Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris Audio Tour
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Find out more about the exhibition and get tickets to Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris.
202: Celestina, 1904
(SFX SLOW/SAD SPANISH GUITAR UNDER)
In 1904, Pablo Ruiz Picasso is 23 years old and already establishing himself as an artistic force. Yet he chooses to paint this somber, monochromatic portrait titled La Celestina. It’s a reflection of his solemn mood — or if you’re an art historian, you’d say he was “blue.”
Often described in terms of major periods, Picasso’s works in this gallery are from his Blue Period, when many of his paintings were composed of only shades of blue. But, why? The death of his close friend, Carlos Casagemas, whose portrait is also in this gallery, was one reason that Picasso cited.
The title of this painting, La Celestina, refers to a character from Comedia de Calisto y Melibea, (in English Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea). Written in1499, it is considered one of the greatest works of Spanish literature.
Here’s Chiyo Ishikawa, Deputy Director for Art at the Seattle Art Museum.
La Celestina is a portrait of an actual woman from Barcelona whose name was Carlota Val-divia and she was a neighborhood figure. He portrayed her in several drawings and always shows her as a kind of shadowy and even sinister figure.
The fact that he identifies her with this character from literature who is a matchmaker, procuress, conniver, meddler, suggests that that’s her role in contemporary life too.
This is one of the most finished portraits of this period and it doesn't have an element of pathos or that kind of pathetic, downtrodden quality. She's got a real watchful, almost catlike sensibility as she sidles into the picture.
The blue palette prevails here, but La Celestina also features one of Picasso’s artistic hallmarks, unique eyes — a trait you’ll see in works throughout the exhibition. La Celestina’s right eye stares at you with a deep intensity while the left one is covered with a hazy film that some scholars interpret as a cataract.
203: The Two Brothers, 1906
Picasso didn’t stay blue for long. He moved to Paris, fell in love and added more colors and emotions to his artistic vocabulary. This change in attitude brought about his next creative phase, the Rose Period, characterized by paintings dominated by pinks and ochres. He made paintings like this one titled The Two Brothers. These two children are part of a circus troupe — the drum is a clue.
Again, Chiyo Ishikawa.
He is continuing to portray the outsiders of society, but his palette does lighten up and his figures also begin to show more movement. When he gets to the Rose Period, you see even in this beautiful painting of the two brothers, a figure striding forward. They're beginning to take up more space and act in a more three- dimensional way.
Picasso's always interested in performance. He himself is something of a performer.
He was living in Montmartre at this time. And so he spent a lot of time visiting the Cirque Medrano and going to plays and seeing theater. And so I think that there's inevitably going to be a tendency to tie everything that we see to his biography.
He says something like, you know, my work is my diary.
204: Self Portrait, 1906
Even as a child Picasso could paint with photographic realism. He once said, “At twelve I could draw like Raphael.” So why portray himself in this particular unrealistic style? Celebrated artist Chuck Close has thought a lot about this question.
The paint handling is about as klutzy and dumb as any painting made by a famous artist that I can think of. So why would it be that Picasso would want to make it look so club-fisted?
The self-portrait eyes are rendered in the most interesting kind of way. We know that 19th-century sculptors who carved in marble, or cast in bronze would carve a deep hole into the marble, or push it into the clay, or the wax, which would ultimately be cast in bronze.
So I think there's a kind of reference here to sculpture, rather than the history and tradition and convention of painting.
So, it’s a painting that’s more like a sculpture. This idea reflects the way that Picasso was always reworking his subjects in different media. Ishikawa says at that time, Picasso was influenced by both the ancient and the contemporary.
He's thinking about ancient Iberian sculpture, which he's just seen
at the Louvre. That's a very kind of broadly carved stone sculpture basically fairly flat, and wide eyes and big ears and you see that in this self-portrait. But he's also looking at Cézanne and Cézanne famously talked about the geometric foundations of paintings and many people have looked at the cylindrical neck in this self-portrait and seen that as a direct kind of channeling of Cézanne's theoretical precept.
205: Three Figures under a Tree, 1907–08
This gallery features work that date to the same period as Picasso’s great early masterpiece, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. A product of years of experimentation with shape, color and technique, the painting is of five nude female prostitutes from a brothel in Barcelona and is notable for the innovative and unconventional ways in which they are portrayed.
In that work, as in this painting, Three Figures Under a Tree, you can see the beginnings of an African influence on Picasso, especially in the mask-like faces.
In 1907 Picasso’s interest in African art was piqued by an exhibition at the Trocadero Museum, in Paris. He is fascinated by the stylization of the African forms. At the same time, he finds their ability to possess a deeper meaning or spirit almost frightening.
Artist Chuck Close is also certain of the influence of the African masks.
There's no question Picasso owned a number of African masks. I personally have seen an African mask that I know was in Paris at this time. Very likely Picasso may have seen it or owned it. Its abstraction is greater in the Three Figures, than it is in the seminal, world-famous, earth-changing, painting of Demoiselles d'Avignon.
While painting in this style, Picasso is also sculpting wood, using a chisel to create crudely faceted sculptures.
Chuck Close sees the influence of that rudimentary sculpting technique in this painting as well.
There is a physicality to this painting which does remind me of someone making a woodcut. As Picasso would push the tool through the soft wood, making stroke after stroke after stroke, it does appear that the woodcuts that he was making at the time have carried over into his painting.
206: Sacre Coeur, 1909–10
SFX: SQUEEZE BOX OR ACCORDION PLAYING LA VIE EN ROSE
One of the most recognizable buildings in Paris is Sacre Coeur, the famous basilica on the hill of Montmartre which is also a neighborhood Picasso knew intimately. This painting serves as an introduction to cubism, a style that Picasso helped invent along with artist Georges Braque.
It’s an approach in which the artist says, for example, if I paint a person, why can’t I show the front of their face and their profile in the same painting? Both points of view exist, simultaneously.
It's Picasso's ultimate way of convincingly rendering three-dimensional form on a two-dimensional surface. The traditional Western system of using one point perspective and a fixed view was not really accurate in his mind.
He is fully capable of painting the most beautiful illusionistic image. But he's always fighting against his own virtuosity. And trying to constantly re-think what it means to be an artist. And what it means to be a modern artist.
If you think the painting of Sacre Coeur looks unfinished, you’re right. It provides some insight into how Picasso approached a cubist painting, building it up piece by piece, starting with lines to make block-like shapes, then adding shading that makes it difficult to decipher the perspective.
But as non-traditional as cubism may appear, it is NOT abstract. Picasso was opposed to abstract painting. He always had a subject for his work and believed an artist always had to start from reality.
207: Man with a Guitar, 1911
As Picasso continued to refine his ideas about cubist painting, one subject he often portrayed was a person holding a guitar or mandolin. This painting, titled simply Man with a Guitar, is from 1911, and already we see Picasso’s style change once again. Here’s Pepe Karmel of New York University.
Instead of using diagonal facets, he’s using vertical planes. Suppose you took a realistic picture of the human body and everywhere there's a piece of it, a pectoral muscle, an abdominal muscle, an arm, a shoulder. You have a vertical plane.
And so you kind of dissolve the body and also the face away to this sort of jungle-gym effect of overlapping planes, and then Picasso sticks in a few things you can see. There's a moustache, there's the tuning pegs on the guitar. There's the sound hole. So there's just barely enough details to make out what it's a picture of.
You might notice that the bottom of the painting is not finished, and there’s a story behind that. This was one of 11 cubist paintings commissioned by a Brooklyn, NY, critic and collector to fit specific spaces on his library walls. Picasso didn’t have the specified long, narrow canvases, so he took an existing painting...the top two thirds of Man with a Guitar...and sewed on a piece of canvas at the bottom. But the commission fell through before he completed the work.
208: Head of a Woman (Fernande), 1909
Picasso spends the summer of 1909 in the South of France with the woman he loves, Fernande Olivier. She is the subject of this bust, called Head of a Woman. But Picasso didn’t start out sculpting her. Here’s Pepe Karmel, who teaches in the Department of Art History at New York University.
Picasso does dozens and dozens of drawings and paintings of her in this early cubist style, which involves breaking things up into a lot of kind of diamond shaped, or triangular facets and fitting them all together into one continuous surface.
Then, he has the idea of making a sculpture based on all of these drawings and paintings he's done. Now this actually doesn't make any sense because he spent the summer dissolving form away and now he wants to make something solid.
So he does this sculpture and you can see the faceting mostly in the top of it, in the way her hair is treated.
But what's really interesting in this sculpture is the treatment of the face. If you look at the edges of the cheeks and the ridges around the eyes, you'll see that they're like lines that have been drawn around this face and the spaces inside them have largely been hollowed out. This is really a 3-D equivalent of what he's doing on a piece of paper, where he draws a line and there's just blank paper in between.
This idea that you could cut away the solid parts of the sculpture and just have open space in between is going to be utterly revolutionary. This is going to change the course of twentieth century sculpture.
209: Violin, 1915
(SFX: SOLO VIOLIN)
Picasso hated being hemmed in by traditional notions and artistic conventions. This interpretation of a violin is a perfect example of his rebellious nature. It’s not a painting, though it is painted. And it’s not really a sculpture, unless you think a sculpture can hang on a wall. Here he folded metal pieces, flattened them, and then painted them. The result blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and suggests another genre too — music, according to Robert O’Meally, Founding Director of the Center for Jazz Studies and Professor of English at Columbia University.
It's such a funky violin, with all of these different textures, and these heavy lines that make it seem home-made in a way that is intriguing, and makes us think, about the history of a violin, which is a very old instrument.
You also see I think the human figure. He's painting harlequin figures at this time, and he's certainly thinking of a sort of actor, or some sort of figure, whether woman or man. I think he's also making us see a piano keyboard right in the middle there, and typically Picasso, when asked what a work would mean, he'd say, "Well, I don't know. It could be this, it could be that." He loved the ambiguity of this.
But even if you see it as a figure, you can feel the musicality, you see these rhythmical cross patterns, and these, long verticals that get repeated and using intervals that might relate to a sense of rhythm, as well as texture.
210: Portrait of Olga in an Armchair, 1918
Meet Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova. A dancer with the Ballets Russes, they met when Picasso was commissioned to design costumes and sets for a new ballet.
He painted this portrait from a photograph, which you can see nearby. Here, Picasso maintains aspects of cubism while returning to a more traditional realism.
What we have here is this kind of silhouetted figure of Olga against a chair. The chair has been flattened out by this patterned cloth that hangs over it. And she's also holding a fan in her lap. So you have these three kind of layers of patterning.
And she becomes kind of part of a pattern too. The curved line of her hairline echoes the ruffled edge of her neckline.
One of the reasons it retains kind of a decorative rather than descriptive quality is he doesn't finish the painting.
And you see he's dried his brushes at the left as though he's still in progress and is going to keep going but he stops.
Some scholars see Picasso himself as the gray shadow to the right of her head - the squiggly area as the lips and chin, and above them the long line of a nose. It’s like the profile of a man looking down at Olga, creating an ethereal presence that haunts the portrait.
It’s interesting because he does it so much in later works, and it's always kind of seen as a shadowy presence of himself watching.
211: Paul as Harlequin, 1924
SFX: QUIRKY CIRCUS MUSIC
Picasso, particularly early on in his career, often portrayed himself as a harlequin, a character from the commedia dell'arte.
But here, Picasso has placed the harlequin’s costume on one of the four children he had over the course of his life. This is Paulo, a son he had with his first wife, Olga.
Picasso made a lot of paintings of him in his early years, when he was a small child. And they are seen as his most sentimental works, they're pretty and loving.
But he has also a very grave expression on his face that is kind of at odds with the playful quality of the costume. Some people later on look at these works and say he portrayed his son as a little adult.
Like the portrait of Olga, this painting of Paulo is unfinished. It’s a deliberate technique that reflects Picasso’s belief about being a modern artist: A painting doesn’t have to be a copy of reality. It’s a painting and leaving areas unfinished reminds us of that. It is an artificial construction controlled by the artist.
212: Etudes, 1920
This painting is called Etudes, or “Studies.” And it’s a reminder that even when he was intensely engaged in cubism, Picasso was also painting very recognizable subjects. Two hands. A face. A dancing couple, along with a lot of little cubist still-lifes. These studies are a prelude to Picasso’s transition from cubism to realism, seen in later works in the exhibition, and illustrate how easily he goes back and forth between different styles. Etudes demonstrate how Picasso never works in a straight line from one period to another. The painting is also a bit mysterious.
We know nothing about it. It was discovered after his death.
And so we don't know why he painted it.
It's like a compendium but it looks like a page of studies. But you notice that he frames the paintings at the top level so that it's almost like a little gallery.
It’s a fascinating and enigmatic work. Just when you think that he's moving in one direction, he fools you. He always wants to stay ahead of everybody else. And, you know, through cubism a whole host of followers rose up and developed a kind of academic cubism and he was not interested in that at all.
213: The Kiss, 1925
Obviously, Picasso was a complex person, perhaps no more so than in his relationships with women. He could be simultaneously tender and loving, yet also fearful, controlling, and brutal. And all of that is present in this work titled The Kiss. It’s filled with overt sexual references including male and female genitalia, as well as some more subtle symbols.
There’s energy, there’s beauty, and there are, of course, many ways to interpret it. Robert O’Meally of Columbia University.
Some people saw it as a single person, some people said it was male, some female, many saw it as lovers kissing. To me, the most compelling reading is of mother and child, suggested by the small head and this other large mother figure. But I think above all, Picasso loved ambiguity, and I think he wanted the sexual references there, or he wouldn't have put them there. He likes it to be two lovers, but he's also thinking about Oedipal son and mama, and a kiss in that sense as well as lovers in a grown up sense.
O’Meally says that no matter the sexual imagery, he can still hear the music.
I can imagine some modern musician using this as a score and saying "I want the horns to play the left side, and the rhythm instruments in the middle, and the reeds on top." There is so much complexity of structure with so many different rhythms going, and then again so many tones, again, to use a word that is right on that line between painting and music.
214: Head of a Woman, 1931
All the sculptures in this gallery are of the same woman, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Though they had a nine-year affair and a daughter together, they never married. She wanted to, he didn’t —and he was still married to Olga. Nonetheless, she inspired a great deal of his art, in both painting and sculpture.
He just created a huge body of work around his response to her physical form. And it's a new language for him based on the circle basically, swelling forms and curving forms that are sinuously moving from one to another and caressing the surface, crawling over this rounded beautiful surface. And he treats it in drawings, he treats it in semi-realistic portraits. He treats it in sculpture. It's just the most sustained meditation on a form that we have in the exhibition and it's a great insight to how he works. And also to how his style would change when a new woman would come into his life.
Marie-Therese Walter built her life around her love for Picasso. And though they had been apart for many decades by the time he died, she was devastated by the loss. She took her own life four years after Picasso’s death.
215: Portrait of Dora Maar, 1937
Meet another woman in Picasso’s life — Dora Maar, his companion and lover through much of the 1930s and early ’40s. Maar was an artist in her own right as an accomplished photographer, and her work appears later in this exhibition.
She was also considerably more high-strung. And you can sense that in this beautiful portrait. She has this kind of dreamy expression in her face in one sense, but also a real alertness and watchfulness and kind of tension.
All of that signals a kind of brittleness and an on-edge quality that carries over into other images of her.
Artist Chuck Close has a personal perspective on the painting.
Portrait of Dora Maar is one of my absolute favorite Picassos.
This placid, beautiful, colorful image of Dora Maar smiling, her eyes, open and almost laughing. Her raised eyebrows suggesting anything other than placid happiness.
Her fingers, with the red nails, could have seemed like sharp implements. However, they seem almost like some tropical plant, some bird of paradise, something beautiful, not threatening.
The dress itself, which also references flowers, pistils and stamen in the blue and turquoise things, and the red, purple and black section of her bodice.
The stark Xs canceling out the chair and making it as flat as any X has ever been in a painting. Not simply holding up the arms of the chair, but a big, flat symbol of a letter.
216: Woman With a Blue Hat and two other Head of a Woman, 1939
Pepe Karmel of New York University.
You're standing and looking at these paintings from 1939 and I think any reasonable person thinks, "Why is he making this weird ugly stuff?"
In the years just before World War Two, Picasso was doing portraits of his lover Dora Maar like The Woman in a Blue Hat and the two others here titled Head of a Woman. Why this approach?
Picasso said, "You know when I'm kissing my sweetie," which I presume is an English translation for something a little less silly, he said, “I don't see her whole face. I see her eye, I see the side of her nose. I see her cheek. And what I wanted to do in my painting was to communicate that sensation of what I see when we're "kissing." So this is about the body, or in this case the head, seen close up.
Some of them are like a gigantic nose that's taken over the whole face, or the curve of the eye socket or the protrusion of the cheekbone or the shape of the chin. So he's looking at elements of the face and imagining them as tremendous monumental sculptural forms, and then putting them back together.
But Picasso, as always, is thinking of several ideas at once.
He's also interested in the line between the human and the non-human. In The Woman With A Blue Hat, the way he's put that linear pattern on to her face looks like basket weaving, or chair-caning. There's a whole series of pictures from the late 1930s where he takes chair-caning and uses it as a model for human skin.
217: La Fermiere, 1937
Picasso painted many nudes throughout his life, including a number of works with the same title as this one: La Fermiere, the “farm woman.”
It is a classic European female nude image. But something's wrong. It's jarring and unbeautiful. It’s angular and has no color. The result is an unsettling, almost disturbing image.
When he painted it, in 1937, Picasso’s relationships with women were complicated, to say the least. He was still married to Olga, though separated, having a long-term affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, and then he meets Dora Maar.
Besides his own personal turmoil, 1937 sees events playing out in Europe that will lead to World War Two.
There are a number of things going on. He still is having maybe the most intense period of his relationships, and he called it the worst time of my life. And then in addition, it's just a horrible time in the larger global context.
The shadow of war was descending on Europe, but many, hoping that war could be averted, refused to act against the imminent threat. Some scholars have interpreted Picasso’s painting as commentary on this inaction, with his reclining nude symbolizing Europe, and her unconcerned pose representing ignorance of the impending threat, perhaps symbolized by the crowing rooster.
218: Guernica, 1937
(SFX: MUTED BATTLE SOUNDS IN BKGD)
Guernica. The word is synonymous with an artist’s response to war.
Guernica is a huge painting, 25 feet long, that Picasso made in 1937 after the bombing of the Basque village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. The painting resides in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. But here we are fortunate to have a famous sequence of photographs taken by Picasso’s long time companion and lover Dora Maar. She chronicles the progress and development of the compositions that led up to the final completed work, a painting that vividly illustrates the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent civilians.
In 1937 the Spanish Republican government commissioned Picasso to create a large mural for the Spanish display at the Paris International Exposition in the World’s Fair in Paris. Picasso painted Guernica, and it helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world’s attention. Today it continues as a reminder of the tragedies of war and as an anti-war symbol.
219: Man with a Sheep, 1943
The year is 1943. All of Europe is deeply mired in the Second World War. Many of the images in this gallery are from those troubled years, and most reflect the darkness of those times.
And then there’s this sculpture, Man with a Sheep.
This is always seen as a very positive, hopeful image because it ties back to imagery of the Good Shepherd from the early Christian period, of the Christ with the sheep on his shoulders.
Picasso, at this time, is doing still lifes with skulls and death images and so here comes this sculpture which rises up and where the figure is holding up this animal and its head is kind of searching and reaching out. All of that can be seen as something more positive and uplifting.
At the same time, Picasso himself, typically denied it. He said, “Well, he could just as well be carrying a pig as a sheep. There's nothing symbolic at all." He's always happy to lead you a different direction than you want to go. It's just part of that kind of playfulness in having to take things that he says with a grain of salt. But I do think it does kind of stand up in a different way from the other work that he's doing at this time.
220: Massacre in Korea, 1951
SFX: DRAMATIC MUSIC
We’ve seen one response of Picasso to war, his masterpiece Guernica.
Here’s another. It’s titled Massacre in Korea, and was painted in 1951, during the Korean War. Once again, Picasso is making a statement about the tragedy of war. And, once again, he is inspired by another painting, this one by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya titled, Third of May, 1808. Goya’s work shows the massacre of Spanish fighters who opposed Napoleon’s army. It’s a very dramatic painting that takes place at night, but features a blast of light splitting the darkness.
There are some very stark differences between Goya’s and Picasso’s works.
This one is much more emblematic. It's almost a kind of intellectual statement about war and the elimination of life. And the elimination of possibility, because some of the women are pregnant. But it just does not have that same kind of conviction and urgency.
221: Jaqueline with Crossed Hands, 1954
Picasso met Jacqueline Roque, the subject of Jacqueline with Crossed Hands, in 1952. She was the last woman in his life, and became his second wife in 1961.
And she is another beauty, as you can see from this image. He loves her erect posture, her long neck, her beautiful almond-shaped eyes. When he met her, he said that she looked like a figure in The Women of Algiers the famous painting by Delacroix and that prompted him to make a whole bunch of variations on that painting.
Artist Chuck Close is intrigued by the composition of the painting.
The sculptural treatment of the body looks a lot like some of his folded metal sculptures.
This strange sculptural neck, on which is perched this rather bizarre and surreal head, and then another hat or scarf, similarly composed out of bent planes, with stripes on it, somewhat like the dress that she's wearing.
It’s as if her body had been painted on different pieces of tin that then were bent into a somewhat human shape.
Close is equally interested in Picasso’s technique.
One of his favorite motifs was to paint relatively thinly, and then scrape through the paint with a palette knife. The passage of grey, very active paint to the right of the figure, you can see the scrape marks as he scratched away and removed a lot of the paint, so that you actually see the edges of the tool making scratch marks, as he was busily removing that paint.
All together, a very odd and eccentric, idiosyncratic painting, even for Picasso.
222: The Bathers, 1956
SFX: WAVES ON BEACH
These six standing figures make up one work titled The Bathers. Picasso first fashioned them out of plywood and other found objects and then had them cast in bronze. You can see this as a group of people at the beach, or you can perceive it as a variation on a famous work by the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.
This is at the time when he's also looking at European works from the past and doing variations on them.
And this one is, in a way, a sculptural equivalent of Velázquez's painting, Las Meninas.
That painting, from the 17th century, portrays the young daughter of the king and queen of Spain with her ladies in waiting, the meninas. In Picasso’s work she is the short, round-faced figure in the foreground. And the tall figure on the left with the square frame is the artist Velasquez, who appeared in his own painting at his easel.
Painting and sculpture influenced each other in Picasso’s work. This is especially evident when you look at The Bathers.
It's a sculpture but it's meant to be seen from the front as though it's a painting.
It's almost like a relief work in space. And I think that goes back again to those issues of space and two-dimensions and three dimensions that he's working through from the very earliest moments in his career.
223: The Shadow, 1953
One of the most interesting portraits in this show, for me, is The Shadow, from 1953.
Artist Chuck Close.
It brings to mind Jasper Johns's Four Seasons paintings because both The Shadow by Picasso, and all four of the Johns pieces have the shadow of the artist in the image itself.
Chuck Close says there are many striking comparisons between The Shadow and Jasper Johns’ painting titled Summer.
The diagonals in the Johns are almost exactly like the diagonals in the Picasso.
There are references to previous works in both of these paintings.
Behind the Johns is a painting of Jasper's, which is on a diagonal. And you can see, it's got flag elements, a Mona Lisa, some cross-hatch things that he's done, referencing his own work, in the same way that Picasso is referencing his own paintings of nudes.
Picasso painted The Shadow in 1953, soon after his nine-year relationship with Françoise Gilot ended. They had two children together, Claude and Paloma.
And this personal history is there in the painting, according to Pepe Karmel.
You see the kind of horse pulling a cart in the upper left-hand corner. That's probably one of the toys for their children. But at this moment, as they're drawing apart, Picasso gives us this image of Françoise Gilot sleeping in all of her amazing beauty. She had a very voluptuous body so we see her spread out looking absolutely gorgeous.
And then he himself is this old man, withered, reduced to a shadow who's becoming just a kind of empty vacant presence vanishing from her life. I think this is one of the saddest paintings he ever made.
224: Woman with a Pillow, 1969
Picasso’s last wife, Jacqueline Roque, never posed nude for him. Yet here she is, nude, in Woman with a Pillow. He paints her often in the last years of his life, so much so that one critic says we know more about this woman’s body than any other woman in history.
For Picasso, creativity and sexuality are always entwined. And his later paintings of Jacqueline are vivid examples of a sexual expression of love. Professor Robert O’Meally of Columbia University.
He loved something about the kind of sexual energy that she almost always exudes. Here we see her as a sort of monumental figure, large, and even grotesque. Some call her a “giantess”. But nonetheless, she's comfortable, and is a sort of odalisque, or almost like a lady of the evening, reclining and ready for whatever you are ready for. It's a kind of what Thelonious Monk the great jazz musician called an ugly beauty, the kind ambiguity of somebody who is too massive to want to whistle at on the street, but who nonetheless is just bursting with a sort of sexual delight.
And so, again, the ambiguity is there. The fact that we see the figure sideways, as well as dead on suggest that there is going to be ambiguity. It's the monumental massive figure, but it's also the sweetheart at home.
225: The Matador, 1970
(SFX: FLOURISH OF SPANISH GUITAR OR TRUMPETS)
Picasso painted this self-portrait, The Matador, in 1970, just three years before his death.
Though he had lived most of his life away from Spain, Picasso proudly thought of himself as a Spaniard. This painting is almost a parody of masculinity with the mutton chop sideburns, the cigar, the sword — obvious phallic symbols.
It’s a kind of playful self-portrayal that reveals how Picasso approached his life and his art. Professor Robert O’Meally of Columbia University.
Picasso likened himself to a matador confronting a canvas, and saying he had to confront this thing, and not let it defeat him.
And here we see a matador, some say after a difficult fight, and the whole picture seems to be trembling with the difficulty of being in the ring with a bull that can kill you. Now, having a smoke, but all the images of his identity are there, the sword suggesting not only the bull fight, but kind of sexuality. The hat, and the hair piece suggesting a sort of elegance, and again, a kind of sexual gusto, and lustiness.
Picasso was all of that. But he also was a fearless warrior against the forces that might make him doubt his talent or would make him hold back. He was a fearless, lusty, highly sexual fighter, and a brilliant artist, just as he saw the matador being.
It's something to me, as I get older, to see the old man still carrying the sword, ready for action.
(SFX: FLOURISH OF SPANISH GUITAR OR TRUMPETS)