Monday, 8 April 2013

Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901

Courtauld Gallery, 14 February - 27 May 2013

Spanish Dancer. Courtauld collection.

Very early Picasso, profilgate and potent, but not yet settled on subjects.

The curators claim that in late 1901, following the suicide of his friend Casagemas, Picasso started painting the subjects that would later form the basis for his Blue Period.

Whether true or not, this assumes that during (and before) 1901, the artist didn't have a specific identity. I'd have though there was plentiful evidence here that he had his own identity, perhaps one more radical than would come later, for the next few years before his 1907 Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

Admittedly the style of some of the slightly earlier works for the commercial display at the Galerie Vollard could be described as derivative, at least of the post-impressionists Van Gogh and Gauguin, in their clashing, broadly applied colours.

But it seems soon afterwards, especially in a series of self-portraits, Picasso had take sketchy brushwork and colour clashing to extremes. It was useful to compare with the fauvists on display at the Courtauld, to see just how bold and innovative Picasso was being, several years before that group of painters reached similar conclusions.

So the energy and especially the fecundity that characterised Picasso throughout his life was present at this early stage. But the works are not especially good.

The best of the works, such as the self portraits, really do capture the enormous vitality of this supreme artist, the vitality that makes his works abundant with life, however perfunctorily created.

Others are crude, subjects that might best be described as 'external', those sights of Paris that all artists of the time were expected to paint. Sometimes he misfires more ambitiously, as in the kitsch Burial of Casagemas. Only in the paintings of himself has he found his true subject. 

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