Picasso-His life and Work

PABLO PICASSO was born in Malaga in 1881. He came of an ancient family and his immediate relatives were priests, doctors, or were employed in business. His father was the only artistic member of the family; he was an artist who taught in the local art school and ran the local museum. Later in Picasso's childhood they spent four years in Corunna and finally settled in Barcelona when he was fourteen. His father was of course his first master and apparently he was a very precocious child, who took no interest in his school work at all and only thought about drawing. He asserts that he learnt absolutely nothing at school though this is clearly something of an exaggeration as he can certainly read and write. He was a student first in the School of Art in Barcelona and later in Madrid. But he seems to have learnt more from looking at pictures and reproductions, and from his father and friends than from the rather dry tuition at the Schools of Art.

He was a fantastically accomplished draughtsman from his teens and his academic prowess was considerable. He won many prizes. His stay in Madrid when he was for the first time isolated from his family, brought him into contact with poverty and his acute sympathy for the outcasts of society which becomes the theme of so much of his painting must have been aroused then. He returned to Barcelona after eighteen months in Madrid and established himself among the most radical artists there.

Picasso visited Paris for the first time in 1900 and finally he settled there in 1904. He has lived in France ever since though latterly not in Paris but in the Mediterranean area near Cannes. In his first years in Paris he was extremely poor but survived through the kindness of a few far sighted patrons and friends. He became a leading figure in avant garde circles, both literary and artistic, and was a friend among others of Max Jacob, Gertrude Stein, Guillaume Apollinare, and of course of Matisse, Braque, Derain and the Douanier Rousseau.

Picasso said that when he first settled in Paris he was more influenced by Van Gogh than anyone else but like all great artists he has drawn his inspiration
 from very widely varying sources which he has later transformed into his own personal statements. Roughly speaking his pictures about 1900 are akin to Toulouse Lautrec, Bonnard, Munch and Van Gogh and develop soon into what is now known as his Blue Period, a tim~ when his subject matter was taken from circus life and from the poor, the depressed, the desperate and the lonely. Frequently his subjects have a strong social flavour, as in his Absinthe Drinkers, but always they are hauntingly sad. A rather more cheerful period follows on about 1905 with a markedly classical feeling in his figures. This is known as his Pink or Rose Period. By 1907 his style was simplifying markedly and in that year he painted one of the vitally important pictures ofvhis career "Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon". This large picture is often claimed as the first cubist work of art though it predates this style by some two years. When it was first seen it caused great disgust and distress even among his most devoted admirers though within months it was influential in creating an entirely new trend in art and indeed heralds the break through of twentieth century painting. It shows five nud~ women against a blue curtain with a still life of fruit in the foreground. The three figures on the left follow directly on from his earlier work showing his interest in the simple planes of early Iberian sculpture such as had been recently discovered in North Spain and exhibited in The Louvre. But the heads of the two figures on the right have a savage vigour which horrified everyone. Picasso had (rather later than many of his friends) discovered the negro mark and been overwhelmed by the magnificence and directness of this art form. For the first time in "Les Desmoiselles" we find Picasso building his picture into a solid faceted plane with the background invading the foreground, a feature of his later Cubist work.

The next two years are usually described as the "Negro period" but this is rather misleading as the influence of both Iberian sculpture and Cezanne are also very prominent and all is leading up to the Cubist works of 1909. In fact it was a landscape by Braque which was first called Cubist and Matisse Wh0 noticed that it was composed of 'little Cubes'. In the years from 1909 to 1914 which are the
great years of Cubism, Picasso and Braque worked side by side. It would
be 'impossible to say who introduced any particular motif or technique
into thei:' paintings, and frequently it is ev~n more difficult to tell
their work apart, for they were so deeply involved in this new style
that they really did create it together. It was immediately enormously
influential and was taken up by Italian, Russian and English painters
usually with a flourish of manifestos and great references to modern environment, industry etc. But with Picasso and Braque id was a new discovery which grew naturally out of their earlier work and was not a manifestation of any particular point of view.

In their Cubist pictures one sees all the facets ofanobjectsimultaneously.For instance in a still life one sees the bottom of the bottle as well as the label and the whole at the top and all are welded together in series of simple shapes which are intensely satisfying. The artist was no longer copying nature but creating an object with its own life through this new vision where ordinary things are a starting point and not an end. Naturally this led many to abstraction but not Picasso whose interest in humanity is so deeply seated.

He has always remained a figurative painter. One of the strange facts about Picasso's cubism is its elegance. He was so absorbed with his interest in form that the colours of his pictures at this time are monochrome. This adds a curious sophistication to these magnificent, still canvasses. His portraits which remain identifiable and his figures have an intensity which arises from their simplicity. By 1914 these cubist pictures had become much more complex frequently incorporating actual materials like newspaper or wallpaper, and colour and movement were returning.

During the 1914/18 war his friends were all dispersed. Throughout the war his work remained cubist but colour was once again important and circus subject matter returned. He made a number of incisive line drawings of his friends, including Stravinsky, and it was at this time he made designs for ballets produced by Diaghilev including Parade and The Three Cornered Hat. The twenties found him working in two quite separate styles, one very influenced by Greek Art shows a return to realism with a series of monumental studies of women, great statuesque creations. This largeness of form overflowed into his Cubist works which include the Three Musicians (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the Three Dancers (the Tate Gallery). Here movement is all important in creating the atmosphere of gaiety and life.

The Surrealist movement was perhaps the most important artistic event of the twenties and though Picasso can never be regarded as a surrealist painter in the full sense of the word, he was associated with it and his liberation of the artist from academic trammels was of course vital for surrealism as for all other artistic movements till the mid century. In the late twenties ambiguity becomes a keynote in his picturesit is difficult sometimes to decide if a figure is human or insect, whether it be alive or a statue, and a sense of growing horror does pervade much of his work. Sometimes the ambiguity is created by his use of mythology-the minotaur, half bull, half man is introduced into many themes now and is frequently associated with symbols culled from bull fighting; the disembowelled horse and the matador. But it is impossible to say sometimes whether it is a form of evil with its power and its cruelty or a hero figure. Sometimes it is shown blind led by a young girl. It would seem that the artist was groping for some means of conveying the great truths of existence to our age by disguising them by symbols from Ancient Greece. But though a vein of tragedy runs through much of his work in the early thirties, In his prints, his drawings and his paintings where one finds the most ferocious distortions, there are also glowingly happy pictures nearly always of women.

The years 1933-1935 were ones of personal difficulty and few paintings date from them, but he made innumerable prints and drawings in which the
minotaur theme was worked on reaching its climax on the great etching of 1935 - Minotauromachia. In this work lie the seeds and the personnel of his mural, 'Guernica' of 1937. This great work commissioned by the Spanish Government in exile for the Paris Fair is Picasso's great statement of the horror and misery of war occasioned by the bombing of the Basque city of Guern'ica in broad daylight by Fascist forces. It is not tied down by any direct references to anyone event; it is a statement for all time of the futility of war and its agony, the dead child and the weeping mother, the dying horse, and the pleading woman. In this work the bull one feels, is ultimately in its strength and stability, a symbol of hope. In the next few years Picasso was to paint a series of horrifying images varying from the poignancy of his Weeping Woman to the sinister cruelty of his Cat and Bird and Girl with a Cock. And indeed throughout the war years which he spent in Paris his work frequently shows his feelings for contemporary events in just this way.

Peace brought a transformation. Suddenly the subject matter ceases to be sinister and we are transported to a pastoral world of dancing fauns and Arcadian symbols. His new family appears in many of these pictures and his love of children is brought into our consciousness with the playfulness and charm of most of the post war paintings and drawings. In 1947 he went to live . near Vallauris, the centre of a long . established pottery in the South of France and he started to make and paint vases, plates and ornamental objects which sustain the sunniness of his new style.

This venture into three dimensional work was not new. Few of us realised until recently that Picasso was as great a sculptor as a painter, but in fact throughout his life he has worked in a very great variety of media. It is natural that an artist who has inherited the strong feeling of all Mediterranean art
for form, should work in three dimensions and as the Trinity Exhibition shows very clearly his developing styles are reflected in his work in sculpture as in painting.

It is incredible that a man in seventies and eighties should create such a joyous art-full of colour and childish simplicity-pictures which delight the eye with that perfection of line and form which he alone can achieve by a few apparently hasty strokes on the canvas.

His new work may not show any great developments; it is indeed a synthesis of his earlier discoveries, but in its mood of hopefulness it adds another dimension to the work of an artist who has given the twentieth century some of its greatest tragic masterpieces. Anthony Blunt and Phoebe Pool sum up Picasso's career with great insight when they say "It is true that much of his art aims at expressing something beyond the appearance of the visible world, and at conveying ideas which have to do with an ultimate truth, whether these ideas be concerned with the sadness and misery of human beings as in the early years, with the tragedy of war as in 'Guernica' . . . or with the blessings of peace, as in the paintings of the Antibes period".