A gallery exhibiting the work of Pablo Picasso in Paris has recently undergone complete renovation. It opened again in the autumn of 2014 and is once again attracting large numbers of visitors. The current spectacle of contemporary art is housed in the elegant ‘Hotel Sale’ in Rue de Thorigny, a street that lies within the historic Marais district.
I went there myself recently and joined the back of a long queue under the chilly drizzle in the courtyard. It took about 40 minutes to get to the entrance to commence my visit. It was a cold, dull and wet day in Paris but the interest in Picasso’s work was as strong as it has always been. The occupants of the line were eager and very cosmopolitan. Not one person left to find a more comfortable corner in the City to seek some respite from the weather.
Pablo Picasso enjoyed a long life. He died at the age of 91 in 1973 and had always believed that uninterrupted work meant an uninterrupted life. Picasso was born in Malaga in Spain but spent most of his life in France. He acquired a very early taste and competence for radical art during his childhood. His personal style of contemporary painting and sculpture has been as enduring as work produced by the great traditional artists over many centuries.
Picasso had a corkscrew mind and saw life laterally. Picasso also had a corkscrew and lateral name. It represented a variety of relatives and Saints. In full it was Pablo Diego Jose Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno Maria de los Remedious Cipriano de la Santiisima Trinidad Martyr Patricio Clito Ruiz y Picasso. Phew, his corkscrew contribution to art was the same. Theoretical physicists have often compared his work to the way they see the universe after they have applied their mathematical equations to it. A distortion of what we perceive yet somehow closer to the truth.
A visit to the Picasso Museum at the Hotel Sale makes for a splendid experience of art. It contains not only many major works by Picasso himself but exhibits examples from many other great artists too. These include pieces from Modigliani, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas and Rousseau. These were the painters that had such a great influence on Picasso’s work. The ideas and concepts that he made so real came from studying such art. Many of the traditional paintings exhibited in the museum come from Picasso’s personal art collection. Many of these artists too were contemporaries of Picasso. Together they all created and lived through a celebrated period of modern, twentieth century, thought provoking art.
Picasso’s own work is displayed on the garden floor, the first floor and in the attic of the Hotel Sale. Other floors are occupied with art from his contemporaries. Together, all of the art makes for a classic presentation in central Paris. Picasso’s own work and art collection were given to the French state by his heirs. This was in lieu of death duties and the French government has made them available to everyone. The cost of adult entrance to the museum is 11 Euros.
At the age of 16, Picasso became a student of art at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid. He did not succumb to conventional teaching methods. He wrote to a friend, “They just go on and on about the same old stuff: Velazquez for painting, Michelangelo for sculpture”. He began to skip his classes and wandered off into the streets to paint all that he observed. Gypsies, beggars and prostitutes plus all of the real life around them became his subjects. He began to develop his particular flare for the obscure distortion of all that he saw. Picasso’s work has lasted long after his death. It remains as enduring as any of the classical art works created over numerous periods. To me, so much of modern art seems to be transient and temporary. The work of Picasso though, has a particular permanence and quality that makes it constantly alluring.
Picasso allowed his work to evolve through a number of periods where his style gradually altered. He had a very flexible artistic approach and was readily able to revert from one form to the other after they had developed. During the period after the Second World War, he had become an international celebrity. He was the world’s most famous living artist.
During his ‘Blue Period’, Picasso painted scenes of isolation, anguish and poverty. Such paintings were done in shades of blue and green. Famous works from this period include the ‘Blue Nude’, ‘La Vie’ and the ‘Old Guitarist’. They were all completed by the end of 1903.
Picasso developed a style of Cubism. During this period, the artist disassembled objects and people into their component parts in his mind. The geometric elements were then arranged into a form of collage. It was as though the natural forces of physics were causing destruction followed by recreation. It shocked, appalled and yet fascinated the art world. The great French impressionist painters seemed to achieve a similar brand of enchantment with their own style.
Picasso also went through a long period of Surrealism. This evolved onwards from the year of 1927. During this time he painted ‘Guernica’. This was a work done in response to a bombing raid carried out on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War in 1937. The painting is done in shades of black, grey and white and is a testament to the horrors of war. It remains one of the most disturbing and alarming anti-war paintings.
During his life, Picasso suffered periods of depression that affected his artistic flare. It can be seen in his paintings. He was also an incorrigible womanizer, like so many of the other artists. He had countless relationships with girlfriends, prostitutes, mistresses and muses. He was also married twice. His first wife was a ballerina called Olga Khokhlova. The marriage took place in 1918 and lasted nine years. In 1961, when he was 69, he married again. Her name was Jacqueline Roque.
To visit the Picasso museum in Paris is to visit an era of art. It is to visit a period of artistic evolution and development that follows the events of history and time. The museum presents an almost unique demonstration of how art has been blended somehow, with our modern understandings of the nature of the universe around us all. The fundamentals of modern physics almost, in so many ways. Surely a latter day form of artistic E=mc squared.