Waiting for the Man

Picasso Paysage d’hiver – 1950

The story goes – Picasso came to visit the old man as he was convalescing and brought a few paintings to show. Matisse found this winter landscape to be interesting and asked Picasso if he could borrow it. It sat on his mantle for a few months, and when Picasso returned Matisse asked to make a trade for it. “Matisse’s offer to trade one of his works shifted the terms of the negotiations over Winter Landscape, so Matisse suggested that he keep the picture while he looked for one of his paintings that would be an appropriated exchange. The next time the two artists met, Picasso told Matisse he would like to trade his painting for one of the paintings Matisse had done between 1907 and 1920. In that case, Matisse responded, Picasso should give him a Cubist painting. This led to a particularly awkward stalemate, since it implied that each man thought the other had produced their best work years ago. After the conversation took this uncomfortable turn, they changed the subject. When Picasso left, Winter Landscape still remained on Matisse’s mantelpiece.” [Jack Flam Matisse and Picasso]

Picasso didn’t paint landscapes. And when he did, they always look figurative. Those two gnarly trees seem to be going at it for some reason. They look old – one older than the other. One seems to be propped up by a stake. Both are stripped of their leaves – bare, exposed. They argue. They bicker. They are waiting for spring. Waiting for the warmth and light. They are waiting for inspiration in the resting hills – waiting for rebirth. In the distance two dark houses sit empty – without life or light. And over there on the right – a dark palm tree god oversees the scene. Is he there to help or to harm? What does he want – so out of place in this scene? What – exactly – are these old trees waiting for?

Pablo Picasso The Reservoir, Horta de Ebro Horta de San Joan, summer 1909

Of course we all know the Modern history – Picasso and Braque began to understand how Cubism would work by painting landscapes. They would break down the picture plane, show the world from back to front and top to bottom all at once. They stole a page from Cezanne’s book and painted the world through “little cubes” of information – an early precursor to our pixelated universe. What isn’t widely known is that during this time both Picasso and Braque were taking photographs, hanging out at the picture shows and collecting postcards of people, landscapes and cultures from all over the world. Their Modern landscape would not only be a flat depiction of the world through process, it would also be inspired by the way machines of all kind had changed our perceptions of the world.

Pablo Picasso, Landscape, Horta de Ebro (The Reservoir). Summer 1909

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