Monday, March 7, 2011

"Au Rendez-vous des poètes" Picasso's Art and Literary Contacts

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is currently showing Picasso in Paris (1900-1907), an exhibition tracing Picasso's artistic development while in Paris in the beginning of the 20th century. As part of this really nice exhibition and the Museum's Sunday Lectures, Peter Read (professor of modern French literature and visual arts at the University of Kent, Canterbury) gave a talk about Picasso's Art and Literary contacts: "Au Rendez-vous des poètes".

Je pense à toi
au riz de
l'autre soir à te lignes logiques
Moïse et Stendhal
(Picasso, poem to Max Jacob, 1905)

When he came to Paris, Picasso was 19, had no money and no contact in the Parisian art world other than his Spanish friends, artists and anarchists closely watched by the police at the time. By the age of 26, Picasso established himself as a leading avant-garde artist in France and internationally, as explains Peter Read "He was a man with a plan". Picasso showed his determinism and professionalism by working with art dealer and collector Ambroise Vollard for his first parisian solo show. 

Literature and theatre affected Picasso's work. Through his first exhibition in Paris, he met French poet Max Jacob, with whom he later shared a room on the Boulevard Voltaire. Max Jacob was Picasso's first French friend. Jacob used to take him to the theatre - they saw La Boheme twice - and also became Picasso's language tutor. Picasso didn't know French and Max Jacob didn't know Spanish but Jacob would read 19th century French poetry to his friend: Alfred de Vigny would "move them both to tears" writes Jacob in his memoirs. One can see de Vigny's impact on Picasso's work through mentions the painter would make on his painting or drawings. Picasso's first poem in French, explains Read, was to thank Max Jacob "pour te remercier pour ton dessin", and in which he mentions de Vigny's poem "Moïse". In de Vigny's poem, Moses is presented as tragically aware he may not reach his destination. Picasso could identify with this sentiment of exile, explains Read, "he knew his genius but could also identify with the romantic visionary outsider". Max Jacob would also read him Verlaine; the poem Cortège appears in one of Picasso's sketchbooks in which he made drawings inspired by the poem. 

In 1904, Picasso moves to the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre where he would receive more and more artist friends like Guillaume Apollinaire, André Salmon, Max Jacob and others. Picasso had painted "Au rendez-vous des poètes" on his door. He had fully integrated Parisian cultural life. "The studio became a poetic laboratory and had a really theatrical atmosphere" explains Read. 

In Paris, Picasso has been moving from painting the poor and the beggar from the Blue Period, to artistic achievement as seen in many paintings depicting theatre figures like Arlequin, Pierrot and more. His life in the Bateau Lavoir has also influenced his work showing a new sense of group identity and community. He has also produced hundreds of caricatures which, according to Read "contributed to the cubism period". Guillaume Apollinaire also said that caricatures were key to the development of modern art; Picasso has produced many caricatures of his friend Apollinaire (more about Picasso and Apollinaire on this blog post on the Art Blog by Bob). 

Peter Read concluded his lecture by saying that Picasso's progress from the Blue to the Pink period and to Cubism was definitely influenced by his literary sensibility, his interest in theatre, in Iberian and African sculptures, his talent as a cartoonist, and by his artistic and poetically rich entourage. 

The exhibition, Picasso in Paris is on show at the Van Gogh Museum until 29 May 2011, then at the Museu Picasso in Barcelona from 1 July to 16 October 2011.   

1 comment:

Peter said...

Thanks for writing this. Glad you could be at my talk! Peter Read