Picasso was born in Malaga in Andalusia and the years of his youth were spent partly in Madrid and partly in Barcelona ; but Barcelona seems to me to have played the decisive part in his formation. Thus the three provinces which compose the diversity of the Spanish genius, Andalusia, Castile and Catalonia, meet in this typical Spaniard.
In this diversity Barcelona and Catalonia strike a very special note, that of a Mediterranean race with its plastic suppleness, its virtuosity, its love of decorative splendour. In the history of Spanish literary and artistic manners of about 1900, the bohemians of Barcelona, illustrated in so many of Picasso's earliest canvases, present a particularly free and savoury aspect.
Being a Mediterranean port, a cosmopolitan city, the centre of chance encounters and combinations, Barcelona is peculiar in that she is unacquainted with good taste. Rules and regulations, or even the feelings that such rules and regulations exist and cannot be broken, are unknown in Barcelona.Moreover bad taste does not simply mean that these rules are unknown, it asserts itself in a highly aggressive manner. Rules are broken and the people glory in it.
Barcelona played the leading part in Spanish painting at the end of the nineteenth century and produced artists of very different kinds, realists as well as decorators; especially decorators filled with a love of virtuosity and splendour, which is the very essence of the Catalan genius. This genius with its ostentatious bad taste, — bad taste made into a virtue — has never been so powerfully expressed as in the figure of Antoni Gaudi, the only great architect of the modern style that Europe has produced. It seems to me that Picasso cannot be separated from Gaudi; nor must we forget that Gaudi was the master and the precursor of his young compatriot Salvador Dali. Picasso and later on Dali became Parisian celebrities and world celebrities, and their names will be always associated with our movements and quarrels, that of the first with the history of Cubism, that of the second with Surrealism. They have become so famous that we think we can understand them. In reality the most essential part of their character remains obscure to us ; they can be fully explained only by their roots. In the case of Picasso it is only possible to arrive at a true definition of his character by placing him against his Spanish background.
Picasso's movements and reactions, his bearing, his mental attitude, — all this can be easily recognized by anyone familiar with Spanish men of genius. His tendency to employ unusual forms is like Gaudi's fondness of deliberately introducing spiral and crooked columns and parabolic and hyperbolic arches in his buildings. Both show the same love for geometrical paradoxes, the same love for monsters. Gaudi, too, has produced architectural monsters in his Mila house on the Paseig de Gracia with its pachyderm without any angles and many other impossible constructions. He too has asked in his domain: why not ?
This inventive curiosity, this passionate need for experience and hypothesis, this facility of going peremptorily beyond the limits of good taste, all these are Spanish traits and it is not surprising to find them in such an extreme form in one of the first towns where Picasso worked, in Barcelona, where, owing to the influence of a fantastic architect, this most absurd, most illogical, most scandalous modern style was adopted. It is the last incarnation of the baroque, and we speak of it with shame and irony, thus showing that for us, men of taste, there exists a certain order and hierarchy of styles.
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