Picasso and Revenge — Sally Darley — 8th October  2018

Sally was subtly intro­duced by Jacko, who pro­fessed not to know one end of a paint­brush from the other, yet some­how seemed fully aware of Picasso during his “Blazer Period”. No-one else knew this until he rolled up his trouser legs to expose Picasso’s “Sock Period”!

Sally is an art gradu­ate who act­ively avoided and hated Picasso until recently, when her curi­os­ity was aroused by read­ing on the sub­ject.

Sally gave her talk without slides, so your blog­ger had to resort to cun­ning, snap­ping the pages of her Picasso book each time it came round the room to enable him to define exactly what cubism was all about.

Picasso was born in Malaga in 1881, the son of Don José Ruiz Blasco (a rather good artist) and Maria Picasso. He was con­sidered a prodigy at art school, train­ing clas­sic­ally, and exhib­it­ing The First Communion (Fig 1) in Barcelona in1896 aged 15. How things changed for him from then on.

Fig 1 The First Communion 1896

As a young pro­fes­sional artist, his style was rad­ic­ally influ­enced by mod­ern­ist and impres­sion­ist con­tem­por­ar­ies gath­er­ing in the Els Quatre Gats tavern in Barcelona. He moved to Paris with his friend Casagemas whose sui­cide led to Picasso’s “Blue Period” (1901–4). His first solo exhib­i­tion was not a com­mer­cial suc­cess but the crit­ics were enthu­si­astic. A fla­vour of the time can be found in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” which fea­tures Picasso. He settled per­man­ently in Paris in his “Pink Period” in 1904, living a Bohemian life­style, and in the com­pany of many of the French Impressionists. He was par­tic­u­larly attrac­ted to Cezanne’s style. By 1907 he shocked the estab­lish­ment with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a 2-D por­trayal of pros­ti­tutes, and influ­enced by his interest in African art (Fig 2, top right).

Fig 2 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

This paint­ing was the sem­inal fore­run­ner of Cubism and Modern Art. His Pink Period is dom­in­ated by sexual over­tones, circus and theatre. Form was cru­cial; sub­jects were depic­ted geo­met­ric­ally in cones, tubes or cubes, and from chan­ging angles, thereby allow­ing, for instance, a face to be shown sim­ul­tan­eously in pro­file and face-on. Other artists e.g. George Braque, who teamed up with him, fol­lowed suit and Picasso’s repu­ta­tion grew.

He had a good busi­ness brain and was a fast worker, some­times pro­du­cing up to three paint­ings a day, and was more than fin­an­cially stable by the start of WW1. Sally’s view was that his fame allowed him to trade more and more on his sig­na­ture and that, like some other suc­cess­ful latter-day artists, “sold his life to the god of art”.

In WW1, Picasso wasn’t called up to fight as he was Spanish. He designed sets and cos­tumes for Cocteau’s exper­i­mental “Parade” per­formed by the Ballet Russe, com­bin­ing his cubism with vibrant real­ism. Here he met the dancer Olga Kockhelova and mar­ried her in 1918. He painted her more in a clas­sical style, but leav­ing the back­ground unfin­ished.

Fig 3 Olga in an Armchair 1918

Living in high-society Paris, they had a son in 1921. The male line remains intact today. Not abandon­ing cubism com­pletely, he varied his style accord­ing to the sub­ject often drift­ing to more roun­ded but exag­ger­ated pro­por­tions, in a neo-classical style (Fig 4)

Fig 4 Mother and Child 1921

In 1935, Olga and he sep­ar­ated. There were affairs with young beau­ti­ful women and some ille­git­im­ate chil­dren. His sur­real­ist “Monster Period” fol­low­ing the sep­ar­a­tion, was a form of art “express­ing the sub­con­scious, dreams and hidden memor­ies”. Everyday objects and scenes with hidden mean­ing were his trade­mark (we all saw the bit of wood remind­ing us of a cro­codile fig 5)

Fig 5 A random piece of wood found at Fountains Abbey

He painted bulls and bull­fight­ers, and por­trayed humans as dis­tor­ted and viol­ent, pos­sibly reflect­ing his chaotic private life (Fig 6). Imagery from the bull­ring fea­tured in Guernica, which was badly bombed in the Spanish civil war (Fig 7),


Fig 6 Figures at the sea­side 1931

Fig 7 Guernica 1937

The Weeping Woman (1937) was his last Guernica paint­ing of the griev­ing Dora Maar, a close friend, in the cubist style and highly col­oured to rep­res­ent her out­ward per­son­al­ity. The con­trast­ing white areas of tears reflect death and destruc­tion in Guernica (fig 8)

Fig 8 The Weeping Woman 1937

In WW2 he was labelled by the Nazis as a “degen­er­ate Bolshevik” but was oth­er­wise left alone. After the war, he and Françoise Gilot moved to Provence and had two chil­dren. Here he dis­covered ceram­ics and sculp­ture, line draw­ing, pho­to­graphy, litho­graphs, lino cuts and etch­ing, but never stick­ing to any par­tic­u­lar medium, and always exper­i­ment­ing. In 1953 they sep­ar­ated and he mar­ried Jacqueline Roque in 1961. He con­tin­ued to exhibit until 1971 and died in 1973.

Picasso was pro­lific, pro­du­cing over 20000 works of art. He was the father of Modern Art


Andrew Shorthouse