The Neapolitan Woman—through his work for Pulcinella Picasso had come close to the milieu depicted here—is anything but a study from a model. It is a firmly constructed, lyrical work in the terms of Synthetic Cubism; only the subject matter and the devices are different. The seated figure is well-balanced and self-contained; compositionally it is reminiscent of the high, narrow Cubist pictures. Elements that are complete in themselves, such as the right arm or the fish, are part of the picture surface; the left arm and the basket with its rough texture appear as overlapping planes. Also the feet turned sidewise and the folds around the knee, which are shaped like mathematical curves, are adapted to the flat character of the picture, without the slightest regard for anatomy.
The more three-dimensional quality of the upper part of the figure corresponds to the foreshortened bench. A certain incompatibility between the ornamental beauty of the lines and the tendency to fullness of volume is determined by a new stylistic purpose, which will be discussed below. While an expressive tendency reminiscent of the Blue Period, except for the heavy forms, asserts itself in the fingers of the right hand, the expression of the head, with its regular outlines, has been neutralized to the point of immobility.
Although it is composed exactly like a Cubist still life, the well-known water color Siesta of 1919, which shows two sleeping peasants, reveals a tremendous preoccupation with volume—probably encouraged by Renoir's late works. In 1920, this preoccupation creates figures which are literally colossi, concurrently with the most delicate line drawings. At that time Picasso fashioned a race of giantesses with powerful limbs, strongly modeled by light, ponderously inactive in resting or standing positions, without sensual charm in their nudity, and set against severe folds of drapery.
They are painted statues, such as had been anticipated in some figures of 1906, although without the Baroque quality. In these works Picasso translates into the language of plastic form what Juan Gris meant when he said that he started from the cylinder to create an individual of a special type. Picasso assembles his titanic women from abstract volumes. That is why their faces, influenced by Hellenistic models, lack expressive life. Their forms are like those of Adam not yet animated by the divine breath—sullen, unwieldy masses. On the other hand, the forms themselves, colossal and rounded almost to the point of bursting, contain a Baroque expressive element, which frequently appears with equal vigor in later works.
After 1922 the exaggerated massiveness gradually subsides, the swellings recede, the ponderous Baroque forms occasionally yield to a graceful, idyllic infatuation with Rococo forms, with pairs of lovers and cupids. Here, the plastic effect is often produced by sharp lights and darks, as in the monumental canvas Pipes of Pan, painted in 1923, and particularly in the magnificent drawings of figure compositions of that year. When they are done with the pen only, the deep shadows are produced by hatchings which are at times systematic, at times scribbled, but which, as in sculptors' drawings, follow the form.
The sheet showing Pan with a flute and two nymphs playing with a crab obviously echoes Poussin in its heavy splotches of shadow, in its arrangement of the figures, and in its bucolic mood. On the other hand, the forms of the slender women with their thin joints are more like the Neo-Classic ideal of the eighteenth century. But what is most remarkable in the drawing is the manner in which the figures are integrated with their surroundings, which might be described in naturalistic terms as a beach. The figures are completely surrounded by networks of lines of varying density, which combine with the white patches of the limbs and the large splotches of shadows into a surface design; that surface design exists independently of the three-dimensional composition of the figures. Its counterpart can be found in certain "flat" still lifes of the same time which have the same sort of network effect. We can see that the postures of the nymphs and the positions of their limbs are adapted to the flat character of the whole, and that the exaggeratedly angular forms of the man and the striped pattern of his pipes and his fingers are even more adapted to the over-all system. Thanks to the crab motif, the white of the sheet becomes the perspective foreground. This is a completely successful magic trick. The artist has once again reserved the final metamorphosis for the beholder's imagination.
The emotional coldness of the giantesses of 1920 and 1921 often yields in the works of 1923 to a warm tenderness, as in the Young Girl and Little Boy or in the more frequently reproduced Lovers. in Chicago, showing a couple before a window. The bright and luminous colors of the theatrical costumes befray the influence of Pompeian color. The delicate tones of the Basel Museum's seated Harlequin, of the same year, go so far as to take us back to the "Circus Period" of 1905. The peculiarly sentimental mood of this picture also characterizes the classic line drawings executed in 1925, when Picasso went to Monte Carlo to attend ballet performances there. Unlike the pencil drawings of 1919, these are done with ink, and for that reason have an even harder, almost glassy quality.
For the most part they show groups of male figures dancing. Usually one of the figures whose legs are parallel to the picture plane serves as a point of reference in space for determining the spatial positions of the others. The indolence of their motions matches well the dreamy, absorbed expressions of the faces, and stands in striking contrast to the solidity of the figures which are muscular and soft at the same time. Here the artist yields to the fluent harmony of the long lines without deviating from correct perspective foreshortening in the traditional sense. By indicating the vanishing lines he himself challenges us to veiify his perspective—and find it correct! In other drawings—both earlier and later—he has no such ambition: the harmonious interweaving of the white spaces among the black threads of the drawing is predominant, and anatomy is sacrificed to the expressive mobility of the limbs.
This technique culminates in the etchings for Ovid's Metamorphoses published in 1931, in which the purity of the lines, the sparing use of shading, and the balance of the composition come close to perfection. In the etchings for Aristophanes' Lysistrata ( 1934), restrained treatment of subject matter and purely linear balance of the sheet are dropped in favor of greater decorative richness. In the 1940s, at Antibes, Picasso once again achieved sublime lightness in his linear style.
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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