Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats



Hewn with an Axe

Delight in distortion



You remember, don't you, that the picture was at first called The Brothel at Avignon. And do you know why? Avignon is a name that is linked to my life in Barcelona. There I lived only a few steps away from the Calle d'Avignon. That is where I always used to buy my paper and paints under the gaze of prostitutes.

Pablo Picasso, Word and Confessions, 1954



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 scream. Thus Pablo Picasso 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 a contemporary.

In 1904 Picasso 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 Henri Matisse 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. Picasso, 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.


Pablo Picasso
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon


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