After the bitter, loquacious and anarchist bohemianism of Barcelona, Picasso was to come into contact with a different kind of bohemianism in Montmartre, and after having met the Catalan genius he was to meet the gipsy genius of Guillaume Apollinaire. He too was a lover of hypotheses and his truculence has launched many aesthetic inventions : the invention of Negro art, the invention of the Douanier Rousseau, the invention of calligrams and all the inventions of modern poetry. But he succeeded, by the miracle of his genius, in bringing all this dazzling fantasy and improvisation into line with the purest French tradition.
The Bateau-Lavoir on the rue Ravignan was the providential home of a prodigious enchantment, a scintillating intellectual feast. Picasso played his part in this, but it is impossible to determine what reciprocal influences were at work on his companions in this intellectual and aesthetic debauch and vice versa. At the most we can trace a happy coincidence between Picasso's plastic investigations and those of the other poets and painters of the Bateau-Lavoir, especially that of their coryphaeus Apollinaire.His cosmopolitanism, his eccentric erudition and vagabond lyricism are an admirable embodiment of the pre-war years when the literary theme of the adventive soared under two aspects, geographical and intellectual. Poetry discovered the chatter of the modern world, and at the same time opened up a dream world, expressing the unreal and unknown.
A new climate appeared from the spiritual intercourse of artists, such as Picasso, Apollinaire, Max Jacob and the first masters of Fauvism and Cubism, and a critical ferocity reigned there. The traditional codes of art and poetry were again disputed, and all sorts of possibilities, all equally valid, were substituted for them. A sudden and peremptory shot seemed to open up variations out of which a new style could be formed. A revived memory of the unequally known mass of past forms might give a new direction to art. An impertinent gesture of revolt and disgust makes a clean sweep suddenly and art is forced to begin all over again, as though there had been nothing before. It was amid this passion of absolute creation, in this savage pandemonium, formed by the most highly evolved and civilized beings, that Cubism, one of the most astonishing artistic hypotheses of all time, was born.
Here again it would be vain to trace the part played by Picasso in this invention, when so many great French artists distinguished themselves beside him. Moreover certain elements, which go to make up the essence of the French genius, justify Cubism and give it the character of an intellectual discipline, as well as constructive elegance, which make it one of the principal moments in the history of French taste ; and it is in France that we must look for its precursors, for example Ingres and above all Cézanne. The desire of making a clean sweep, of rediscovering the essential laws of painting, which is the origin of Cubism appears first of all and in the most striking way in the work of Cézanne, the Cartesian. I should like to imagine in this connection a very awkward and yet very attentive painter, and one on whom the things which can be learned, the recipes, which have been transmitted, but not verified, have no hold.
His eye is virgin and his hand has not become automatic. And let us not forget that he is strong and has his roots in one of the most magnificent provinces of France. He is intelligent without artifice or vain research, and has something wholesome and fierce about him. When this perfect example of humanity, this complete athlete, who like his ancestor Nicolas Poussin makes a point of neglecting nothing, sets about painting, I can trace two processes, one of synthesis and geometry which consists in instituting the broad leading lines in a spectacle, the simplifying planes, the bony structure of the organism; and the other of analysis and delicacy which permits the precious awkwardness of the hand to divide what the dominating attention of the eye had selected. The synthetic intelligence conceived the necessary line and fixed it in space; but at this point time begins to work and the sensitive hand finds reasons to interrupt and change this line. In the course of minutes this line trembles and breaks. New inflexions, new contacts, new shades intervene in the volumes and planes. Time adds its modulations to the sovereign organization of space and this can be repeated forty times on the space of a shirt front.
Let us imagine this method applied to painting without an object, and we will be able to read the most abstruse canvases and see that Cubism is the last heir of Cézanne in his pure mystic state. Now it happens that the intemperate Spaniard, Picasso, was the one who wrote these abstruse pages and thus carried Cubism to the last degree of its development. French Cubism has been able to cultivate charm, and, above all, has exalted reason in its most convincing aspect, and in the measure of the human eye. But Picasso's Cubism is the most arid chapter in the history of the school.
The decorative strength and supreme taste of Braque, the high intellectuality and classical temperament of La Fresnaye, the lyricism of Delaunay, the deep and wide culture of Lhote, Leger's artisan-like violence, the speculative ardour of Gleizes, not counting other excellent artists and those exquisite foreigners who, like Survage and Marcoussis, have joined the French Pleiad, — all this constitutes a realm which is now accessible to popular sensibility. The same is true of the style of another Spaniard, Juan Gris, who in spite of a severity akin to that of Zurbaran, retains irresistible powers of seduction. But Picasso's Cubist canvases, and they are very numerous and fill an important place in his work, having occupied him for a long time, are the most austere and difficult things which the public has ever met, with their grey and brown monochrome, the humble poverty of their themes, such as guitars, pipe-shanks and carafes, or the unexpected brutality of his subjects when they appear in the trivial form of a collage.
We seem to be in the steppes of plastic art; or making a slow progress over the sierras ; a cruel and patient spirit seems to be applying the methods of Cézanne, but in a more abstract disembodied form, making a synthesis of an invisible landscape, reducing it to the principal planes ; then introducing subtle divisions, modulations, shadows into this construction with evident but absurd delicacy, thus translating a language which he alone understands into another imaginary tongue.
Pablo Picasso, Cubism, Pablo Picasso Biography, Picasso Paintings, Picasso Drawings, The Blue Nude, Don Quixote, Enamel Saucepan, Evening Flowers, Femme A La Fleur, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Spanish Art, The Dream, The Pigeons, Guernica, Musse, Bull with Bullfighter, Mediterranean Landscape, Nude and Still Life, Toros y Toreros, Mother and Child, Girl with Red Beret, Frau Mit Turban, The Bathers, The Lesson, The Old Guitarist, Three Bathers, Violin and Guitar, Lovers, Evening Flowers, The Kitchen
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