Published  28/08/2007

Picasso in Edinburgh

Picasso in Edinburgh

Picasso on Paper
Dean Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh.
14 July - 23 September 2007

Picasso: Fired with Passion
National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh.
6 July - 28 October 2007

Two exhibitions in Edinburgh this summer enable the public to view different aspects of work by Pablo Picasso. Both his ceramics and his works on paper are pivotal in his vast oeuvre as works in their own right and in the role they play individually and collectively - interacting between different stages in his career, different media and in the development of ideas and formal concerns.

Picasso was an obsessive draughtsman and printmaker. Remarkably, he made some 2,200 prints in all kinds of techniques throughout his career. The first print, an etching was made when Picasso was seventeen, the last when he was ninety. Drawings were many and varied - academic, classical, cubist - indeed there has never been an accurate cataloguing of his drawn works and many were destroyed, or lost. When he was just eighteen he held his first exhibition of drawings, which included as many as 100 portrait drawings. His precocious talent owed much of its application to his father who was an art teacher and who encouraged him to draw from a young age. He passed the drawing exams at the Llotja art school in Barcelona aged just 14. Two factors at least played a part in his remarkable development: drawing materials were cheap and readily available, and finished drawings sold relatively easily, being more affordable than paintings. The exhibition Picasso on Paper at the Dean Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, features 125 of Picasso's finest prints and drawings. The works range from a pastel done while still in his teens, to a pen and ink done in 1971, aged 89. The prints on show constitute a printmaker's heaven - such is the consummate standard of technique and draughtsmanship and experimentation in a wide range of techniques: etching, lithography, and linocuts. His printmaking did not simply reproduce images from paintings - they were the product of a creative process in itself. New life was infused into related images by working it out through another technique. Certain personal or practical reasons influenced the choice of a particular technique - for example, in the mid 1940s it was a convenient escape from public attention and too many visitors and distractions, to go to a print workshop in the north of Paris most days for several months to work. There he began to make lithographs. Later when he moved to the south of France he abandoned etching and lithography because he had neither the equipment nor expert assistants. Instead, he chose the linocut technique because there was a linocut printer living nearby. Stylistic changes came about through changes in Picasso's life and relationships. The exhibition at the Museum of Scotland, Picasso: Fired with Passion, focuses on the particular period of Picasso's life 1947 to 1961, when he was living in the south of France at Vallauris with his then mistress Françoise Gilot. There he took advantage of local friendships to begin working in ceramics. Although he was in his sixties he enjoyed the challenge of adapting his style and technique to a different and physically demanding medium. The Museum of Scotland exhibition has been designed to appeal to a wide audience presenting details of Picasso's life and art that most scholars would probably take as read. In her catalogue essay, however, Clare Finn makes important connections between Picasso's use of techniques and the way the choice of medium in one body of work informed other aspects of his vast oeuvre, for example:

Ceramics' combination of volume and colour embodying aspects of both sculpture and painting would certainly have appealed to Picasso. There was also the added attraction that, as part of the decorative arts, work in ceramics was in direct opposition to the beaux-arts system of values. However it was the legacy of that system that has, until recent years, affected the reception of his ceramic work. With its associations with craft work many, including his dealers, relegated it to a sideline, not considering it on the same level as his paintings. Nevertheless, Picasso's work in ceramics was informed by his practice in the rest of his art and was characterised by experiment, analysis and study of the results.1

Picasso has long been recognised as one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century and yet until now there has never been a major exhibition of his work in Scotland. In recent years Andy Warhol's work, for example, has been more popular and accessible to the public taste, and Marcel Duchamp, has been considered by many commentators to be a more influential figure. The Edinburgh exhibitions whilst presenting hundreds of works in fact concentrate to a large degree on issues of art and life, rather than making an assessment or reappraisal of his work from a formal or iconographic position. John Golding, the great Picasso scholar claimed that the longer he looked at Picasso the less he understood him. In the work of Picasso, the force of every etched, drawn or incised line can be felt, even though the meaning is often elusive and ambiguous. Golding claims further that Picasso was not always aware of what was going on in his work, which is true of many artists. What separates Picasso is the authority and apparent certainty of his line and image. What is overwhelming, especially in room after room at the Dean Gallery is the sheer volume of images and his incessant impulse to create for the best part of eighty years. Picasso's love of different media and the physical energy invested in his long career is utterly inspiring.

Contemporary critics hostile to Picasso's work often focussed on his apparent slap-dash methods. In ceramics, as in printmaking, he required expert assistance since he had never actually studied the crafts and methods that he set himself to command. His training was in the beaux-arts tradition. Sombre colours, muted brushwork, little texture, no impasto. Perspective dominated his approach and colours were mixed on the palette. He studied first with his father who taught "line drawing and decoration" at the Escuela de Bellas Artes, San Telmo, in Málaga. Picasso was too young to attend here but when his father taught at the Instituto da Guarda in La Coruña, he was unable, aged 10, to attend. When his father took up an appointment in Barcelona School of Art four years later, La Llotja, Picasso also attended. By 1897 he gained a place at the prestigious Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. The academic training there was rigorous: drawing from prints of sculptures, then casts of parts of sculptures, then whole sculptures. Only when a level of mastery had been achieved could the student work from the live model. The tenets of Renaissance perspective were rigorously taught, as was a perfect rendition of light and dark, highlight and shade. That Picasso mastered all stages of his training explains the apparent effortless perfection of line and the absolute harmony he evoked between idea and form. There is always a truth and appropriateness in Picasso's varied choice of formal language. His love of the classical world and his use of classical mythology and sculptural forms inform his work in the same way that a poet speaks in his first language. From his student days, Picasso had a healthy scepticism towards academic finish, claiming: "Unfinished, a picture remains alive, dangerous. A finished work is a dead work, killed".2

Where Picasso's etchings and lithographs are consummate technical achievements, his ceramics are roughly hewn energetic pieces. In the dominant hierarchy of the arts, graphic work was considered minor to painting on canvas and ceramics were craft. In early works such as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907 Picasso departed radically from all that he had learned on the beaux-arts tradition. One point perspective has been abandoned; colours have not been 'properly' blended. The women's forms are angular and distorted rather than gently modelled. Inspiration from Greece and Rome, has been replaced with models from Iberia, Ancient Spain and Africa.

Picasso's break from tradition is clearly evident in Cubism where he incorporated non-Fine Art elements and materials: newspaper, wallpaper and household paint. He stopped varnishing his pictures thus reducing the illusion of depth further. With Cubism he abandoned the illusion of perspective altogether. By 1912, he and Georges Braque were producing art that is known as papier collés or collages, incorporating newsprint, cardboard and other scrap material. In 1915 Picasso met Jean Cocteau the French artist and writer who later introduced him to Sergei Diagalev, founder of the innovative Ballets Russes. With other important artists, Picasso's collaborative work with Diagalev was liberating in terms of media and formal achievement.

Picasso was one of a number of leading artists who designed costumes, stage sets and curtains for Sergei Diaghilev's, (1872-1929) Les Ballets Russes which exerted a profound influence on dancing, music and the visual arts. Les Ballets Russes (1911-1929) began as a series of concerts of Russian music in Paris; in 1909 he organised a Russian ballet company to travel to France. By commissioning outstanding musicians (Erik Satie), dancers and choreographers (Nijinsky, Pavlova) and designers in Russia (Leon Bakst, Natalie Goncharova) and artists in France he created a sensation. Artists included the best of the time: Braque, de Chirico, Derain, Matisse and Picasso. Costumes, sets and curtains, were superbly designed, and executed.

Picasso designed six ballets for Diaghilev and others. This provided a wide range of stimuli and encouraged him to travel to the performances of the ballets. For Parade, a realist ballet in one scene, centred on a group of circus performers, Picasso designed the set and costumes and painted the vast curtain. Picasso was painting cubist works at this stage of his career, so that certain critics found his set designs an appalling diversion into the decorative. His earlier works of harlequins, acrobats and performers, and his identification with the outsider in society, however, gave his work a depth that an illustrator could not have achieved. In fact, the Parade works liberated Picasso who resented being tied to one stylistic mode; it also represented his love of the theatre. "In Picasso's mind there exists a parallel between painting and the theatre…he has come to regard both as being different though comparable ways of creating an illusory world with images which nonetheless reflect, and so help us, the spectators, to recognise more about, the world in which we live".3 Picasso's stylistic liberation took the form in Parade of a mixture of styles, from highly realistic to a vast pseudo-baroque drama. Parade extended Picasso's predilection for working almost simultaneously in a number of different styles; for Picasso it ensured that he was never lost his creative freedom. The theatre provided a platform, literally for him to identify with different characters, historical periods and styles.

Parade made its debut in Paris in 1917. Picasso then travelled with Les Ballets Russes to Italy , Spain, and London, and married one of the dancers Olga Koklova in 1918. Critics have claimed that Picasso's work in the theatre and ceramics diverted him from Cubism and from Modernism. In stylistic terms it enabled him to work in a range of styles and on a great scale, making later works such as Guernica, one of his very greatest works, possible. War and Peace (1952-54) also owe their powerful execution to the experience in Ballet Russes.

Like his work with Diagalev, ceramic work and printmaking energised Picasso's vast oeuvre. He enjoyed collaborative projects and had friendly relationships with his many assistants. The end of the Second World War was a turning point in Picasso's complex personal life which Fired with Passion explores in considerable detail. From the 1920s Picasso had enjoyed spending his summers in the South of France. In 1945 he bought a house in Ménerbes, a village in the Vaucluse which he made over to his lover Dora Maar the following year when his relationship with Marie Françoise Gilot became more certain. He painted Joie de vivre, a series of paintings using Ripolin house paint with references to Mediterranean and classical subjects. The following year, 1946, Picasso and Gilot visited Vallauris, a nearby village where sixty traditional ceramic workshops still survived. At l'atelier Madoura Picasso met the owners Georges and Suzanne Ramie. He modelled small objects and decorated two or three plates.

Vallauris had been a pottery town since Roman times. Its success was based on an abundance of high quality local clay and a plentiful supply of Aleppo pine trees, which were used for the wood-burning kilns. It flourished with good access to Italy and the coast. In 1862, the growth culminated with a rail link which transformed the village potteries into industrial ceramic factories. At one stage over half the population worked in the industry. By the end of the Second World War, and as a consequence of it, the ceramic industry was struggling. By the time Picasso visited Vallauris, the area was extremely run-down with high unemployment.

The Madoura pottery was set up in 1938 employing local craftsman. Suzanne Ramie developed the glazes and basic forms. She taught Picasso the basics. Rose Watban observes, "Suzanne's own work was often assembled from a number of thrown sections, and it was always functional. When Picasso assembled similar pieces, however, the results were sculptural".4 By traditional standards Picasso's ceramics erred on the side of risk-taking - the experienced potters often predicted disaster with complicated groupings of pieces in danger of collapsing during the firing. Ceramic sculpture was an important medium for Picasso throughout his career - he also made sculptures from metal and found objects. While Picasso was living in Vallauris he also created many important paintings. Perhaps the most compelling in its architectonic command of space is War and Peace (1952-54):

But it is not just space and movement Picasso is able to show. His choice of paint and application for his 'Horsemen of the Apocalypse' in the mural War subtly conveys the psychological horror their appearance foretells. Painted in 1952 for the deconsecrated Romanesque chapel at Vallauris, just off the town's main square, the mural starts not quite at ground level and arcs up over the viewer's head following the chapel's barrel vaulted ceiling to where it meets its companion, Peace. The scale meant Picasso had to work from ladders, no small feat for a man of 71, and paint dribbles over its surface recall the physicality of that work. But it was in full control. He chose a paint for his apocalypse horsemen that was flat matt black. A household paint that gave a lean, dry surface. The fluid outline of these horsemen was created not with the black paint. Instead Picasso painted the paler coloured 'background' over this black, as though cutting his horsemen out of the darkness….The effect is as though he has enclosed a void, an evil force that sucks us in to the same space as his terrifying horsemen.5

The chapel project reveals Picasso's Communist allegiance; he joined the Party in 1944. As a consequence, he was unable to return to Spain during Franco's rule. Intense debate over the role of art and politics took place all over the world where the communist line on art was curiously similar to that of Hitler who condemned the modernist movement. The rejection of literal representation, a central tenet of Modernism was in contradiction to left-wing views of art that branded abstraction as solipsistic and of no use to the movement against Fascism. Picasso's attraction to printmaking was possibly due to the long association graphic art has had with the expression of critical and revolutionary points of view. Linocuts especially had been used for militant self-expression. In lithography, Picasso found a direct expression of his fine draughtsmanship, a tenderness and immediacy which can be found in many of his drawings. The Communist Party did not openly approve of Picasso's work, in spite of its remarkable range of styles and yet it could not actually reject his contribution to the Peace Movement immediately after the war. He was a charismatic individual and his anti-war vision - as evidenced in Guernica was not surpassed by any other artist. Then his dove of peace was designed for the 1949 Peace Congresses in Paris, Sheffield, Warsaw and Rome. Picasso also gave generous financial support to the Communist Party and the Peace Movement.

One of the most remarkable suites of prints on show in part, in the Edinburgh exhibition is the Vollard Suite. Picasso met Ambroise Vollard in 1901 and held an exhibition in June of that year. Vollard was particularly interested in Picasso's prints and commissioned several suites of work. The history of the Vollard Suite is complicated. It comprises one hundred etchings and engravings. Whether it was ever actually commissioned - is unclear - some suggest that Picasso had made some of the etchings before it was commissioned. Others claim that no actual commission was ever made but that the suite refers to a large group of etchings was made, and put together, opportunistically, or for convenience. The etchings were all made between 1930 and 1937. Vollard, however, died in a car crash in 1939, as the etchings were being printed - the planned collaboration with the poet Andre Suares died with him. An edition of 260 was made - plus extras and variations. A staggering total, of 30,000 sheets was eventually produced. Then the war broke out before the sets were assembled, and they were put into storage for years. Then in 1956, Hans Bollinger published the Vollard Suite. It was he, who arranged the prints into different 'chapters', including 'The Battle of Love', 'The Sculptor's Studio', 'Rembrandt', 'The Minotaur', and 'The Blind Minotaur'. These groupings were not decided by Picasso or Vollard.6

The style of the Vollard Suite is resolutely classical. Figures resemble Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, incorporating autobiography and his renewed interest in sculpture. The quality of the drawn and etched line is superlative and no doubt inspired the notion of such a huge edition. Amorous Minotaur with Female Centaur (plate 87 from the Vollard Suite), 23 May 1933 was one of a number of images by Picasso using the theme of the minotaur. He made the cover for the first issue of the art journal Minotaure in April 1033. His interest in the myth may have been stimulated by excavations carried out at Knossos, Crete between 1900and 1931 by archaeologist Arthur Evans. When Evans published his findings the popularity of the myth was rekindled. The legend of the Minotaur tells of King Minos who kept the creature in a deep labyrinth, feeding him on human offerings. The beast represented sexual potency and was also an emblematic 'outsider'. Picasso had long identified with those on the edge or outside of society such as harlequins and circus families whom he portrayed in his Rose Period. Blind Minotaur Guided in the Night by a Girl with a Pigeon (plate 96) (23 October 1934), is largely autobiographical, within the classical mythological schema. The girl guiding the blind minotaur here has the face of Picasso's lover at the time, Marie-Thérese Walter. At this time she was twenty-four and Picasso two days short of his fifty-fourth birthday. The gap in their ages is referred to by Picasso who uses the ageing Minotaur as his alter-ego.

Minotauromachie, 23 March 1935 is the most remarkable work in Picasso: Works on Paper. It is also considered to be Picasso's greatest print. A number of interpretations of the image have been made. The Minotaur is certainly Picasso's alter -ego and has been developed from the use of the beast in the Vollard Suite. He also made a remarkable series of The Bull, a series of eleven lithographs that start in a painterly style and become increasingly stylised. Printmaking made it possible for him to rework and simplify, and also to keep a record of each state. The girl in Minotauromachie represents his young lover, who was pregnant at the time, while his wife Olga was refusing him a divorce. The wounded horse with its innards spilling is an image of complete anguish and confusion. The meaning is not clear but the Minotaur who is responsible for the pregnancy appears to be in denial. The themes of love, fear, shame, desire and denial can be found in many of Picasso's intensely personal works. The messages he creates are haunting and universal. The work was created at what Picasso himself described as 'the worst time of my life'. The print went through seven states before being printed in an edition of fifty. This work epitomises the graphic work of Pablo Picasso, indeed his wider oeuvre. It combines sensuality, guilt, beauty and the grotesque and is utterly compelling.

Dr Janet McKenzie

1. Clare Finn, "The Making of Picasso's Art", Picasso: Fired with Passion, National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh, 2007, p.20.
2. Ibid, p.7.
3. Douglas Cooper, Picasso Theatre, (1968) Harry N Abrams, New York, 1987.
4. Rose Watban, "Drawn to Vallauris, in Picasso: Fired with Passion, op.cit., p.44.
5. Finn, op.cit., pp.12-15.
6. Patrick Elliott, Picasso on Paper, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2007, p.54.

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