Picasso: The Early Life Part 2

I ended my last blog with Pablo Picasso and his family in Malaga during the summer of 1897 on vacation at the home of his uncle Don Salvador.  It was during this stay that Picasso’s father José Ruiz Blasco and his brother decided that the way forward for Pablo was for him to go to Madrid and attend the San Fernando Royal Academy of Arts where his father’s former employer, the director of La Llotja art school in Barcelona, was now one of the principal teachers.   With that in mind the two brothers approached the relatives for financial support to send the seventeen year old Picasso to the Spanish capital so as to further his artistic career.

So was everybody happy with this turn of events?  The adults were, the relatives were and yet the young artist was unhappy with the Academy and how it taught art. He disliked the artistic constraints of the Academia Real de San Fernando.   How many times have I written about young aspiring artists rebelling against the formulaic approach to art laid down by the Academies, whether they are in London or Paris?   He was also unhappy with the way the adult members of his family had taken it upon themselves and decided the future path he should follow in his artistic career.  He became rebellious and did little work at the Academy.  He would often skip lectures and go to the Prado where he fell in love with the works of the great Spanish artists such as Goya, Velazquez and Zurbaran but was specially inspired by the expressionist style of El Greco.  The news about Picasso’s lack of a work ethic, frequent non-attendance and general bohemian lifestyle soon filtered back to his father in Barcelona and his uncle in Malaga.  The uncle who was the main financial backer for Picasso’s living arrangements and academic tuition was so angered that he immediately cut off the young artist’s stipend and suddenly Picasso had to survive on the meagre financial assistance his father could provide.  He finally quit the Academy at the end of 1897.

Whether it was due to his impoverished existence in Madrid and the lack of good wholesome food or whether it was just fate, but Picasso’s health began to deteriorate and in the Spring of 1898 the seventeen year old had to return home to his family to recuperate from what was thought to be scarlet fever.

Portrait of Manuel Pallarés by Picasso (1895)

It was here that he once again met up with his friend Manuel Pallarés who had been a fellow pupil of his at the city’s Llotja art school.  In April 1898 war had broken out between Spain and America and young men were being conscripted to fight.  Pallarés, who was six years older than Picasso, to avoid the draft, left Barcelona and went back to his native village, Horta de Ebro, which was a small isolated community in the mountains on the border of Catalonia and Aragon.  Picasso accompanied his friend and the two stayed together in the small rural community for the next six months.  The two would roam the wild countryside with their easels and paints for weeks sometimes camping out in the open, other times they slept in caves on beds of grass, and survived on rice which they cooked over open fires.  All the time they painted and sketched.

The Mule by Picasso

The subjects were peasants at work in the mill, shepherds guarding their sheep, and old somewhat dilapidated houses surrounded by golden yellow fields of wheat.   They would often feature some of the animals they saw on their travels such as lambs, goats and the poor over-worked donkey.  When they needed money the two would return to Horta to help with the grape harvest.  Picasso remembered this time he spent with his friend in Horta de Ebro, saying:

“Everything I know, I learned in Pallarés’ village.”

By December 1898, Spain had lost the war against America and ceded both Cuba and the Philippines to the victors.  The fighting had stopped and Picasso returned home to Barcelona where he managed to eke out a living as a graphic artist, designing posters, illustrations for magazines and journals often influenced by the Swiss-born French Art Nouveau painter and printmaker, Théophile Steinlen and the French painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He also earned a little money with his pencil portraits of his friends.   His rejection of academic art made him search for a new artistic direction and he did this by joining an avant-garde group of artists and poets who congregated at a local coffee-house restaurant called Els Quatre Gats.

Menu for Els Quatre Gats designed by Picasso (1899)

Picasso earned some money by designing their menu.  The artists and poets who gathered here were known as the modernistes or decadentes.  It was here in 1900 that Picasso held his first solo exhibition.  At Els Quatre Gats, Picasso met and became great friends with many of the bohemians who frequented the establishment including a young artist, Carles Casagemas and an aspiring poet, Jaime Sabartès, who in the 1930’s became Picasso’s secretary and invaluable confidante.   Sabartès wrote about their early friendship and their daily routine in his 1949 biography of Picasso entitled Picasso: An Intimate Portrait.  He wrote:

“…After lunch we met in Els Quatre Gats and from there I accompanied him to his studio.  Henceforth, every day was the same.  At times I left him at the foot of the stairs; at others, if he insisted, I went up with him.  Sometimes he was more at ease once he began work than if he was alone, for with me at his side, he did not need to think about me…”

Picasso et le peintre Casagemas by Picasso (1899)

Although Sabartès probably considered himself as Picasso’s best friend it was probably not the case for Picasso had forged a great friendship and working relationship with Carles Casagemas.   Casagemeas was the youngest child of a very wealthy family and was probably overindulged by his parents.  He kept a studio in a wing of his parent’s house where he and Picasso worked together.  They were almost inseparable much to the annoyance of Sabartès.  Casegemas led a decadent lifestyle, addicted to both morphine and alcohol and was involved in the anarquismo sin adjetivos movement, the anarchist movement that flourished in Barcelona at the end of the nineteenth century.  From the wing in Casagemas’ parents house the two artists moved to an unfurnished atelier in the once affluent but now impoverished and run-down Ciutat Vella district of the city, populated mainly by beggars.

Picasso made very little money from his pencil portraits but to his great surprise and pleasure his oil painting entitled Last Moments, was accepted for the Spanish pavilion at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  The work depicted a dying woman in bed attended by a priest.  This was without doubt a great honour for a young man who had not yet had his nineteenth birthday.  Unfortunately the painting does not now exist as Picasso painted over it in 1903 with his work La Vie.  Picasso was keen to see his work hanging at the Exposition and so after cajoling his father into funding the journey, which left him and his wife almost penniless, Picasso and his friend Casagemas left Barcelona and headed for Paris and the artistic district of Montmartre.

Le Moulin de la Galette by Picasso (1900)

Now ensconced in a studio on rue Gabrielle in Montmartre Picasso absorbed the works of the French artists of the time such as Corot, Courbet and Manet as well as the academic painters such as Eugène Delacroix and Jacques-Louis David.  He would see the paintings in the private galleries of the art dealers such as Durand-Ruel and Ambroise Vollard.  He also visited Le Moulin de la Galette which in those days was where working class Parisians would dress up and spend time there dancing, drinking, and eating galettes (round crusty cakes).  Picasso painted a scene of this dance hall in the autumn of 1900 entitled Le Moulin de la Galette, which is now housed at the Gugenheim Museum in New York.  In it we see how Picasso has portrayed the women in a manner which suggests that they are almost dominating their male partners.  It is believed that the woman on the left is Germaine Gargallo who would soon play a fateful role in the life of Picasso’s closest friend, Casagemas. They are depicted as being coquettish and confident.  Picasso witnessed a woman different from the downtrodden Spanish females or the subjugated Spanish whore.  Here he observes the sophisticated French women, who are able to manipulate their men folk.  He immediately acquired a profound and intense respect for these women.

His friend from Barcelona, Manuel Pallarés, arrives in Paris and joined up with Picasso and Casagemas.  The three live together along with three girls, who they employed as artists’ models.   The girls, Germaine Gargello and her sister, Antoinette and their friend Louise Lenoir, known simply as Odette, speak little or no Spanish and Picasso and his two friends speak little or no French.   Odette becomes Picasso’s first girlfriend in Paris.  Casagemas falls deeply in love with Germaine which leaves Antoinette to pair off with Pallarés.

So was this ménage à six a success?  Surely, three men and three lusty women in a cramped but intimate room was a recipe for a wonderful sexually-fulfilling life.  Alas there was one slight problem to this sexual Arcadia.  It is believed that Casagemas was impotent and lovemaking in front of his fellow flatmates in that studio of theirs was a humiliating disaster for Casagemas.  In Norman Mailer’s 1995 book entitled Picasso: Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man he wrote about the situation Casagemas found himself:

“…In fact the situation (living) proved disastrous for Casagemas. Lovemaking in that studio must often have been a spectacle: the humiliation of Casagemas had sought by never going with others to brothels may now have suffered from open display.  He was hardly in a position of the kind of readily available virility that could undertake the tests of an orgy…”

The inability of Casagemas to perform sexually with Germaine affected him mentally and there is evidence that she would taunt him about his impotency.  It got so bad that Picasso decided to take Casagemas back to Barcelona with him.  The departure from Paris at a time when his work was selling well wasn’t solely a selfless act on behalf of Picasso as he, being loosely associated with Catalan anarchist groups in Paris, had become the subject of great interest to the Paris gendarmerie.   Picasso went from Paris to Barcelona with Casagemas in time for Christmas and then the two headed down to Malaga. Casagemas could not get over his love affair with Germaine and would write to her daily expressing his love for her, asking her to marry him and terming her as his fiancé.  Sadly for Casagemas it was unrequited love. Picasso became weary with the inconsolable Casagemas’ distraught lovelorn attitude and his constant demands on his time when he had to listen sympathetically to Casagemas’ outpourings of his love for Germaine.  Picasso had had enough and got his uncle to arrange a boat passage back to Barcelona for his lovesick friend.  It was to be the last time Picasso would see Casagemas alive.  Picasso headed alone to Madrid where he worked on new magazine entitled Arte Joren started by his Catalan friend Francisco de Asís Soler.  Picasso was to provide the illustrations.  The magazine eventually closed due to lack of advertising revenue.

Meanwhile Casagemas could not remain in Barcelona knowing his “true love” Germaine was living alone in Paris so on February 16th 1901, having bought himself a new suit, he headed back to Paris.  Germaine met him at the railway station and bluntly told him that she would never marry him.  Casagemas was devastated.  However the next morning he told her that he would return to Barcelona and he invited her, Odette, Pallarés and a few friends to a farewell dinner at L’Hippodrome Café.  That afternoon, he spent hours composing a suicide note and whether because he knew his torment was about to be ended, he arrived at the restaurant in seemingly good spirits.  During the meal, Casagemas stood up as if to make a speech and took out a letter for Germaine.  He then took a pistol from his pocket.  The diners scattered and Germaine dived under the table and placed herself behind Pallarés.  Casagemas looked at his lover Germaine, pointed the gun at her and fired shouting Voilà pour toi (this is for you).  Germaine slumped to the ground and Casagemas believed he had killed her, when in fact she had just fainted.  Casagemas then put the gun to his head and cried: Et voilà pour moi (and this for me).  He fell to the ground.  The police arrived and Casagemas who was still alive was rushed to a chemist and then on to the Hôpital Bichat where he died just before midnight.

When Picasso heard the news in Madrid he was devastated.  Maybe he believed that he had abandoned his friend and that he could have done more for him.  He condemned Germaine for her attitude to his friend and was very critical of the type of women who demanded and took but were reluctant to give back in return.  Picasso returned to Paris after the failure of the Arte Joren and carried out a number of commissions for Pere Mañache, his unofficial agent, and the gallery owner, Ambroise Vollard.  These were varied works, some portraiture and others depicting the happy life of Parisians.

Death of Cagemas by Picasso (1901)

However in that same year and possibly countering the joy shown in the paintings he had done for Vollard, Picasso painted a portrait of his dead friend entitled Head of the Dead Casagemas.  It was only a small work measuring eleven inches by fourteen inches (27cms x 35cms).  We see just the right side of Casagemas’ head with the mark of the bullet entry in his skull.  On the far side we see a candle burning brightly which in some ways symbolises the sorrow of Casgaemas’ mother sitting in vigil.   Picasso must have been wracked with guilt as he painted this picture as he remembered how he had initially done everything to persuade Casagemas’ mother to allow her son to leave home with him and head for Paris.

I will end the story of Picasso’s early life at this point, just before the start of his Blue Period with its entire works evoking a somber mood which may have been as a result of the death of his friend for Picasso is reported to have said:

“…When I realized Casagemas was dead, I started to paint in blue…”

I leave you with a very sad Picasso, wracked with remorse for his friend but pose this question.  How is it that if Picasso blamed Germaine for the suicide of his friend why would he take her for his lover when

Pablo Picasso – The early days, Part 1

Having returned home from a four-day vacation in Paris I need to catch up with writing my blog.  In my last blog I promised two entries with regards the life and works of Picasso and so, true to my word that is what I will give you.  Before I start I have a terrible admission to make.  I do not like the works of Picasso.  Yes, I know that is artistic anathema but at least I am honest.  I suppose the one caveat to that controversial assertion is that it is the later works of Picasso which I do not like and so my next two blogs will cover some of his earlier paintings and the fascinating beginnings to the Spanish artist’s life.

Pigeons by José Ruiz Blasco (Picasso's father) 1888

It was 11:15pm on Tuesday October 25th 1881 that Picasso was born in Malaga, Spain.  His father was Don José Ruiz y Blasco, a painter of birds in their natural habitat, especially pigeons, and who at the time was a professor of drawing at the Escuela Provincial de Bellas Artes in Malaga and a curator at the local art museum.  Picasso’s mother was Maria Picasso y Lopez.  He was the first-born of their children.  He was baptised Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad, honouring a number of saints and some of his relatives.  To that already long name was added the names of his father “Ruiz” and his mother “Picasso” which was a requirement of Spanish law.  He was known simply as Pablo Ruiz.  Picasso’s father’s marriage to his wife was considered at the time as his father marrying beneath himself as he was from minor aristocracy and had a much higher standing in the community than that of his wife who was also without a dowry.  Although she brought no money into the relationship she did bring energy and thriftiness which was to serve her husband and family well.  Another thing Maria brought to the marital home was a bevy of females – her family, which consisted of her widowed mother and two unmarried sisters, Eladia and Eliodora along with a maidservant and so the young Pablo was brought up in a household full of women, all of whom were devoted to the little boy.

In late December 1884 Picasso’s sister, Lola was born, just three days after the devastating earthquake which destroyed large parts of the city of Malaga, killing almost eight hundred people and destroying 4000 homes.  The Picasso family fled the city and temporarily took refuge at the house of his father’s employer.  One wonders whether the young Picasso associated giving birth with the cataclysmic earthquake !   A second sister, Concepcion, was born when Pablo was six years old.  In 1891 the art museum which Picasso’s father had been its curator had closed down and as this was the main source of his income the father decided, for economic reasons, to uproot his family from Malaga an move everybody to La Corunna in the far north west of the country where he had gained employment as a teacher at the Guarda School of Fine Art.  By now, Picasso, aged almost eleven had developed a talent for drawing and his artistic skills blossomed to the detriment of his normal school work.  His father realised that his young son’s artistic talent would soon outshine his own and decided to transfer his own ambitions to those of his son and concentrated on getting his son, and now protégé, the very best artistic training.

In late 1894, when Picasso was barely thirteen years of age, tragedy struck the family with his four year old sister, Conchita, contracting diphtheria.  The young Picasso related years later that at this time he entered into a bargain with God that if he spared his sister’s life then he would give up all thoughts of painting again.   The fact that she was dying was concealed from Conchita and the family, for her benefit, celebrated the Christmas period as usual but sadly on January 10th 1895, she died.  Picasso was devastated by the death. In Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington’s biography of Picasso entitled Picasso: Creator and Destroyer, she relates a conversation the artist had with his young lover Françoise Gilot, during which he tells her about his bargain with God with regards the life of his sister and his artistic career and the dilemma that had encompassed.  Huffington explains the thought process of the guilty Picasso regarding the prodigious bargain he had made with God saying:

“…he was torn between wanting her saved and wanting her dead so that his gift would be saved.  When she died, he decided that God was evil and destiny an enemy.   At the same time he was convinced that it was the ambivalence that had made it possible for God to kill Conchita.  His guilt was enormous, the other side of his belief in the enormous power to affect the world around him.    And it was his compounded by his primitive, almost magical conviction that his little sister’s death had released him to be a painter and follow the call of the power he had been given, whatever the consequences…”

In September 1895, the family made the sea passage from La Corunna to Barcelona, stopping off in Malaga to visit relatives.  Once in Barcelona, Pablo entered the local art academy, La Llojta School of Fine Arts, where his father had just gained the post as professor of drawing.   As far as Picasso and his father were concerned this was a great move as they were leaving the northern provincial town of La Corunna and moved to the great artistic centre of the Catalan capital.   Barcelona was the making of the adolescent Picasso.  It is in the Catalan city that Picasso starts to look into two utterly diverse worlds, the world of religion and the world of sex.  Pablo often received religious guidance from his wealthy and devout uncle, Doctor Salvador Ruiz, who would also aid him financially and who first met with young Pablo at his birth when he breathed life into what, at first, was considered to be a still-born baby.  His sex education comes to the fourteen year old Picasso by way of his frequent visits to the city brothels in the Barrios Chino.

First Communion by Pablo Picasso (1896)

In 1896, after a lot of persuasion from his father and probably through the good auspices of his father, Picasso entered a painting, entitled First Communion, into a major art competition, the Exposicion de Bellas Artes, in Barcelona, which was a means for young aspiring Catalan artists to exhibit their works of art.  His father posed as the model for the father in the painting and his sister Lola posed as the First Communicant.  The son of a friend of his father posed as the altar boy.  Picasso was just fourteen years of age when he painted this work.  He not only concentrated on the three individuals but spent a similar amount of time in depicting the still-life floral arrangement, the candelabra and the altar cloth.  The painting did not win a prize at the exhibition but for a fifteen year old having his work accepted into the exhibition with such aspiring artists was an honour in itself and his road to artistic fame had begun.

Science and Charity by Picasso (1897)

It was his father’s belief that his son would achieve success as an academic painter, and this heartfelt belief started to bear fruit in 1897 with Picasso’s painting entitled Science and Charity, which was awarded an honourable mention in Madrid at the General Fine Arts Exhibition.   Picasso’s father once again poses as the man in the painting, this time, the doctor whose skill and knowledge will determine the patient’s fate.  Picasso commented on the use of his father in his early paintings and how it remained with him all his life, saying:

“…Every time I draw a man, I think of my father.  To me, man is don José, and will be all my life…”

The painting did not win any medals but received an “Honorable Mention” albeit the critics were not happy with the way Picasso had depicted the woman’s hand which lies limply at the side of the bed.  The dark coated doctor at the bedside symbolises learning, literature and science whilst the religous nun symbolises all that is good, succour and charity.     Although put up for sale in Madrid the work was not sold and Picasso and his father presented the work as a gift to Picasso’s Uncle Don Salvador Ruiz whilst spending their summer vacation with his family.  The painting is now housed at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

It was during this summer sojourn that Don Salvador and Picasso’s father planned the next step in Picasso’s career and managed to gather together enough money from their relatives in Malaga to send Picasso to the Royal Academy in Madrid but as you will see in the next blog their plans failed.

My next blog will look at the adolescent Picasso developing an independent spirit, free of parental control.  I will also look at some of his early friendships and yet another tragedy which was to remain with him for the rest of his life.

Le Corsage Rayé by Jean-Édouard Vuillard

Le Corsage Rayé by Édouard Vuillard (1895)

Today I am featuring a work by the French painter and printmaker, Jean-Édouard Vuillard.  Vuillard was born in 1868 in Cuiseaux, a commune in the region of Bourgogne in eastern France.  His father was a retired sea captain and his mother a seamstress.  When he was nine years old the family moved to Paris where his mother established a dressmaking workshop in their apartment.  In1883, when Édouard was fifteen years old his father died.  Following the death of his father Édouard received a scholarship so that he could continue with his secondary education at the Lycée Condorcet.  It was here that he met and became friends with another aspiring artist, Ker Xavier Roussel.  Vuillard left the school the following year and he and Roussel continued their artistic education at the studio of Diogène Maillart, which was formerly the studio of Eugene Delacroix.

In 1887, at the age of nineteen, Vuillard finally managed to be accepted at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.  He had tried twice before but on each occasion failed to pass the entrance exam.  In 1889 he enrolled at the Académie Julian where he met Maurice Denis, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Ranson and Paul Sérusier.  It was Vuillard along with this group of young art students that formed the artistic grouping which came to be known as Les Nabis.  The French term nabi refers to a person inspired to speak the word of God and is clearly related to the Hebrew term for prophet (nebia) and the Arabic term  for prophet (nábi) .  The actual term was first used by the poet Henri Cazalis who drew a parallel between the way these painters aimed to revitalize painting (as prophets of modern art) and the way the ancient prophets had rejuvenated Israel.

In 1898 Vuillard set off on his European travels, visiting Venice and Florence and the following year made a trip to London.  In 1890 Vuillard put forward some of his paintings for the 1890 Salon.  He was both devastated and angered by the rejection of his works by the Salon jurists and vowed never to put forward any of his future works for Salon consideration.  Until the turn of the century Vuillard worked in theatrical circles, illustrating theatre programmes for the Théâtre Libre and even helped to set up the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre , with Aurélien Lugné-Poë which presented the work of the young French Symbolist playwrights and introducing major foreign dramas.  Vuillard continued to illustrate theatre programmes and design and paint theatrical settings.  In 1901 Vuillard had some of his works exhibited at the Salon des Indépendents and two years later put forward some paintings for the Salon d’Automne, an exhibition staged as a reaction to the conservative policies of the official Paris Salon.

Vuillard continued to live with his widowed mother and did so until her death in 1928.  A large number of his paintings had domestic themes or depictions of dressmaking scenes which would be set in the rooms of their house.  Often in these works Vuillard and his fellow Nabi painter, Pierre Bonnard, used domestic interior scenes as a setting for their paintings.  They were at pains to depict these domestic interiors with all their warmth, comfort and tranquil seclusion.  This type of subject matter became known as Intimism.  These paintings were marked by a gentle humor, and were finished in the subtle variety of soft, blurred colours.  The works would capture the light and atmosphere of the occasion but unlike Impressionism they would often embellish and distort the natural colour so as to communicate mood.  Many of his portraiture also retained the sense of Intimism with its calm domesticity.  Vuillard continued to receive numerous commissions from private patrons to paint portraits and decorative works as well as frescoes for public buildings. These commissions for public paintings included the decorations in the foyer of the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and murals in the Palais de Chaillot and in the League of Nations in Geneva.  In his later years Vuillard concentrated on portraiture.

Jean-Édouard Vuillard died in La Baule, in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France, in 1940, aged 71.

My Daily Art Display’s featured oil on canvas painting is entitled Le Corsage Rayé,  which Vuillard completed in 1895 and can now be seen in the Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  The work was one of a set of five paintings, known as The Album,  based on household subjects, and commissioned by the Polish-born lawyer, journalist and art collector, Thadée Natanson, the publisher and co-founder of an artistic and literary journal called La Revue Blanche.  He was also a champion of Vuillard’s art and he and his wife were close friends of the artist.   The set of oil paintings were depictions of deep-coloured and richly textured interior scenes of varying formats, representing young bourgeois women engaged in simple domestic activities.  The set were to hang in the various rooms of Natanson’s Paris apartment.  In the case of this work it shows a woman arranging flowers.  The woman who modeled for this work is almost certainly Natanson’s wife, the concert pianist, Misia Godebska.

The woman dominates the painting with her puffed sleeved vintage dress in red and white stripes. No doubt the many years Vuillard watched his mother complete dresses in her studio aided him in the depiction of the woman’s clothing. The woman we see before us is arranging flowers in a vase. It is interesting to note that Vuillard has depicted the flowers not with an explosion of colour but has portrayed them with dull earthy colours.  This reason for this one presumes is so that they do not in any way detract from the clothing of the woman which Vuillard wants to be the focus of our attention.     Behind the woman we see another woman, dressed in what looks like a red uniform and is probably one of the woman’s servants.  Although this is a simple scene of domesticity the presence of the servant in some ways heightens the status of Misia.

Le Corsage Rayé by Picasso

I end this entry by mentioning Picasso.  There are two reasons for this.  Firstly, Picasso made a drawing in 1949 entitled Le Corsage Rayé and his lithographer, Fernand Mourlot had the image recreated in a 300 copy edition.  I thought you would like to compare it with today’s featured work.   The second reason for mentioning Picasso as my next two entries will feature works by the artist and although I am not a fan of his later works I am fascinated by some of his earlier paintings and enthralled by the early part of his life.

The paintings were sold at auction by Thadée Natanson in 1908,  several years after he and his wife Misia were divorced.

My next blog will be about four days away as I am about to embark on my annual pilgrimage to Paris and soak up the atmosphere of the French capital and hopefully take in a gallery visit.  I am also hoping, depending on the weather, to visit La Maison Fournaise (see My Daily Art Display August 2nd 2011) and Giverny.

au revoir !

La Lecture by Pablo Picasso

La Lecture by Pablo Picasso (1932)

Check your finances.  Have you a little spare money to buy yourself a painting ?  I know of a bargain to be had on February 8th.  It was only painted seventy nine years ago.  It is highly colourful.  Lots of yellows and greens and I am sure it would blend nicely with the colour of your lounge carpet or the fabric of your settee.  So how much spare cash have you got ?  Is that all ?  Sadly you will need a little more than that as you will probably have to come up with at least £18 million and some reckon the final figure could triple that.

My Daily Art Display offering today and the painting in question, which is due to come up at the Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in London this coming Saturday, is Pablo Picasso’s La Lecture.   The thing that fascinates me the most about this painting is the background story.  It was completed by Picasso in January 1932 in time for his exhibition at the Kunsthaus in Zurich,  entitled Picasso by Picasso: His first Museum Exhibition 1932, and is a portrait of his muse, Marie-Thérèse Walter, who it is said transformed the life of this great Modernist artist. This painting was among a series from the beginning of 1932, which introduced this young woman as an extraordinary presence in Picasso’s life and his art.

The story goes that the then forty five year old artist introduced himself to the seventeen year old girl outside a Paris Metro station.  On recounting the tale of the meeting, Marie-Thérèse said she remembered Picasso’s words as they came face to face:

“…I knew nothing – either of life or of Picasso… I had gone to do some shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, and Picasso saw me leaving the Metro. He simply took me by the arm and said, ‘I am Picasso! You and I are going to do great things together’…”

Today, I am sure we would think this bold introduction of the Spanish artist was simply a very cheesy chat-up line and would nowadays probably get a middle-aged man a slap in the face!   However for that forty-five year old man standing outside the Metro station in 1927 those words and his possible charm won over the young girl.  For in that year Marie Thérèse Walter became the secret lover of Pablo Ruiz Picasso and their relationship lasted eight years despite the artist still living with and still married, if unhappily, to his wife Olga Khokhlova, a Russian-Ukrainian dancer whom he  met whilst she was on tour with Diaghilev.

Their liaison was a closely guarded secret for many years for two main reasons.  Firstly, because of Picasso’s marriage to Olga and secondly, because of Marie-Thérèse’s age.  Their secret liaisons took place in a chateau  he had bought at Boisgeloupe, near Gisors.  His studio here was much larger than the one he had in Paris and it enabled him to create monumental plaster busts of Marie-Thérèse that were later depicted in several paintings.

La Lecture belonged to a group of paintings, painted by Picasso in January 1932 in anticipation of the major retrospective he was planning that June.  Today’s painting is Picasso’s depiction of Marie-Therese and it was the first time that she had appeared in one of his works.  Earlier paintings of his showed her features implanted discreetly in the background and it was this unconcealed portrayal of his mistress which led his wife to realise that there was another woman in her husband’s life.

Picasso’s lover and muse’s potent mix of physical attractiveness and at the same time her sexual naivety had an intoxicating effect on him and his rapturous desire for her brought about a number of compositions that are amongst the most sought after of his long career.  In 1935, Marie Thérèse Walter had a daughter with Picasso, Maria de la Concepión, called Maya.  Sadly for Maria-Thérèse, a year later in 1936, Picasso switched his affections to a new love, Dora Maar a woman he met when he was painting Guernica.  Marie-Thérèse left Picasso and took their daughter to live in Paris. 

Picasso died in April 1973 and four years later in October 1977, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself.  For the young seventeen year old who first met the Spanish painter life with him was almost certainly exciting and fulfilling but alas, like Picasso’s wife Olga, she was to suffer the humiliation and sadness caused by her lover’s unfaithfulness but for Marie-Thérèse life was just never the same again and life was not worth living without her elderly lover.

Las Meninas, after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso

Las Meninas, after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso (1957)

The last art gallery I visited when I was in Vienna earlier this month was the Albertina.  They were advertising two main exhibitions, one of Michaelangelo sketches and one of works by Picasso.  I made this gallery my last port of call and in a way I was pleased with that decision.  I liked the Michaelangelo sketches but, sad to say, I am not a lover of Picasso’s works of art.  As an art lover, I know that is a terrible thing to admit to, but one knows what one likes and vice versa.  Why should I pretend that I love his work when in fact I can find little to like about it.

So why am I making it one of My Daily Art Display offerings?  The reason is that yesterday I offered you Las Meninas by Velazquez and today I am offering you one of Picasso’s many interpretation of that work of art which I saw at the Albertina and I will let you judge which version pleases you the most.

Pablo Picasso was fourteen years of age when he first saw Velazquez’s painting of the two Maids of Honour and the Indfanta entitled Las Meninas and this was just a few months after his seven-year old blonde-haired sister had died from diphtheria.    Two years later, at the age of sixteen, Picasso produced his first sketch relating to the Las Meninas characters.   In all, from the time of his adolescence, Picasso, who adored the Velazquez painting,  devoted much time to analysing and interpreting this work of art.

Today’s painting for My Daily Art Display is Las Meninas after Velazquez by Pablo Picasso and was completed in 1957.  It is one of his fifty eight interpretations of Velazquez’s original painting of the same name.  The main characters in Picasso’s work remain the same as in the original Velazquez painting, namely, Velázquez;  Doña Agustina de Sarmiento and Doña Isabel de Velasco the two maids of honour (las Meninas) , Doña Margarita, the Infanta; the two dwarves, Maribárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato, and he even reproduces the shape of the dog lying on the floor.  In the background, he also keeps the looking-glass, in which one can see two images which represent the king and queen of Spain.

So it is up to you to look at today’s and yesterday’s versions of Las Meninas and decide for yourself which you prefer.