Seeing it’s Pablo Picasso’s (1881 - 1974) birthday tomorrow, for Art Sunday today let’s have a Picasso painting. A Picasso painting in fact, which pays homage to that of another artist: Édouard Manet (1832-1883). Manet shocked Paris when he exhibited his highly controversial “Luncheon on the Grass” in 1863. Manet was paying homage another artist before him, Giorgione and his painting “The Tempest” of 1508. Each of the artists admired his predecessor’s art but reprocessed that art into a completely new and satisfying work, which contained more of each of the copier’s personality and talent than a work simply being copied.
In all cases a naked woman is depicted with men, who are dressed. This is perhaps what shocked the public, affronting its morality and insulting propriety. Hence the cries of “obscenity”. But many admired and lauded the painting. Émile Zola was one of these, who wrote in defence of the painting:
“The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air. This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalised.” Claude Monet also admired the painting, being inspired to do his own less controversial but nevertheless monumental and striking version of “Luncheon on the Grass”.
Picasso turned his attention to Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, in the early 1960s, working intensively for almost two years on some 150 drawings and 27 paintings. As Manet had taken the right to renew the theme of Giorgione, Picasso took his right to extrapolate hundreds of commentaries on the situation proposed by Manet. These variations, with their many shifts in mode, were in keeping with Picasso’s intense interest in what makes a painter a painter—why a landscape with a nude and some clothed men can release so many emotional resonances.
Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist whose name is almost synonymous with 20th century art. No artist was ever as famous as Picasso was in his own lifetime. The controversies over his strong personality, extreme arrogance, multiple affairs with younger women, and unwillingness to be classified in the art world only added to his fame and public appeal.
Whatever his human flaws, as an artist Picasso was a true genius. He was able to create incredibly complex and powerful paintings with a few strokes of the brush, or capture the essence of someone’s face as though viewing it in three dimensions, all captured on the flat expanse of canvas. As an individualist, Picasso was a founder of art movements, such as Cubism, but paradoxically refused to do what other people did, and whenever the art world caught up with him and thought they knew what to expect, he would change completely and surprise them.
When he was a child, Picasso was as skilled in realist portraits as in expressionist symbolism. He was also incredibly proficient, especially near the end of his life, when he would often complete three paintings in one day. It was as if he believed he could delay his death through painting. At the time many of these works were dismissed, in the words of Douglas Cooper, as “the incoherent scribblings of a frenetic old man”. It wasn't until long after Picasso's death that critics took a new look at his later works and realized that Picasso had invented neo-expressionism and was, as usual, decades ahead of his time.
I have been blogging daily on this platform for several years now. It is surprising that I have persisted as the world is changing and "microblogging" is now the norm. I blog to amuse myself, make comment on current affairs, externalise some of my creativity, keep notes on things that interest me, learn something new and to surprise myself with things that I discover about this wonderful, and sometimes crazy, world we live in.
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