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American painter Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967) famously painted melancholy images of alienation in daily life. His stark urban and rural scenes are eerily realistic, depicting desolate structures and painfully isolated people. A skilled watercolorist and printmaker, Hopper was primarily known for his oil paintings. Although he dreamed of being a Naval architect, once he discovered painting, he achieved quick fame and soon became America’s leading Realist. His grim scenes, mainly of New York and New England, were emphasized with severe lines, shapes, colors and angles and his later works revealed similarities to geometric abstraction.
Cubism, the first of the three great innovating movements in twentieth-century art, begins in 1907 with Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and ends, some say, about 1921. Actually cubist principles and devices continue down to the present in the art of such masters as Picasso and Braque. Under the above heading, The Cubist Generation in Paris, are grouped their works early and late, cubist and non-cubist, together with those of their major colleagues, Gris, Léger, Lipchitz and others, lesser or more marginal. A few — Duchamp, Malevich, Mondrian, Rivera — who left the movement to help generate other revolutions.
Moscow is far richer in Picasso’s Blue, Rose, and “Negro” periods (though long hidden. from public view as subversively “formalist”); Basel probably surpasses us in analytical cubism, Philadelphia in cubist collages, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum here in New York, in paintings by Delaunay, Gleizes and Metzinger; and the Paris Musée d’Art Moderne in the work of the past decade in which the Museum is deficient. Nevertheless the cubist generation, by and large, is more comprehensively represented in the Museum of Modern Art than in any other public collection in the world.
Of these riches, because of limitations of space and color plates, can offer only a sampling: for instance, two of eight oils by Braque, two of ten by Léger, eight of sixteen by Picasso, two of eight by Gris, three of eight sculptures by Lipchitz.
In 1904 Picasso was living in an ancient wooden tenement on Montmartre among poverty-stricken poets, actors, clerks and laundresses. A little earlier, he himself had known starvation so that the Frugal Repast is based on firsthand experience.
Avoiding sentimentality which had softened some of his “Blue” canvases he draws the woman and her blind companion with their wine and crust of bread. Their emaciation seems appropriate but it is largely a matter of mannered style, and so is the elaborately studied composition of the hands (which may be compared to Kokoschka’s, opposite).
Picasso was twenty-two at the time and the Frugal Repast, technically a tour de force, was his first major etching. It remained perhaps his greatest, certainly his most ambitious, print until the Minotauromachy of 1935.
Possibly the mannered attenuations of Picasso Frugal Repast were inspired by El Greco. In any case, two years later on a summer’s trip to Spain in 1906 Picasso renewed an early enthusiasm for the great sixteenth-century Mannerist. During the same year Picasso had been stirred by Spanish art of a much earlier period, pre-Christian “Iberian” sculpture; and he had been deeply impressed by the memorial exhibition of Cézanne’s work.
Picasso and Matisse had already met at Leo and Gertrude Stein’s apartment and were beginning to feel that rivalry, alternately friendly and jealous but always implicitly flattering, which they were to maintain for decades. Matisse had shown his very large and controversial Joy of Life at the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1906, an event which may well have excited Picasso to emulation. In any event, Leo Stein (who was the first to see that they were the two foremost painters of our time) remembers visiting Picasso’s studio that fall and finding there a huge canvas which, before he had painted a stroke, the artist had had expensively lined as if it were already a classic work. Picasso was marshaling his creative energies for a great effort.
For months that winter Picasso worked on dozens of figure and composition studies. In the spring of 1907 he began to paint. The picture was probably finished by autumn but it was given no name for a dozen years thereafter. About 1920 a literary friend of Picasso christened it with the romantic title Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, an ironic reference to the “damsels” of a house on Avignon Street in Barcelona.
The attraction exercised by blue on Picasso’s imagination lasted until the beginning of 1904. It was so obsessive that when he had to pay his tailor Soler with a portrait-was the Barcelona equivalent of the pastry-cook Murer who used to feed Pissarro and Renoir-he Plunged him into an indigo darkness which did not fail to enhance the melancholy and the innate distinction of that excellent man. This Portrait of Soler (1903) as well as that of the poet Sabartès (1901), now also in Moscow, attest to Picasso’s fundamental romanticism which he will often suppress, especially in his later portraits.
In 1904 and 1905, when he has settled down in Paris for good, Picasso gradually abandons monochrome, the lengthened proportions, and the precious arabesque of gesture. To the blues are now added ochers and pinks; there appear new themes: traveling showmen, acrobats, and their daily life. The melancholy, the poignant solitude of the figures persist for some time. In the Boy with Dog the boy, as famished as his animal friend, roams in a suburban landscape; his nostalgia is lit by a fragile blue light which envelops him on all sides.
The tone brightens, however, and the Girl on a Ball (1905), perhaps one of the last in the series of mountebank scenes, could have appealed to Morosov by its tender symphony of pinks and blues. It is also one of the finest in the series. In the opposition between the brute force of the athlete and the aerial gracefulness of the girl there is the naïveté of a street song. Picasso will always have the knack of extracting from life this essential and fresh note, the fundamental truth of a body, of an attitude, of an expression; how can one forget the exquisite uncertainty of the slender arms groping for support in the air, how can one fail to be struck by this back, muscular and vast, rugged like a dream landscape, the back of an ignudo by Michelangelo or Rosso? Which masters have surpassed the sensitive assurance of outline, the triumphant fancy in the modeling?
This silhouette of a Roman wrestler at rest announces a new spirit in Picasso’s art: a world of the sun, of impassive certitude, of a flourishing physical life replaces the crepuscular and nostalgic limbo. For Picasso’s Latinism the attraction of Mediterranean classicism will prove as irresistible, in these years, as later. His “classical” period will also be his “pink” period. The Nude Boy (1905), this gladiator’s apprentice, comes from a race quite different from that of the little mountebank with the dog; and to the Woman of Majorca (1905), daughter of the Greeks and the Phoenicians, the melancholy of traveling showmen is entirely foreign.
We are in the heart of the Mediterranean, in the midst of a frenzy of ochers and blues; the drawing, the modeling carry memories of the spontaneous suppleness of Pompeian frescoes and the elegance of Alexandrian terra cottas. However, if the style betrays these reminiscences, they serve to endow the figures with an unsuspected youth, for there can be nothing less faithful to the classical canon than the body of this boy with its heavy legs and sinewy arms, nothing less tanagra-like than this translucid apparition traversed by tempestuous shadows.
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