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Thursday, 19 February 2009

Picasso stuff

A blockbuster exhibition, Picasso : Challenging the Past opens next week at The National Gallery - and not , as you might expect, The Tate, which would normally be the venue for exhibitions of Modern art.

The history to this is that twelve years ago the two galleries reached an agreement. Modern art, they said, began in 1900. It was perhaps on a par with the government deciding in its wisdom that history finished with the building of the Berlin Wall. This, of course, was to ensure that no untoward politics could creep into the syllabus. It created anomalies, as it was bound to: for instance that the building of the wall could be part of a history syllabus, but the knocking down of it could not. So the kids could have the first half of a story, but not its conclusion. In the case of our two galleries, however, their agreement was meant to ensure that the Tate was free to acquire anything dated post 1900, but before that The National gallery was to have the monopoly. (Nicholas Penny, the new director of the National Gallery, is keen to renegotiate the definition of Modern art, but meanwhile points out that the agreement covers acquisitions only, not exhibitions and loans.)

Seven years ago it was the Tate launching a Picasso plus... blockbuster exhibition, that one highlighting the intense personal and artistic rivalry that existed between him and Matisse. They showed it in blow-by-blow fashion, two great artists slugging out their I-can-do-that-better-than-you obsessions. The exhibition was a wow and so The National is hoping they can work the same trick and pull off a similar financial success. Their hope is pinned to a show which will give us Picasso taking on, not Matisse on this occasion, but the old masters as he vies with them for the ultimate accolade: tell us, pictures on the wall, who is the greatest artist of us all. We will see him, metaphorically, of course, giving the icons of the past a bashing. Alongside, Goya's Naked Maja, for instance, we will see Picasso's version. Well, not actually alongside, for the curators do not want to encourage a spot the difference attitude in the viewers. Not much chance of that, I would have thought, as in most cases there are few similarities, if one is being literalist or formalist, that is.
I shall hope to get along to the exhibition at some point, if only because included in it is a Picasso of which I am particularly fond, in which I think I see something of Guernica for instance. The painting in question is The Rape of the Sabines, which I show below, beneath the Poussin original - can I call it that without intending any disparagement to Picasso? It should be an interesting tournament,for, as Chris Riopelle, points out, in these types of engagement the Old Masters usually win hands down. I hope I can be there to see for myself.

























Picasso employed a system called refactoring to develop an image from a purely naturalistic form to one abstracted to show the essence of a subject.

In 1945 he produced a series of 11 lithographs of a bull which has come to be regarded as a master class in the use of the system. Here I reproduce some of these images, each one of which represents a stage in the development of his image. I pick the sequence up at the second lithograph. Before this, Picasso had drawn a very life-like bull (the first lithograph) and now we see him beefing it up to make it almost more life-like than life.


At the third stage he begins to analyse it, putting in lines of force and delineating contours created by bones and muscles. His lithographic crayon follows much the same paths that would have been followed by a butcher chopping up the carcass.



From stage 4 onwards Picasso is simplifying, taking out unimportant planes and combining others, producing a new distribution of weight and balance, making the bull appear more solid even than it was before.




My last image is also Picasso's last in the series. It is the destination to which he has been headed throughout the various transformations.



If you are interested in following this process in greater detail, you might like to go to here, where the full set of lithographs, together with a more complete explanatory commentary, can be found

39 comments:

Shadow said...

once this brilliant scupltor was asked how he can re-create such beautiful images of, say, a lion, and he said: easy, you just chip away anything that doesn't look like one....

The Weaver of Grass said...

Very interesting juxtaposition Dave with The Rape of the Sabines. Interesting comment too about the oldmasters winning hands down. I think I would have to see the originals together in order to say which I thought won. Certainly guernica says more to me (particularly the original) than any other war painting I have ever seen. The trouble with the old masters version is that however hard they try, the scene comes over as beautiful - the women as ravishing - there is an underlying sense of the glorification of war, of men triumphing over women - there is nothing of that in Guernica. Would love to see the exhibition myself - but it is a long way from here. We shall be in London en route for the States later in the Spring but doubt there will be time to see it. So if you get to it, please post one of your good, long comments on it.

Cathy Gatland said...

Picasso's bulls were on exhibition in Johannesburg two years ago (I think) - they were fascinating. Thanks for visiting my blog - I've enjoyed seeing yours, will be back!

Lucas said...

This exhibition certainly sounds interesting. Picasso is very high on my list of favourite painters. Thanks for the examples you have included in the post. I am increasingly surprised at how "Modern" art is now a part of hostory. Picasso, Braque, Miles Davis, Olivier Messian - all appear to me still shiningly new and modern, yet as the years pass it hard to grasp the true meaning of the word.

Delwyn said...

Thank you for this post David, I particularly enjoyed reading how Picasso arrived at his stylized images. Somewhere I have a quote of his (can't find it at the moment) that goes something like: "I start with an idea and it ends up somewhere else."

Derrick said...

Hi Dave,

As I have never considered myself to be a Picasso fan, I wouldn't be inclined to see this exhibition. In your provision of the Rape images, however, I would acknowledge that Picasso's does have a raw energy. I also prefer his 4th bull to the final image.

I know I ought to look at all of Picasso's works to see how they might 'speak' to me individually but .... call me oldfashioned!!

Butler and Bagman said...

Great set of lithographs...a master class indeed. I remember seeing something like that at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was by Matisse who did a series of sculpted bronze heads...going step by step from real to essential. Thanks.

Janette Kearns Wilson said...

Thanks Dave for the blog it was really helpful to have the link to the Master class

jinksy said...

Third Bull gets my vote every time for a great piece of graphic design.

your sassy reporter said...

That was a good analysis to how picasso's mind worked to do his artworks. He was a pure genius.

Mary Ellen said...

I always feel smarter when visiting your blog. Not necessarily when I arrive, you understand, but definitely before I leave.

lakeviewer said...

I ditto the previous comments. My questions are: 1.Does the artist consciously depict a scene to layer the meanings? 2.Does the viewer, after he decides the scene speaks to him, define the meaningfulness of the scene?

Art Durkee said...

I always found it interesting that the end of the refactoring process, in these lithographs, looks like cave art. The very old become new again. Cave art is our roots, in many ways. When we go back to it, we're reinvigorated, renewed. Which was partly Picasso's point.

Of course Matisse did some similar series. They often egged each other on, pushing each other in friendly rivalry.

jinksy said...

I'm a bit discombobulated that I can't ever reply by an email to comments you leave on my blog... They come back like boomerangs for some reason, and I do like to be able to say thank you! So 'Merci, Monsieur' over here, instead!

Stephen Dell'Aria said...

For me, Picasso's Rape of the Sabines tells me more about what violence can do to us then Poussin's staged ballet performance. In the latter, the figures look like they're at a party enjoying themselves.

David C. said...

Dear Dave,

If I continue to read your enlightening essays, I will longer be able to write commentaries on art at my own blog from my accustomed state of total ignorance. Every time I visit your blog, I come away with new knowledge.

Cheers,

David C.

Leigh said...

Thank you David :)

I cannot wait to get lost in your wonderful blog this weekend. Such great posts!!

Conda V. Douglas said...

Years ago, I saw a film biography of Picasso. The film was not so much about his life as his art and process of art. Picasso was still alive, and he agreed to do a series demonstrating his process.

This entry replicates the film so well, Dave.

And the final image eerily reminds me of primitive cave art.

Karen said...

Very interesting post, Dave. I find the progression of the transformation process used by Picasso fascinating. I love his work but have never read anything about his methods.

Just wondering...do you know how long the National Gallery will have this exhibition? I'll be in London in summer. Guess I can google it.

Thanks for making me think with the discussion of modern art, modern artists vs. old masters, and the deconstruction of realism.

Jeanne said...

One of the things I plan to do when I turn 65 is to take classes at the community college (they'll be free then), especially Art Appreciation and Music Appreciation and everything they offer in the way of writing and literature. Thanks for the preview of how fascinating it will be!

Jo Horswill said...

Thanks for this post Dave, I enjoyed viewing Picasso's process's towards the abstraction of this bull. Interesting...Reminds me of quote from an old art teacher of mine. He was a David too, and said "concentrate on and only draw the lines most important to you" I have followed these words of wisdom to this day...

Cloudia said...

Bravo!
A master class.
Fascinating about the two institutions.
What a cool idea for a side by side exhibition!
Aloha-

CLAY said...

One may observe the influences of African art on Pablo's work--sterling post Mr.King, as always.

Dave King said...

Shadow
Perfect answer!

Weaver of Grass
And a couple of interesting observations of your own there: I certainly agree with you about Guernica, and the Old Masters beautifying of scenes of great trauma deserves a great deal of thought, I think. I am sure you are correct in this, and yet the convention did last a very long time so must have had something going for it - one would have thought. If I do get there I will surely post on it.

Cathy
Welcome. Enjoyed your blog. Thanks for the comment.

Lucas
Yes, it is sometimes hard for me to grasp the fact that Modern art was before I was born!

Delwyn
Welcome to the blog and thanks for that. We all know that experience. Nice to know we're in good company.

Derrick
PreModern Derrick, not oldfashioned!

Butler and Bagman
The Matisse heads must have been quite a revelation. Thanks.

Janette
Glad you found it helpful.

Jinksy
I don't think I would disagree with that.

Sassy Reporter
Welcome to my blog and thanks for commenting.

Mary Ellen
You shouldn't trust feelings like that. Most unreliable! But thanks for saying so.

Lakeviewer
Hi and welcome. I think the answer to question 1 is often yes, though obviously it depends upon the artist. To Q2 I guess there is no general answer. Thanks for your interest.

Art
Yes, you are right, they do, don't they? I suppose that is a triumph for the cave artists who got to the essence without the long process of refactoring. And yes, Picasso and Matisse pushed each other in so many ways.

Jinksy
I have tried a couple of times to change my email address on blogger, but it keeps going back to the original for some reason. I will try again. Meanwhile you can get me on davidalexking@googlemail.com
Thanks for your interest and sorry you've had the bother.

Dave King said...

Stephen
Point taken. The Weaver of Grass was saying much the same thing. I can find nothing with which to refute it.

David
I have yet to discern this state of ignorance at your blog, but thanks for the vote of confidence.

Leigh
You are very welcome - but don't gey too lost. We all would like to see you again.

Conda
I agree it is eerie. The more so, I suppose, because it was (presumably) unintended. I had not thought too deeply about that side of it before, but you are the second commenter to mention it, and so it is beginning to loom larger in my thoughts.

Jeanne
I became a member of such a group when I retired, but had to be content with associate membership for a year or two, such was the demand for places. I was entitled to so many lectures per year. (Can't remember exactly how many it was.) It was worth the wait, though.

Jo
Hi and welcome to the blog. Exactly, it is a question of knowing what to leave out. Thanks for the comment.

Cloudia
Should prove to be a successful formula, I think.

Clay
Yes, it manifests itself in different wats. Thanks for commenting.

SMS said...

Hi, and thanks for your recent visit.
Quite fascinating how he morphed the bull images. I'm off to check the dates of the exhibition!

Dave King said...

SMS
Welcome to the blog and thanks for stopping by to comment.

Roxana said...

fabulous. I love the bull-changing series!

Dave King said...

Roxana
Glad you liked it. Thanks.

ELAINE ERIG said...

The picasso way of abstraction in the bulls are fascinating. I think he did 48 times, it is unbelievable .

Mary-Laure said...

What a FASCINATING series of drawings, it's really enlightening. I wish I were in London to visit the show - there are always so many amazing exhibitions around wonderful London.

Renee said...

Dave I love how you always right about things I know nothing about. After coming here I always feel like I learnt something and part of the lesson stays in my head for days.

xoxoxo

Adrian LaRoque said...

The art of minimalism!

High Desert Diva said...

This is fascinating.

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