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
 

 
 

 

 

 



Politics and Art
  1943-1953


 

 

 

His whole life long, Picasso was a man who throve on exchange with other people, and his isolation during the occupation was not easily to be borne. His work of the period alluded cautiously to the universal doom, and articulated with increasing directness that inner sense of involvement which cried out for expression. "L'Aubade" was Picasso's way of presenting an ambiguous statement in idyllic garb. It shows a seated figure playing a mandolin and a reclining nude. The unbroken blocks of colour and the draughtsman's precise outlines are by no means in harmony; rather, they create an atmosphere of conflict. The figures seem contorted and fractured, the inside of anatomy turned out; fully physical though they are, they reveal the skeletal figure of Death.

Picasso's style neatly met the time's requirements of subtlety and allusiveness. Open political commitment, or indeed direct accusation, would have put him in personal jeopardy. To the more sensitive observers of the age, such as the German writer Ernst Junger, the existential depth of such paintings was perfectly apparent: "Never had it been so powerfully and oppressively clear to me that the homunculus is more than an idle product of the imagination. The image of Man is foreseen as by a magus, and few sense the terrible profundity of the decision taken by the painter. Though I repeatedly tried to turn our talk to this subject, he evaded it, doubtless on purpose.

Of course Picasso evaded it. Open discussion of the problem would have forced him to take an unambiguous stand. The writer, after all, was wearing the uniform of the army of occupation, and their talk turned upon the real political background of aesthetic approaches. For Picasso, it was important to retain the ambiguity of form as a mask disguising his critique of the times. He refashioned for his own ends Surrealist techniques using camouflage, satirical incongruity and imagery that made its appeal to the unconscious. He was not only painting; he was also writing prose, and experimenting with his own brand of calligraphy, a meaningless kind of hieroglyphic automatic writing with which he filled pages.

In January 1941 Picasso wrote "Desire Caught by the Tail" - a play (first published in 1944) about the privations of the Parisians during the occupation. The hero of the piece is Big Foot, who endeavours to win the favour of the Tart. The Onion is his rival. The Tart has a Cousin and two friends, Fat Anxiety and Thin Anxiety. In addition we meet Round Piece, the Two Bow Wows, Silence and the Curtain. The farce, in six acts, is about basic passions and instincts. The characters try in vain to stave off cold and starvation and assuage their need for love.

 


Woman in Green
1943

 

 

The play was performed (if not publicly) on 14 May 1944, before the end of the German occupation. Friends and acquaintances on the arts scene gave a rehearsed reading in Michel Leiris's flat. Albert Camus directed the reading; Jean-Paul Sartre played Round Piece, Leiris read Big Foot, the writer Raymond Queneau the Onion, and the female parts were taken by Simone de Beauvoir, Dora Maar, Louise Leiris and actress Zanie Aubier. A number of people came to hear the reading, among them Braque and Jacques Lacan. Tellingly, the writers and philosophers were in the majority. Pressured by circumstances, Picasso was returning to the literary scene, which had meant so much to him before, especially in his Blue and Rose Periods. After the reading he invited the actors and audience round to his studio, where he showed them the original manuscript of Alfred Jarry's farce "Ubu Cocu", one of the cycle of Ubu plays including the famous "Ubu Roi". Jarry's work was the very epitome of artistic anarchy in the opening years of the 20th century, and the source of Picasso's farce.

But the days of salon revolutions were long over. Picasso's friends Robert Desnos and Max Jacob had died in concentration camps; others had actively fought for the liberation of France. Picasso renewed his contacts with intellectual circles, mainly in order to share in their espousal of Resistance aims. The Allied landings and the reconquest of France, followed by the end of the Second World War, marked a turning point in Picasso's life. Suddenly he became what he had not been (to the same extent) before: a public figure. Ever since he had been recognised as the founder of modern art, his fame had spread, albeit within the cultural sector only. He was internationally known, though purely as an artist. With the entry of the Allies into Paris, two factors enhanced his status: the growth of his overseas reputation, and the post-war reinstatement of Modernism at the heart of the arts and political life. Picasso, rather than any other, was the artist whose studio soldiers, gallery owners and reporters wanted to visit. Photographers such as Lee Miller and Robert Capa documented his life and work in entire series of pictures; and these photos, widely seen in the mass media, earned Picasso enormous popularity. As the leading practitioner of an art condemned by the Fascists, and as a man who had not yielded an inch to them, Picasso became a cult figure. Anything he said was eagerly noted, printed and parroted.

He was of great importance for the new political and arts scene in liberated France. Just six weeks after the Allies entered Paris, the autumn salon - the "Salon de la Liberation" - opened its doors, on 6 October 1944. It was the first programmatic expression of Picasso's central importance: he had no fewer than 74 paintings and five sculptures in the exhibition. It was in fact the first Salon he had ever shown at; his participation constituted the first official recognition by his French fellows. His political stance and his standing as an artist went hand in hand - and provoked immediate reactions, too.
 

 


Woman Washing Her Foot
1944

 

 

Artistic and political reactionaries, the stragglers of Petain's regime, attempted to tear down his pictures from the walls, and prompted a scandal. The French society of authors took Picasso's side. The day before the Salon opened, there was news that only served to exacerbate tempers: Picasso had joined the Communist Party of France.

He had abandoned his lifelong reluctance to commit himself to political sides. It was a logical consequence of recent history, the expression of his ideals. Since Franco's Spain had become a no-man's-land for an unforeseeable time, Picasso found a new home (as he himself put it) in the French Communist Party, amongst leading lights of the new France such as Sartre or Louis Aragon. Publicly, Picasso repeatedly stated his view that an artist was not a one-dimensional creature involved exclusively in making art, but also a political being with an active interest in the problems of the age. Picasso claimed that in his art he had always aimed to fight like a revolutionary; art, he said, was not so much something to prettify the home as a weapon in a political struggle. And indeed, many of the works that followed in rapid succession attest to Picasso's involvement in the concerns of the times.
Not that those works were an art of direct statement. For instance, in 1945 Picasso painted a number of still lifes that glance at the privations and fears of life during the occupation. Surely the most important of these is "Pitcher, Candle and Enamel Saucepan".

 

 


Pitcher, Candle and Enamel Saucepan
1945

 


The Kitchen
1948


 


The Kitchen
1948

Tellingly, with the 1942 "L'Aubade" it was one of ten paintings which the artist, at the suggestion of his friend, museum curator Jean Cassou, gifted to the Musee National d'Art Moderne in May 1946. The picture shows three objects only. It draws upon crucial formal insights that Picasso had developed in his great "Guernica". Here too, tried and tested stylistic modes serve to question and undermine what appears unambiguous, but at the same time to render it universally valid. A number of perspective viewpoints - front, side and rear - jointly establish unified, clear outlines that do not correspond with the picture's spatial values. On a brown tabletop we see a pitcher, a burning candle and an enamel saucepan, lined up at only slightly different degrees of visual depth. The bright yellow of the brass candlestick is the strongest colour, strikingly contrasted by the acid blue of the saucepan. Shades of grey, green and brown, and large patches of white, lend stability to this restless colourfulness, so that the overall impression of the canvas is one of subdued colour. The power of the pure colours seems muted, despite the decidedly aggressive use of the yellow and blue. Thus the expressive values of the colours waver between the bright and the subdued. They are unstable. Similarly with the light: the candle's big flame and black shadow convey an appearance of brightness, yet the lit sides of the three objects are on the sides away from the light. It is not light with any real illuminative power; it is symbolic light. The painting's symbolism is simple, using everyday household objects to suggest the difficulty of life under the occupation.Even the large-scale 1948 composition "The Kitchen"reflects that everyday, basic privation. It shows the kitchen at Picasso's studio flat in the Rue des Grands-Augustins. Against a sad, grey, non-spatial background we see a variety of utensils and furniture. Spanish tiles and birdcages, plates and stove hotplates are the principal subjects. But the overall impression is one of fragility, indeed of utter emptiness. Personal experience of going without, in the home and workplace, has become a generalized warning. The ochre yellow New York version is no less melancholy, for the greater warmth of the colour is counteracted by the greater austerity in the positioning of the objects. Other still lifes of the period use their motifs with even blunter directness of moralizing intent. They tend to be dominated by a skull, a painted version of a sculpture Picasso did in 1943 in his studio in the Rue des Grands-Augustins. There are also objects that recall war and menace - very evocatively, for instance, in "Skull, Sea Urchins and Lamp on a Table" (1946). Black, white and grey areas, awkwardly constrictive and jostling, predominate, and the three spiky sea urchins on the plain plate seem reminiscent of some mediaeval weapon, such as a mace.
 


Death's Head
1943


Skull, Sea Urchins and Lamp on a Table
1946

 

 

Symbolic form, a compacted artistic treatment of given reality, and translation of the everyday wretchedness of war into an urgent though not superficial visual idiom, are all to be found in a major Picasso done at the very end of the war: his great composition "The Charnel House". It was inspired by a Spanish film about a family killed in their kitchen. When Picasso went to work on the painting from February to May 1945, it was with the first photographs of liberated German concentration camps in mind - though this dimension only entered the work at a late stage, as the composition was already fixed in formal terms before any of the photographs were published. This only lends additional weight to the painting's statement, though, taking as it does political terror as its subject.

The picture shows a heap of corpses after an execution. One figure, still tied to a post, is collapsing onto the others. It was only during the course of Picasso's work on the painting that the location became more precisely defined. Greyish blue, white and black areas denote walls, floor and posts, a set of architectonic props that suggest both exterior and interior, as in "Guernica". The still life of kitchen utensils at top left is not only a glance at the film original; it also underlines the everyday banality and ubiquity of terror. It can hit anyone, anywhere, any time. Even more than in "Guernica" the monochrome scheme, the linearity and the use of areas of unbroken colour serve to make a universal of the statement. First Picasso sketched in the simple outlines of his stylized figures, heaping them so that the lines are interwoven, creating a tangled network that defies distinction of separate forms. Later he filled in some of the segments, so establishing an equilibrium of figural and spatial motifs. (Only the line-drawing still life remains different.) The heap of bodies can be seen as replicating the destruction of individual identity in the world of totalitarian terror. Human beings cannot even preserve their individual physical identities; even their bodies are taken from them.

 


The Charnel House
1944

 


The Charnel House (1st state)
1944

 


The Charnel House (3rd state)
1944

 

 

The painting was done with an etching from Goya's series "Desastres de la Guerra" in mind. In other words, it was using pre-formulated artistic modes of response to war. It cannot really be seen as a direct expression of political commitment; though Picasso often expressed political positions at this time, as an artist he retained his independence. But six years later things looked somewhat different when he painted "Massacre in Korea". The Korean War had begun six months earlier. The painting was Picasso's protest at the American invasion. Shown at the May Salon in Paris, it took sides in a war of ideologies. And its formal idiom was an unambiguous, partisan one, using handed-down simple symbols and only sparingly heightening the figural naturalism with cautious touches of the dissociative. We see the good and evil sides in straightforward confrontation on an extremely broad format. Four naked women, rigid with fear, and their four similarly naked children (the nakedness symbolizing de-fencelessness), are being aimed at by six soldiers armed to the teeth (symbolizing far superior power). The soldiers' postures seem at once mechanical and archaic; they are ancient warriors transmuted into death-bringing robots. A green, sweeping, simplified landscape featuring only a single ruined house is the backdrop to the composition.

 


Massacre in Korea
1951

 

 

For his work on it, Picasso drew upon a number of cognate works, in particular Edouard Manet's famous painting "The Execution of Emperor Maximilian in Mexico" (Mannheim, Kunsthalle). From it Picasso took the figure grouping and particularly the figure of the death squad commander. He also borrowed from the work that inspired Manet, Goya's familiar "3rd May 1808" (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado). The twofold grouping and the threatening anonymity of the soldiers have been taken directly from Goya, as has the figure of a fallen victim, transformed in Picasso's painting into a child crouching on the ground.

Goya too was inspired by antecedent works, Jacques-Louis David's "Rape of the Sabine Women" and "The Oath of the Horatii" (both in the Louvre in Paris). Picasso drew on David's paintings for particular features such as the striding stance of one soldier and details of mediaeval or ancient weaponry. This blatant use of other paintings is in line with the one-dimensionality of the painting's form and content. It is very different from other pictures of similar subject. This is the result of aiming simultaneously at two objectives. Only the title places the painting in the Korean War; as in his other anti-war pictures, Picasso has carefully avoided using specific details that would tie down his statement to a particular place and time. The form has become programmatic.

Plainly a naturalistic, representational image is in the foreground. What counts for Picasso is the message. Consistently, he has presented the action as a picture within a picture: all round, there is a margin of unpainted canvas, which gives the work a fictive, mask-like quality. It is worth examining this defamiliarization. Mimetic representation was far more in line with public expectation than the formal idiom of Modernism, and could therefore count on a more approving response. In this we see the predicament of political, ideological art. Since the early days of Stalin, international Communism had been advocating realism as the only acceptable mode of artistic work. The French Communist Party toed this line too. It was an urgent dilemma for Picasso, as became clear at the 1945 Party congress, which gave him an accolade as man and artist but nonetheless called for realism in art.

Communist ideology saw art as a weapon in a political struggle that embraced every area of human activity. It is true that Picasso saw matters in exactly the same light, and considered himself a Communist artist painting Communist art; but his idea of what this meant was a different one from the Party's. To his way of thinking, politics served moral ends. For this reason his commitment was always expressed in humanitarian causes, and never in the discharging of official Party duties. He attended Communist peace conferences in Breslau (1948), Paris (1949), Sheffield (1950) and Rome (1951); but he preserved a distance from art whose form was dictated by the Party, and always insisted on his own independence as an artist. "Massacre in Korea" was a special case, an attempt to reconcile opposite points of view. Certainly he did work that served propagandist purposes in those years, but it was applied art - such as the dove in flight which he designed for the Sheffield congress, a conventional enough image for the concept of universal peace.


David and Bathsheba (after Lucas Cranach the Elder)
1947

 


David and Bathsheba (after Lucas Cranach the Elder)
1949

 

 

The latent conflict between Picasso's ideas on art and those of the French Communist Party became open after the death of Stalin, when (at Louis Aragon's request) he did a portrait of the dead leader for the arts magazine "Les Lettres francaises". The portrait, though relatively true to life, was stylized in Picasso's manner; it was used on the magazine cover, but was out of line with the precepts of socialist realism, and furthermore ignored the features which Stalin iconography had established as characteristic. To Picasso's bewilderment, the portrait was consequently seen by Communist Party members as a mockery of Stalin. The divergence of opinion between the artist and the Party was too great to permit long-term collaboration. Picasso did remain a member of the Party, and on 1 May 1962 received the Order of Lenin for the second time. But the differences and alienation between his own and Party cadre thinking became so profound that in November 1956, with a number of others, he published an open letter in "Le Monde" protesting against Soviet intervention in Hungary.

Essentially, the Communist Party was using Picasso for propagandist reasons. In this respect he shared the fate of many intellectuals and artists who were so repelled by the Second World War and the atrocities perpetrated by the Fascists that they felt it necessary to espouse political causes openly. Everyday politics passed over their idealism blithely enough. And in the Cold War, with the two power blocs set hard and fast, individuals were only tolerated as extras on the political stage. Attempts to unite the arts and politics and thus to transform the state into something better proved to be illusory. Progressive Communist artists in particular found that things went much as they had with the Utopian Modernists, Constructivists and satirical realists of the Twenties. Their ideas only had any impact in brief periods of transition. Since the final years of the Tsarist age, important Picassos had been in Russia, but it was not till the 1970s that Soviet arts policy honoured him not only as a prominent Party member but also as an artist. Picasso's commitment to the Communist cause was necessarily no more than an episode in the immediate post-war years.

 

Still, Picasso persisted in expressing his general humanitarian and political concerns in his work. During the period when he was questioning Party sovereignty in the arts, he was painting a deconsecrated 14th-century chapel at Vallauris. Outraged by the Korean War, he had decided to make the chapel a temple of peace. From April to September 1952, in over 250 sketches, he designed two huge murals for the chapel, on the subject of war and peace. The murals (War and Peace) were completed that December, though they were not installed till 1954. Tellingly, Picasso again took his bearings for the twin allegorical works from the art of the past. War is symbolized by a kind of frieze in which a horse-drawn chariot is taking the field against a monumental figure armed in ancient fashion and bearing the scales and shield of justice and peace. Behind the chariot, attacking warriors seen in black silhouette are engaged in carnage. The death's-heads carried by the charioteer point to the only outcome of battle. By contrast, the other mural affords a prospect of unsullied happiness. It shows mothers and playing children, around the central figure of Pegasus, pulling a plough at the bidding of one child and so personifying the fertile world of peace. Both pictures, in their own ways, continue the childlike elements in "Guernica" and link them to forms Matisse had used in his Arcadian paintings.

 


War
1952

 


Peace
1952

 

 

Matisse was then the other great exponent of Modernism and the only artist among his fellows whom Picasso considered his equal. In 1943 he had moved to Vence, where he decorated the chapel of a convent, designing the stained-glass windows, the candlesticks and crucifix, the chasubles and murals. The Chapel of the Rosary was consecrated on 25 June 1951. Picasso was not personally present at the ceremony, but he did visit his sick fellow artist shortly beforehand. To make his murals Matisse had transferred drawings onto glazed tiles, so establishing a sort of equivalent to the spatial work Picasso had done in Antibes in 1946, when he had spent two months of hard concentration painting twenty-two murals onto plywood and hardboard for the Palais Grimaldi. These economically drawn works, sometimes using extensive blocks of colour, describe an Arcadian realm of peaceful Mediterranean contentment, using motifs drawn from ancient mythology (Pastorale). There is a sense of serene joy in these deliberately simple pictures. The subject of joie de vivre was borrowed from Matisse. The Antibes series was completed in 1947 with "Odysseus and the Sirens", whereupon the Paris administrative centre for the nation's museums redubbed the building "Musee Picasso". Though the Antibes and Vallauris works are doubtless not among the artist's most important, they clearly show his interest in art seen in public spaces.

 


La joie de vivre (Pastorale)
1946

 

 

Political commitment was only one aspect of Picasso's creative efforts at that time. The distinctive dichotomy in his activities was not least a result of particular artistic interests. This is clearest in the sculptures he did between 1943 and 1953. One of his most famous and characteristic, done in 1943 during the darkest period of the occupation, when Picasso felt utterly isolated, was the "Head of a Bull". The skeletal head and horns of a bull are conveyed by two found objects which in themselves are meaningless, a bicycle saddle and handlebars. Picasso subsequently had this assemblage cast in bronze, thus reassessing the original materials, eliminating the contrasts and opening out the ambivalence of form. It was a continuation of what he had done in "The Glass of Absinthe", that famous product of synthetic Cubism. The absolute economy of the "Head of a Bull" was breathtaking, and remains stunning to this day. And from then on Picasso retained the basic principle of metamorphosis of formal meaning and interpretation in all his sculptural work.
   

Head of a Bull
1942

 

"Baboon and Young", done in October 1951, achieved a comparable popularity. It was immediately cast in bronze in a limited edition of six. Picasso was inspired by two toy cars which the art dealer Kahnweiler gave to his son Claude, and used them for the head of the ape, bottom to bottom so that the gap between the two becomes the slit of the baboon's mouth, the radiator the whiskers, the roof the receding forehead, and the two front windows the eyes - to which Picasso added two plaster balls as pupils. Picasso then used coffee cup handles as ears and an immense jug for the body. The arms and the remainder of the baboon's body, and her young, were modelled in plaster. Finally, the outstretched tail was another found item: a car suspension spring curled at one end.

Picasso proceeded similarly with his 1950 "Nanny Goat", the "Woman with Baby Carriage" and "Girl Skipping" (moulded the same year but not finished till 1954) and the still life "Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle", done between 1951 and 1953. For the "Nanny Goat" he used a large round basket for the belly, metal strips for the lean flanks, carved vinewood for the horns, and cardboard for the ears. The fibrous wooden part of a palm leaf served for the smooth brow and the hairless backbone. The legs and feet were made of wood too; a lighting appliance was the behind; folded cardboard and metal tubing became the genitals and anus, twisted wire the tail; and two ceramic vessels functioned as an udder. For the "Girl Skipping" a Vallauris ironmonger bent a length of iron rod to the shape required for the skipping rope (and the figure's support). The girl's body is made of two wicker baskets, ceramics, baking tins and plaster; and the feet are clad in ordinary shoes. For the "Woman with Baby Carriage" Picasso used a real push-chair but constructed the figures of metal parts, roof tiles, baking tins and bits of pottery.

 

 


Baboon and Young
1951

 

 


Nanny Goat
1950

 


Woman with Baby Carriage
1950

 


Girl Skipping
1950

 


Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle
1951-1953

 

His older idea of using bicycle handlebars as an animal's horns reappeared in "Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle", on a goat skull made of baked clay, plaster and screws. For the beams of light shed by a burning candle he used nails.

Using the technique of the objet trouve, a method much beloved by the Surrealists, Picasso succeeded in ringing fascinating changes. His formal analogies render the external qualities of figures ambiguous, and indeed challenge them. There are few better places than his sculptural work to see the intellectual vigour of Picasso's art. Every detail is sophisticated in conception. In the "Girl Skipping", for instance, we see a small child still unsure of how to use the rope: her awkwardness is expressed in the instability of the sculpture, but especially by the outsize shoes - and by the fact that she is wearing them on the wrong feet.

Picasso's use of objects in his sculpture was radically different from that of other modern artists. The "ready-made" of a Marcel Duchamp, for example, is provocative in conception. The placement of objects is less a matter of form than of what the objects signify. A bicycle wheel on a stool, or a bottle-dryer declared as art - these things do not revalue the objects; rather, they aim criticism at the very concept of art. Picasso, by contrast, is fundamentally returning to a pre-modern artistic idiom. In the mid-16th century the Mannerist painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo had assembled various kinds of object into allegorical portraits and figures. It was an art of analogy and similitude. In a portrait made of vegetables, for instance, a cucumber could stand for a nose. This mode of characterization was later to become the province of satirical drawings in particular. It was a marginal, little-noted kind of art, but in it an underground tradition lived on, only to be rediscovered by the Surrealists when they hit upon the bizarre inventions of Arcimboldo.

Picasso for his part was not copying objects mimetically but using the real things for sculptural purposes, expanding the principle considerably.

In this context it is necessary to consider the genesis of form. Basically there are two possibilities: either the seen object prompts a spontaneous idea of metamorphosis, or, conversely, a planned concept comes first and the objects are sought out to fit it. It was in this latter way that the "Nanny Goat" was made; Picasso went in search of objects to fit his idea. On the other hand, the look of the toy cars spontaneously prompted the idea of the baboon. In all his sculptures, though, the idea is central - an intellectual exercise, which the artwork provides material substance for, as it were. We can see this particularly in Picasso's approach to the tactile qualities of surfaces. In distinguishing between objets trouves and bronze casts of them, in choosing either to gather a variety of materials or to use his own, he was establishing specific effects. In the use of original objects, the meaning of form is in the foreground; in bronze casts, that meaning is subordinate to qualities of appearance - say, the juxtaposition of rougher and smoother textures. It is practically the creation of a new object. If Picasso, as he continued to work on a sculpture such as "Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle", painted various casts, thus disguising and redefining the true qualities of the metal, it was basically an approach of synthetic Cubism.

 

As they came into existence, these works defined new areas of meaning, playing with visual form, three-dimensionality and surface structure. Qualities of plasticity, though not unimportant, were distinctly of secondary significance. Whether Picasso carried out an idea in paint or sculpture was essentially a pragmatic question. Thus he was able to alternate between the forms. "Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle", for instance, itself inspired by a 1939 still life, prompted two further paintings in 1952. The prime importance of the idea, consistently enough, can be seen in the genesis of his works, traceable through the invariable preliminary sketches.

 

 


Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle
1952

 

 


Goat Skull, Bottle and Candle
1952

 


Study after
"Man with Sheep"
1943
 

 The best illustration of this is the large-scale sculpture "Man with Sheep", done in early 1943. Unlike the objets trouves and the assemblages, the figure was wholly modelled in clay on an iron frame, in conventional style, and then moulded in plaster for subsequent bronze casting. This work was preceded by a large number of studies, beginning as early as t 5 July 1942. At first the figure was not full-length: Picasso sketched a man holding a sheep's forelegs in his left hand and the hind with his right. The final form evolved through a large number of detail and compositional studies, in the course of which Picasso drew upon an ancient statue of a man carrying a calf, as well as on the motif - familiar since childhood - of Christ as the good shepherd. The figure became a personification of peace, in response to the war. Of greater interest is Picasso's protracted irresolution (as sketches of September 1942 confirm) whether to use the idea as a painting or a sculpture. At first he thought both were possible. The sketches envisaged a historical painting, while purely linear sketches done in August 1942 suggest Picasso was thinking of a graphic solution. We have his own word for it that it was only at a late stage that he thought of sculpture. The finished group still reveals this indeterminacy. The figure is still marked by the strong contrast between the rough surface of face and torso and the smoothness of the long legs. As Picasso himself noted, he had miscalculated the statics, and the model threatened to collapse under the excessive weight of the clay - so that he had to take his plaster cast from an unfinished state, despite his wish to work more on the legs and feet.

This may seem to imply an astounding indifference to his own work on Picasso's part. Taking a cast in these circumstances was an admission of defeat. Judged by the artist's aims, "Man with Sheep" is strictly speaking a failure. But we must bear Picasso's attitude to sculpture in mind. Compared with the intellectual act of evolving the concept, the work of producing the final object was a negligible business. What counted was the artist's mind and will. Speaking of "Head of a Bull", Picasso commented that he would be perfectly happy if one day someone retrieved his artwork from the garbage and used it for bicycle parts.
 


Study for "Man with Sheep"
1942

 


Man with Sheep
1943

 

 

A further indicator of the view Picasso took of his own work is his sense of himself as demiurge creating new worlds of his own through his new techniques and genres. His command of the various aspects of technique his art involved was absolute. Staying on the Cote d'Azur at the small town of Vallauris, an old pottery centre, Picasso acquired skills in ceramic art. In 1946, at an exhibition of work by potters who lived there, Suzanne and Georges Ramie challenged Picasso to produce ceramic ware of his own. His subconscious went to work on the new form, and by the following summer he was full of ideas of his own.

Initially he worked at "Madoura", the Ramies' workshop; then in 1948, with Franchise Gilot, he moved into the newly-purchased Villa La Galloise in Vallauris, and set up a ceramic workshop of his own in an old perfumery in the town. Within a year he had produced over 2,000 ceramic pieces, eloquent proof of the extraordinary energy with which he tackled his new technique. The Vallauris years from 1947/48 to 1954 marked Picasso's most intensive work with ceramics. Painters and sculptors had tended to ignore the ancient art, and in Europe it had never recovered the high status it had had in ancient Greece, which produced vase paintings in black and red which are among the great achievements of Occidental art. Matisse and other Fauves had worked with clay on occasion, but restricted their efforts to painting ware made by potters.

 


Plate: "Head of a Faun". Plate: "Brown and Blue Face"
1947

 


Plate: "Bullfight Scene". Plate: "Bullfight Scene"
1947

 


Round Vase: "Four Fish"
1950

 

Vase: "Flute Players and Dancers" (two views)
1950

 


Jug: "Figurechead"
1952

 


Jug: "Woman's Face"
1953

 

 

Picasso's approach was a different one from the outset. He acquired both the potter's and the ceramic painter's skills. His ceramic work includes painted plates and vases, but also sculptures made by joining preformed pieces, as well as moulded objects. At first he devoted himself to painting finished pieces - making bullfight scenes, still lifes or animal portrayals out of mere plates. The given form of the objects was always his point of departure in evolving ideas, but it became so involved in the decorative transmutation that a new thing resulted. The numerous bullfight scenes show this well. Picasso would paint a corrida in the base of the plate and either use the rim for a distinct colour frame or else dab specks of paint to suggest a grandstand full of spectators.

Clay as a material met Picasso's aims, which centred upon types of formal metamorphosis, very well. It was capable of being moulded into infinitely various forms, remained pliable throughout the process, and was thus at the constant disposal of the artist's ideas. Thus, for example, a compact vase became a kneeling woman, and the body, stem and spout of one vessel became a bird. The decorative images were complemented with careful use of relief - added strips of clay and indentations. Picasso used paint to reinforce and decoratively highlight the form and function of the ware, but also deployed its illusionist effects to redefine forms: jugs became stagey scenarios suggestive of spatial depth, or were transformed into human or animal shapes.

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