influence. Figuration informed his work from the outset, even in work influenced by Surrealism. He used techniques of dissociation even in the years from 1916 to 1924 to offset his classical approaches; they were decisive in his engagement with Surrealism. The path to a synthesis was always implicit in his dual system.


Within the overall system of depiction, figuration and dissociation represent polar opposites. The former reproduces the subjective viewpoint, shows the subject as the beholder sees it. The laws of perspective apply: a subject viewed from the front cannot reveal its rear. That aspect of its appearance is left to the imagination, figuration relying upon the associative cooperation of the beholder. Dissociation, by contrast, includes the whole subject, shows the rear as well as the frontal view if it so wishes. In this respect it is more objective. But the gain in terms of dissociative images is countered by a loss: the various elements can no longer be accommodated within a defined area, and the principle of a containing outline has to be abandoned. That principle belongs to figurative art: it includes everything in unified outlines, ensures that every subject is distinct from every other. The basic task for any depictive art seeking a synthesis of the two approaches is obvious. It has to introduce the gains of dissociative art into the realm of figuration, and vice versa. Picasso's new style did just that, using contoured, linear, figurative outlines without feeling compelled to represent the exact specifics of the given subject.

He had been working on this since the mid-Thirties. Children's art influenced him importantly; it did not depict objects in the conventional manner of the single subjective viewpoint, but it did use clearly defined outlines. Children try to depict features of an object that seem important. Their representations bear little resemblance to the originals as we in fact see them in everyday experience. Form in children's art is a kind of sign language, a system of figurative symbols. Children are not out to produce art; they are engaging with the reality before them. This, of course, is the fundamental difference between children's art and Picasso's style.


Two portraits of seated women done in 1937 before his work on "Guernica" afford clear illustrations of this. Both of them show lovers: Marie-Therese Walter and Dora Maar. The former is dated 6 January 1937, and that of photographer Dora Maar was doubtless painted not long after. The most striking visual trick at first inspection, in both paintings, is the treatment of the faces. The outlines are profiles, but the features are seen frontally too, which is impossible in real circumstances. This dual angle of vision had been familiar in Picasso's art since the 1920s. It occurred in figure portrayals that combined the dissociative and the figurative principles. Parts of the body were dismembered, so to speak; and in the portraits of these two women Picasso transformed their clothing into autonomous visual imagery. In this he was following principles unknown to children's art: perspective and balanced proportion. Both principles are fundamental to figurative art. Picasso had already developed ways of deploying both principles freely, as he chose, in the dissociative formal idiom of Cubism. Now, with the input of ideas gleaned from children's drawings, his options had been extended to include the figurative symbolism characteristic of children's art.



Portrait of Marie-Therese Walter



Portrait of Dora Maar Seated



Portrait of Dora Maar



Portrait of Dora Maar

Maya with a Boat

The portrait of his daughter Maya, done on 16 January 1938, clearly reveals how capriciously Picasso handled this new system. The little girl is sitting on the floor, a doll in her arm. Her legs and skirt are rendered as geometrical blocks, unnaturally crossed; the legacy of Cubist dissociation is unmistakable. Her face shows the familiar combination of profile and frontal angles, the two angles not additively juxtaposed in Cubist manner but simultaneously present, as in a superimposed photograph.

By contrast, in Dora Maar's face we see the two angles in juxtaposition; the nose is both in its normal position and in profile. In the portrait of Marie-Therese Walter the profile view was the point of departure. It was merely extended by adding a second eye and a heightened, whiter area to suggest a cheek. In the picture of his daughter, as in the women's portraits, Picasso more or less retained the natural proportions. There is just one striking exception: the girl's right arm was painted as a child might have painted it, a short stump ending in sketchy shapes that stand for five spread fingers. For Picasso, what was interesting in children's drawings was only the principle of formal construction. For this reason, comparison of his own work with children's drawings, though it may seem an obvious one to draw, does not make a great deal of sense. The resemblance is only superficial and only ever relates to individual features. Denunciation of Picasso's work as infantile is a cliche of contemporary art opinion. In 1937, indeed, the official German guide to the Paris World Fair declared that "Guernica" "looks as if it had been drawn by a four-year-old". The Fascists used this defamatory response as freely as comparisons with the work of the mentally retarded if they wanted to disparage art.
Cubist dissociation, figuration and childlike symbolism are the three foundations on which the formal idiom of the "Picasso style" was built. They made possible a vast potential of variation. Every one of these formal systems consists of a number of characteristic features which only define a system once they appear together. But these features can be used separately, or combined with others. This fact is illustrated by the three portraits we have been examining too. In each one the artist has established an imaginary space. In none of them is it genuinely illusionist; rather, Picasso is playing with the notion of three-dimensionality, and its imitation. In the "Portrait of Marie-Therese Walter" zones of different colour are juxtaposed in such a way as to suggest depth. Lighter and darker shades indicate the floor, ceiling and walls. The way that they interact is suggestive of central perspective, so that there is an element of caprice in the spatial sense of the picture. In the portrait of Dora Maar, Picasso juxtaposes areas of parallel lines which, taken together, convey spatiality, since the lines run in such a way as to suggest depth. Though nothing here is indicative of exact perspective either, the illusion strikes us as more persuasive, since the basic grid of perspective foreshortenings is there. In the portrait of little Maya, two horizontal bands of white and brown suggest space. They are colours only, without any perspective construction; but the child's pose prompts us to interpret the colours as part of a room. In part, the composition depends on our powers of association, which is a traditional method in establishing backgrounds.
What is true of the construction of spatial values is also true of the presentation of figures - for instance, in another picture of Maya also painted in January 1938. The child herself and the toy boat in her hands are established with blocks of bright juxtaposed colour, but details such as the hair style and clothes are reproduced figuratively. The face is a schematic design of purely linear, crudely drawn eyes, nose and mouth, using triangular areas of white, green, red, blue and yellow colour. These areas have no intrinsic figural meaning whatsoever; indeed, they are at odds with figural representation. But once they are there, as parts of the face, we respond to them as we would to the modelled three-dimensionality of differently-lit parts of a face.



Portrait of Maya with Her Doll



The Yellow Sweater (Dora Maar)



A diametrically opposed method is at work in a study of a seated woman done on 27 April 1938 in India ink, gouache and crayon (Seated Woman). It is a study in both the autonomy and the functionality of the line. The woman's head is done in the familiar combination of frontal and profile; and, in the process, the line as an instrument for conveying form has taken on an independent life of its own. Admittedly an identifiable image of a body has been produced, and thus a certain representational value; but the picture is a fabric of webs and meshes. This use of lines totally alters the character of the image. The line is no longer subordinated to representation of the sitter; rather, the seated figure is an excuse to play with lines. Naturally enough, most of the forms are angular. In the December 1938 "Seated Woman in a Garden" Picasso went on to combine autonomy of block with autonomy of line. Since "Guernica", Picasso had essentially been ringing the same changes on the fundamentals of visual presentation as he had been doing in the Cubist phase.


Seated Woman



Seated Woman in a Garden



What did make a considerable difference was the fact that his free variation was now always contained within a defined outline, a figural shape. This is particularly apparent if we look at "Women at Their Toilette", done in spring 1938. This cartoon for a tapestry combined the papiers colles technique with conventional oil on canvas, thus, true to Picasso's new synthesis, combining dissociative Cubism's technical achievements with the painting method of traditional figurative art. He found he could use this variation of formal principles to communicate statements. In the "Portrait of Maya with Her Doll" Cubist, figurative and childlike approaches to form complement each other in a way that seems wholly apt to the subject - a child. The interchange of defining characteristics is apt in a similar way. The doll, for instance, has a more human face than the child: its big eyes, tiny nose and full, slightly pouting lips add up to a schematic, stylized baby-face. Using sophisticated juxtapositions of this kind, Picasso contrived to load simple compositions with details of defining quality.

We see this vividly if we compare the portraits of Marie-Therese Walter and Dora Maar. Marie-Therese's hat and dress consist of lined patterns that give a mood of yielding softness. The rounded contours of her body give the same impression. The sitter is manifestly being portrayed as a calm, gentle, unaggressive personality. Dora Maar strikes us quite differently, though. Using the pattern of her dress as a pretext, Picasso emphasizes angularity, and the note of aggressiveness this strikes is reinforced by the signal red and dark violet shades. Maar's long fingers are like daggers; and her face, done in loud, bright yellows, greens and reds in a crescendo of intensity, only underlines the shrill impact.

The colours and poses in both portraits are similar, yet the overall image is entirely different. One is all calm and joie de vivre; the other is nervousness and tension. In both portraits the artist has succeeded in conveying that most intangible of things, a human personality. And he has done it without stressing facial expressions or poses, which customarily establish the character of a sitter.

Women at Their Toilette



Another important work that used the new method of depiction grew out of the work on "Guernica". After he had completed that enormous canvas, Picasso did a number of studies on the time-honoured subject of grief, showing a woman weeping into a handkerchief. Using his combined dissociative and figurative method, he dissected the faces into lines and experimented with various colour bases applied in different ways. When he had tried out combinations to his satisfaction, he produced an oil of moderate size which he completed on 26 October 1937. Again the composition combines a frontal and profile view of the face. Furthermore, the face has also been splintered into shards contoured with thick lines, and these shards, painted in shades of varying degrees of aggressiveness, serve to heighten an overall impression of shattered nervousness (as in the portrait of Dora Maar). The handkerchief, hand and face interconnect (and in this respect extend the method used in "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"); the treatment defies the natural definition of the individual motifs. This is the most fractured portion of the picture, and the rest of the head, and the background, are juxtaposed in relative tranquillity and clarity of definition. The composition perfectly conveys the act of crying; it catches the expression of profound emotional crisis exactly. Picasso can well afford to dispense with conventional attention to detail. Only the one or two rounded shapes suggest tears; the anecdotal flavour of big round sobbed tears has been carefully avoided. Here, it is the shattered form that conveys the shattered feelings.

Given the associative relation of Picasso's forms to the emotional content, he succeeds in presenting things which are fundamentally open to analogy - the aim of figurative painting. But the Picasso style is actually far richer in technical scope, and in a position to reformulate the traditional aims of visual presentation - without by any means dropping historical work, genre scenes or other conventional types of painting.



Weeping Woman


Woman Crying



A signal example of this is "Night Fishing at Antibes", a large composition painted in 1939. Real experience lay behind it; Picasso spent the last summer of peace with Dora Maar at Antibes on the Cote d'Azur, and in the evenings he would watch the fishermen going out to fish by acetylene lamp. The painting that resulted is anecdotal at heart. Dora Maar is to be seen to the right of the harbour, with her bike, eating an ice cream. Beside her is Breton's wife Jacqueline Lamba, and at the very back we can make out the Palais Grimaldi. The centre of the picture is occupied by the fishermen, spearing childishly-scrawled fish from the deep green waters. The contrast of darkness and colour establishes a nighttime scene both cheerful and yet enigmatic.


Night Fishing at Antibes




Picasso was thus able to deploy his formal means to achieve very different results. His work from 1937 to 1945 saw him continually testing those differences. One of the most important pictures of the period was the "Nude Dressing Her Hair", painted in May and June 1940 in his studio at Royan. In the bottom quarter of the canvas Picasso has placed a violet trapezoid, with two dark green vertical trapezoids at the sides, a thin, almost black triangle at the top, and a large, not quite regular rectangular area of olive green between the two dark green sides. This suggests a space or room: the illusion is almost of a view through a peephole, framing the subject, a seated woman with her arms behind her head. She occupies almost the entire canvas, so that she not only has a monumental quality but also makes the space seem cramped. The use of this tight compositional grid introduced a note of disquiet: the figure's attitude calls for elbow room, but space is precisely what this painting, in a direct appeal to our emotions, denies her. Picasso has emphasized this disquiet. The figure's bodily proportions are unnatural. The feet still follow nature, albeit in crudely simplified form; but thighs, knees and calves are harshly juxtaposed, angular areas of light beige and dark brown. The figure is rendered with extreme foreshortening, a capricious use of perspective, and a playful rethinking of the elements of visual presentation. Whole parts of the body (such as the left thigh) are simply left out. The face is no longer an overlapping yoking of frontal and profile views as in the portraits of Dora Maar or Marie-Therese; rather, the silhouette and full-face are crudely juxtaposed at different heights. There is a curious duality in the way the figure has been done. It might be described as mechanization of the organic, and stylizing of the mechanical, both principles so interwoven that it is difficult to make out what is happening in the picture.
Though Picasso was plainly performing a variation on stylistic approaches he had already tested, "Nude Dressing Her Hair" was not spontaneously done. In fact a large number of sketches and studies preceded it. In various sketch-books there are a total of well over 200. One of these books, started at Royan on 10 January 1940 and finished there on 26 May the same year, sheds particularly instructive light on Picasso's work methods. It not only contains studies for "Nude Dressing Her Hair".



Nude Dressing Her Hair


The first drawings are hasty sketches after Delacroix's famous painting "The Women of Algiers" (1834), which Picasso knew well from visits to the Louvre. In these sketches, Picasso was internalizing the compositional options made available by Delacroix's painting; in the process he redistributed the components in geometrically rounded or conical form. If Picasso had not expressly noted the original he was following, we should scarcely be able to identify any connection. In other sketches, Picasso schematically rendered details of the original. Then at length a study of Delacroix's two seated women prompted him to a figural idea of his own. What is most striking in this sketch is the use of profile and frontal views of the face at split levels - the very device he was to use in the finished "Nude Dressing Her Hair" and which he had already employed in "Seated Woman in a Garden". In the next sketch Picasso further dissected the forms. There is a twofold rationale to such a method: it connotes both distance (and thus independence of the given subject) and the presence of a specific original. Because the forms being conjoined are discrete and distinctly abstract, the leeway for further metamorphosis is considerable. This left Picasso the option of projecting physical forms into the largely neutral shapes of his first sketches, and then rendering his further studies specific in the same way, by establishing legs, arms, and a chest and abdomen.



Study for "Women of Algiers"



Study for "Nude Dressing Her Hair"


Plainly - and this is what makes the process so utterly fascinating - the associations were not altogether free. It is even possible to follow them and recreate a thought process. As he reshaped the figure, Picasso was toying with a motif he had long been using, that of the female nude with arms raised and crooked behind her head, a classic nude pose which he had already used in a key position in "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". Picasso worked on "Nude Dressing Her Hair" for a full six months. It was typical of his work methods that in the process he was continually taking his bearings from a particular point of departure, in this case Delacroix's painting.

At heart, all Picasso's paintings to the end of the Second World War were interrelated. When the "Nude Dressing Her Hair" was finished, he adapted the pose and compositional grid to "Boy with Lobster". It was not an isolated case of adaptation. Indeed, the range of subjects he covered was palpably limited if we compare with earlier periods, and he introduced few new motifs. This is an indication of Picasso's interest in experiment at the time, of course: he used and re-used the same motifs, but placed his emphases differently. Thus he did a large number of portraits of seated women, and an immense number of busts and portraits. The sheer quantity ought not to blind us to the fact that even among the limited range of motifs there were interrelations. The sitting position in the portraits of Dora Maar, Marie-Therese, and his daughter Maya, and the preliminaries for the "Nude Dressing Her Hair", was a single position, somewhat varied. The location of a style was merely one aspect (a formal one) of this output; Picasso's serial work also had an unmistakable, strongly self-referential component. His fruitful interest in the work of contemporaries had waned. This, however, was less the fault of the artist than of the age:



Boy with Lobster


it was, after all, a time of pre-war crises, the Second World War, and the occupation of France by the Germans.

The political situation forced Picasso into isolation. First, he was cut off from his homeland by the Spanish Civil War and the victory of Franco's Falangists. And then, after the German invasion of France, the Paris art scene changed in a way that peculiarly affected Picasso, the great practitioner of Modernism. As in the First World War, when everything was in a state of flux and upheaval, but even more so now because of the alien occupational rule, the arts in France were dominated by the summons to traditional French values. Independence in the arts was now viewed with deep suspicion. What the journalists and arts officers wanted instead was applied art. Maurice de Vlaminck, once a leading member of the Fauves, was foremost in this new line, branding Picasso (in a malicious article written for "Comoedia" magazine in 1942) as the pre-eminent modern artist who must bear the responsibility for the decline of the arts. The old, defamatory cliches revealingly made their appearance in the piece, particularly the claim that Picasso was a pernicious foreigner whose un-French spirit was having a destructive influence on the culture of the great French nation.

A group that had previously been marginalized, a group whose anti-modern position had rendered it unimportant for the evolution of the arts, was now dominant in the official scene in France. As in Fascist countries, so too in France, political change had brought with it the triumph of reactionaries in the arts. Not that the Modernists did not defend their position vigorously. Andre Lhote and Jean Bazaine immediately protested in print against Vlaminck's article. The major Modernist artists remained visible in gallery exhibitions (if they were French). Two fronts were defined. On the one side were the reactionary, nationalist advocates of traditional art, and those artists who collaborated with the Nazis. They all agreed to go on a study tour of Germany in 1941, and in 1942 constituted an honorary


committee for a large-scale show of work by Nazi sculptor Arno Breker at the Orangerie des Tuileries. As well as Vlaminck, this group included Derain, Dunoyer de Segon-zac and Othon Friesz, to name only the more familiar artists. On the other side were young French artists, such as Charles Lapicque and Bazaine, who exhibited in a 1941 show of Modernist painting. Like other radical Modernists, such as Alfred Manessier, Nicolas de Stael and Jean Dubuffet, their endeavours all tended to the continuation of pure abstraction.

For Picasso there was no room - as a contemporary artist, that is, rather than a mere cult figure of the Modernist movement. Thus he was doubly isolated during the war. Furthermore, he personally felt very deeply affected by the consequences of the occupation. In autumn 1940 he moved entirely to the Rue des Grands-Augustins studio, which was to be his sole space through the dark years till 1944. After his years of travels to the Cote d'Azur, or lengthy sojourns at Royan on the Atlantic coast, he was now compelled to lead an unsatisfying life in occupied Paris, cut off from an arts scene with any life to it, and confronted every day with the troubles of wartime, such as the impossibility of heating in winter. Throughout that difficult time, Picasso adhered to a policy of non-intervention. He took no sides: he refrained from direct involvement in the Resistance (in contrast to his friend Paul Fluard), but also kept a polite


distance from the Germans. True, his studio was open to German visitors; but when they came he would give them postcard reproductions of "Guernica", and on one famous occasion, when a German officer asked Picasso, "Did you do that?" the artist replied, "No, you did." Moreover, when he ran out of fuel, he declined to accept special favours as a non-French national, and observed: "A Spaniard is never cold."

His work recorded the wartime situation indirectly. The version of "Still Life with Steer's Skull" (1942) now in Diisseldorf records the German commandant's order to black out Paris at night. The gloomy, claustrophobic "L'Aubade" conveys the oppressive mood of the war years too. The subtly allusive mode of these paintings reflects a practice common among contemporaries. The younger French abstract artists, for instance, preferred the French national colours of red and blue for their non-representational paintings, for expressly political reasons.


Still Life with Steer's Skull




Though his personal situation was a melancholy one, Picasso's fame abroad was then growing apace. "Guernica" was of key significance in the process. In 1938 the painting embarked on its travels, being exhibited first in London and then in the USA. In America in particular, Picasso came to be recognised as the foremost modern artist in those years. In 1937, the newly-founded Museum of Modern Art in New York bought "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon", and in 1940, together with the Art Institute of Chicago, mounted the major retrospective "Picasso. 40 Years of his Art", which was seen in no fewer than ten major American cities. In the eyes of the Americans, the tour established Picasso as the most important living artist of the century.

Portrait of Lee Miller

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