On polymaths & Renaissance men II

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In an earlier post I talked about my visit to the Musée Rodin & the many talents of Auguste Rodin. Another individual who was very successful in traversing genres of art, but who is best known for his paintings is Pablo Picasso [1881-1973]. The museum devoted to him, the Musée National de Picasso-Paris, is in the 3rd arrondisement of Paris & it’s magnificent building also has an interesting history [http://www.museepicassoparis.fr/en/]. Pierre Aubert originally bought the land & the mansion’s construction was completed in 1659. The building was known as the l’Hôtel Salé, because Pierre Aubert collected taxes on salt in the name of the king.

The building was renovated between 1979-1985 by the architect Roland Simounet. One of the building’s original features is a magnificent central staircase. There is an interesting contrast of the old & the new: see the images of 2 staircases below – one of the original main staircase & the other of a [minor] staircase connecting the cafe with the rest of the building. The latter reminds me of some of Picasso’s curved brushstrokes…

Similar to the Musée Rodin (see earlier post), the creation of the Musée National de Picasso-Paris also has an interesting story. In March 1985, the Paris City Council made the decision to house the national museum devoted to Picasso in the renovated Hôtel Salé building, to house the collection of Picasso’s works that had been amassed by the state in earlier decades from two donations in 1976 & 1990 by members of Picasso’s family & friends. What is really interesting also is that Picasso’s personal archives were also part of the donations & this includes his personal art collection [donated by Picasso himself apparently] – which is housed on the top floor of the museum. This was something that I found particularly fascinating – for a number of reasons. First, it gives insight into the artist’s appreciation of the work of his peers, as well as artists who lived before him. Second, some of the works were unusual for the artists that painted them – either thematically or stylistically. For example. here is a rare self-portrait of Joan Miró [1893-1983] that was completed in 1919.

MuseePicasso_27_MiroAutoportrait

Miró came from Barcelona & is most celebrated for his paintings of an abstract nature. He was certainly not known for self-portraits or for representational art… [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Mir%C3%B3] I think that the treatment of the face & the textures/patterns on the shirt are very unusual & interesting. I have not been to his museum in Barcelona [https://www.fmirobcn.org/en/] – but that is on my list for my next visit there.

Picasso also owned a couple of paintings by Georges Braque [1882-1963], a Frenchman who among other things was a proponent of fauvism & cubism, alongside Picasso [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georges_Braque]. Here is an image of two of Braque’s paintings – examples of still life, hung side-by-side:

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The image on the right [Nature morte au pichet et aux pommes] is quite representational & was painted in 1919, AFTER the very cubist image on the left [Nature morte à la bouteille], which was painted in 1910-11. Interestingly, while the artist could radically change his style of painting, he kept the same relatively muted & harmonious color palette. That is something that I have always enjoyed in his work – the sharpness of the cubist lines & angles has always been tempered by his gentleness in coloration…

Finally, the last image that I found fascinating was this fairly subdued still life from 1902 [Bouquet de fleurs dans la chocolatière] by Matisse – so different to what he would generate years later…

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But what about Picasso himself? What drove him & influenced his work? The temporary exhibit at his museum in Paris was devoted to examining these themes & the background work & context for Picasso’s magnum opus Guernica – a work that today remains permanently housed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. I have had the good fortune to stand in front of this monumental canvas at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. It is a work not just of huge physical proportions [3.493 m x 7.766 m], but also of monumental human themes. The entire work is painted in a greyscale palate – blacks, greys & whites. The temporary exhibit in Paris featured a print of the work at the exhibit’s entrance – thereby setting the context for the exhibition. [I have not been able to reproduce an actual image of Guernica here for you due to copyright issues…]

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Picasso finished Guernica in 1937. The canvas represented the horrors of the Spanish Civil War – in particular, the April 26th 1937 bombing by Nazi planes of the town of Guernica – a Basque country stronghold of the Republican resistance. Incredibly, General Franco had allowed the bombing the town of Guernica by Adolf Hitler – letting the Nazis try out some new weaponry & military tactics on Spanish citizens. What made this particularly egregious was that the casualties were mainly women & children – apparently the men were away fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The wooden buildings in town produced a massive fire as a result of the bombing. The people of Guernica had no escape because the roads & bridges out of the town had been destroyed by the bombs. I bought a book of the story of history of the town of Guernica after the exhibition & it is very distressing reading indeed… [For a historical background see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica]

In 1937 Picasso was living in Paris, & had been commissioned by the Spanish Government to create a work of art for the Paris Exhibition of that same year. After hearing about the events in Guernica he changed his mind about the proposed theme & created a monumental canvas devoted to depicting the horrors of war & the suffering of humans & animals. In order to create his masterwork, Picasso create many drawings & smaller paintings – trying out potential images & themes to include in his magnum opus whose main elements are a bull, a horse & humans. The distress & agony of the horses leaps from the sketch [Étude pour Cheval] and the painting [Corrida: La mort du torero] below – studies that preceded the painting of Guernica.

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The horse is a central feature of Guernica & Picasso also did a study of it’s head – as seen in the image below [Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica].

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At one point in time Picasso had said that the horse in Guernica symbolizes the people of Guernica, but there have been other reported interpretations. Another prominent feature of Guernica is the bull – that on one occasion Picasso had said was meant to symbolize brutality and darkness [https://www.spanish-art.org/spanish-painting-guernica.html]  The destructive bull can also be seen in one of the images above [Corrida: La mort du torero]. That said, Picasso is also on the record as saying: “…this bull is a bull and this horse is a horse… If you give a meaning to certain things in my paintings it may be very true, but it is not my idea to give this meaning. What ideas and conclusions you have got I obtained too, but instinctively, unconsciously. I make the painting for the painting. I paint the objects for what they are.” [see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guernica_(Picasso)]

Whatever Picasso meant when he painted Guernica seemed to resonate with so many people – it became a symbol of protest. After its showing at the 1937 Paris World Fair [Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne] it was sent around the world on tour to raise money for Spanish war relief. Indeed, many artists made posters to support this effort to raise money for the casualties of the conflict, as this poster by Miro [see below] shows:

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… & this wall of posters supporting the resistance indicates:

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Artists & writers have always participated in political movements throughout history. Given that history currently seems to want to desperately repeat itself I am sure we will see a renewed effort in the creative arts in this sphere…

But back to Picasso. Painting is the main art that we associate with Picasso, but he was one to experiment with other media too – moving into collage, sculpture, stage design & also ceramics. The museum in Paris had mainly paintings, but I would like to see a collection of his other works.

I am glad that I found time to go to Picasso’s Museum in Paris – that visit & some background reading I did on him gave me a newfound respect for him. He was one of those rare individuals who can make the most of different media – producing memorable & astounding works – because he could imbue each medium with the representation of his idea. As I mentioned earlier, the building that the Museum is housed in is also interesting in its own right. But there are also interesting views of Paris from the upper floors of the Museum – as this picture of the rooftops looking out to Montmartre shows…

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