Notebook IX

Pablo Picasso 1972 Picasso Museum Antibes

“In 1946, Picasso, who was living nearby in Golfe-Juan with Françoise Gilot, accepted curator Dor de la Souchère’s offer to set up his studio in the Castle. Picasso worked from mid September through mid November of 1946, creating many works, sketches and paintings, including Les Clés d’Antibes (The Keys of Antibes), covering an entire wall surface. When the artist decided to move back to Paris, he left 23 paintings and 44 sketches in the Castle’s custody.” [Picasso Museum Antibes]

It ain’t easy to like Picasso – the man, that is. Horror Douche would be the best description. But Picasso the artist, well, that’s another story. There are wonderful works all through his career – so many innovations – so many wonderful works – but for me – it’s the late works – those that came after the war when Picasso moved South – especially those in his last decade. These paintings still resonate. No one was ready to see them, especially the abstract painters working feverishly to finalize the Modern era as an abstract one. These jolie-laide figurative works were filled with classical references, old master dialogues and an eccentric and personal kind of deconstructive expressionism. Picasso leaned heavily on his early Demoiselles for substance and style and tore through that period of experimentation with both art historical and personal references. In the South in that last decade or so – Picasso came to terms with his own biography – innovating Modern painting one last time.

Everyone goes on about the beauty, color and light of the South. Painters from the north who went there to work had to find new color combinations to express this difference, and for the most part it was yellow and violet that painters added to their palettes. These colors – for Impressionists like Monet and Renoir – helped to define the exotic and beautiful Cote d’Azur. But in Picasso’s last paintings these colors feel more like a form of infection. The yellow and violet invade one’s life – even the banality of smoking a pipe. In “Buste d’homme” Pablo’s swashbuckling doppelganger is having a quiet moment of reverie and self-recrimination. One eye is looking out to this world. The other shocked eye is looking within. Picasso is at the end of the Modern era and the focus and intention of painting has changed. As Matisse said about his own work in the South – “beneath the sun-drenched torpor that bathes things and people, a great tension smolders, a specifically pictorial tension.

“There’s a story I sometimes tell, something that was very important for me, determining for my attitude. My father and I were at a bullfight in Nîmes or Arles, and it was El Cordobés, the bullfighter, who had a very unacademic way of bullfighting. So after the bullfight my father and I always had these big discussions dissecting what had happened in the ring, and I was complaining that El Cordobés was always doing strange things and that he didn’t kill the bull properly and wasn’t fighting in the proper way. So my father said, “What are you saying? You should like him. He’s a Beatle.” Like the Beatles! [laughter] And then he said, “What would ever have happened if I’d painted like Delacroix?” So you know, “Pfft.” And I thought, yeah, right, okay. Okay, it’s important to take another risk.” [Claude Picasso in conversation with John Richardson on Pablo]

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