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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 29, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 44
Picasso: Brilliant exhibit at SAM
Arts & Entertainment
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Picasso: Brilliant exhibit at SAM

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Pablo Picasso is arguably one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. His life 'like his artwork 'is filled with changes of style and appearance, and all of it is reflected in his life achievements. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso didnt stay with one art form, but branched out from paintings to drawings, sculpture, printmaking, and ceramics. Picasso's art work can be (at its simplest) divided into five sectors: the blue period, the rose period, the African period, his Cubist period, and his more surrealistic works. Each one is separately unique from the others as his style changed, often reflecting his personal life or the political structures around him. At the new exhibit hosted by the Seattle Art Museum, every aspect of his work is represented in one of the greatest collections of Picasso's work ever allowed on tour.

Picasso entered the blue period (1901-1904) early in his career, shortly after he arrived in Paris at the turn of the century. Consisting mainly of various shades of blue and blue-green, these paintings usually consist of the early portraits, mostly of mothers and children, and are somberly rendered. A prime example greets the patrons of the SAM exhibit at the beginning of the collection. 'La Celestina' is cast in realms of blues and greens, playing on the light and giving off a grave appearance. The fact that Picasso painted this woman, believed to be of average- to lower-class and with her left eye in cataract, only adds to this impressive capture of the subject.

The rose period (1904-1906) blossomed in a more upbeat tone. Here the artist uses what appears to be both happier colors and subject matter. A favorite subject of Picasso's was that of the harlequin, and often the artist painted his portrait in costume. On an almost plain background, a youthful boy sits dressed in brightly checkered patterned clothes. His face isn't that of a smile, but the details all radiate light from around him, making the subject appear like a porcelain doll.

The African period was at the height of a new interest sweeping over Paris. African artifacts were being brought back from the continent along with overly exaggerated exotic tales of deep jungles. Picasso was shown an African mask by contemporary and good friend Henri Matisse, and the artist's new interest (1907-1909) came to light. Representing this period of work are several statues and sculptures that Picasso created. Ranging from human to animal figures, they show a completely different aspect of the artist.

The cubist period (1909-1912) is perhaps the era from which Picasso's work can be most easily recognized. Larger than life figures with definitive artistic planes and blocking were created during this time frame. 'The Kiss' shows two largely blocked figures embracing in the simplest of affection. The more recognizable style of wandering facial features is definitely more evident.

It is in his later Classicism and Surrealistic movements that his style is blatantly that of what people recognize as 'Picasso.' His interest in harlequins becomes transformed into other forms, and here his work becomes influenced by the artists Goya, Poussin, Manet, and Courbet. The famous portraits of Dora Maar (and there are several), presented in bright colors and contrasting with the surrealism of her face, is one of the best known from this time. The self-portrait of 'The Matador' is another example of the definitive blocking used by Picasso. Using blatant phallic symbols and sexual innuendo, with a main character of definitive age appeared shocking at the time. Now it seems jovial and we the viewer understand the misshapen 'wink' that this later work (c. 1970) seems to exude.

Pablo Picasso (birth name of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso) was born into an affluent family in Spain, the son of a renowned artist and allegedly minor aristocrats. It was his father who took the ingénue under his wing and began his formal training while Pablo was still in his early teens. At 19, Pablo finished his studies in Madrid and made his way to the (then) European art capital, Paris. Under the patronage of Gertrude Stein, he was introduced to such great artists as Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dali (a strained relationship would form between the two).

Picasso's private life was just as tumultuous. He fathered four children born to three separate women 'some within the bounds of matrimony, but not exclusively. Joining the French Communist Party in 1944 in retaliation to the German occupation, he remained a loyal member of the Communist party, stating in 1945, 'I am a Communist and my painting is Communist painting. But if I were a shoemaker, I would not necessarily hammer my shoes in a special way to show my politics.' Dali's response was, 'Picasso is a Spaniard, so am I; Picasso is a communist, neither am I.'

At the time of his death on April 8, 1973, many of his works remained in private possession; the artist only sold what he needed to sell. His legacy was left grander than he could have imagined, having produced over 1,800 paintings, 1,200 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, and over 12,000 drawings, not to mention prints, tapestries and rugs. His paintings are considered among the most expensive paintings in the world, with three different paintings selling at Sotheby's in 2004, 2006, and 2010 for $104 million ('Garcon á la Pipe'), $95.2 million ('Dora Maar au Chat'), and $106.5 million ('Nude, Green Leaves and Bust'), respectively.

Two museums were set up in his honor 'The Musée Paris and the Museo Picasso Málaga in Spain 'but several museums host many of his works. He left no will, so in exchange for paying the estate taxes, many works went to the city of Paris, helping to form the Musée Picasso. It is from the Musée in Paris that over 150 paintings, sculptures, drawing, prints, and photographs will be on loan to the Seattle Art Museum. Many of these have never been previously loaned out.

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