How World War I Changed Pablo Picasso

Picasso didn’t fight in World War I, but he still struggled with how that war influenced his art and life.

As a citizen of neutral Spain, artist Pablo Picasso didn’t fight in World War I.  He did, however, watch his French friends go off to war and spent the war years in Paris.  Already a prominent modernist artist, Picasso stood outside of mainstream society, but couldn’t escape the influence of his adopted country torn by war.  How World War I changed Pablo Picasso and his art is the subject of the exhibition Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change, which runs at the Barnes Foundation through May 9, 2016.  Even for an artist who continually shifted styles, Picasso’s Great War experience radically changed him and pointed the way to everything that followed.


 

  • Image: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). Still Life with Compote and Glass, 1914–15. Oil on canvas, 25 x 31". 1931.087. Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York | Gift of Ferdinand Howald.  Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  • When the geopolitical dominoes fell after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914, Picasso’s name was synonymous with modern art, specifically Cubism.  Works such as Still Life with Compote and Glass (shown above) not only proved Picasso’s Cubist bona fides, but also demonstrated his continual experimentation, as seen in the almost pointillist dots on the playing cards in the painting.  Ever resistant to labels, Picasso continually pushed the envelope creatively, experimenting his way from one style to the next.  Picasso’s push accelerated as the Parisian homefront around him began associating Cubism and other modern movements with the enemy.  “Disparagingly referred to as ‘bôche,’ Cubism was identified with the German enemy and perceived as unpatriotic,” curator Simonetta Fraquelli writes in the catalogue.  (A short film in the gallery wonderfully captures the wartime hysteria that swept Cubism up in its wake.)  Even if he never saw the battlefield, Picasso still needed to battle misperceptions of his art.

     

  • Image: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). Olga Picasso, Seated, autumn 1918. Pencil on paper, 14 3/8 × 10 13/16 in. (36.5 × 27.5 cm). Private collection. Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Photo: Marc Domage © FABA. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  •  

    Picasso, the arch-modernist, therefore shocked fellow artists in 1914 with a naturalistic, neo-classically French drawing of his friend Max Jacob, one of his few French friends not pulled away by the war.  How could you make Cubist and naturalistic images at the same time?  Drawings such as that by Picasso of his future wife Olga (shown above) felt like a slap in the face of modern art, a turning back of the aesthetic clock.  Rather than a “repudiation,” however, Fraquelli argues that “the two artistic styles—Cubism and Neoclassicism—are not antithetical; on the contrary, each informs the other,” sometimes even happening simultaneously in some works by Picasso. 

     

  • Image: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). Studies, 1920. Oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in. (100 x 81 cm). MP65. Musée Picasso, Paris, France. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY / René-Gabriel Ojéda. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation. 
  • Such radical coexistence appears in Picasso’s Studies (shown above), in which Cubism and Neoclassicism appear literally on the same canvas, compartmentalized for the moment, but standing in fascinating juxtaposition to one another.  Picasso frames miniature cubist still lifes about a realistic woman’s head, hands, and a couple dancing on the beach.  Despite the visual boundaries, the styles spill out onto one another—the Cubism verging closer on naturalism while the naturalism metamorphosizes into something almost inhuman in its monumentality.  “Picasso was intent on defining a strategy by which he could retain the compositional structure of Cubism while introducing elements of naturalistic representation,” Fraquelli believes.  Whenever anyone wanted to label Picasso as a Cubist, a Neoclassicist, a Patriot, or a Traitor, he looked for a new way out.

     

  • Image: Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). Seated Woman, 1920. Oil on canvas, 36 1/4 × 25 9/16 in. (92 × 65 cm). Musée Picasso, Paris, MP67. Photo: J.G. Berizzi. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  • To look forward, Picasso looked back—both far back and more recently.  The great magpie of modern art, Picasso turned his long-time love of the Neoclassical Ingres and blended it with his newfound respect for the more recent work of Renoir.  Possibly another portrait of Olga, Seated Woman (shown above) takes elements of Ingres’ classical mode and grafts them onto the joyous fleshiness of Renoir.  As the exhibition points out, many see post-war works such as Seated Woman as a calming call for a “return to order,” but the catalogue chooses to echo critic T.J. Clark’s view of Seated Woman as “the best means [Picasso] has, in 1920, to make the body materialize again” after the disintegrating forces of Cubism (and, possibly, the war).

     

  • Image:  Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973). Costume for the Chinese Conjuror from Parade, 1917. Silk satin fabric with silver tissue, 65 5/16 × 59 1/16 × 19 11/16 in. (176 × 150 × 50 cm). Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Museum no. S.84&A&B-1985. Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  • Pivotal moments in Picasso’s wartime development, personal life, and the exhibition all center on his involvement in the ballet Parade.  A room full of candid snapshots recreates the fun-filled day of August 12, 1916 when Jean Cocteau, on leave from driving a Red Cross ambulance for France, asked Picasso to design sets and costumes for a ballet starring Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes company dancing to poet Guillaume Apollinaire’s libretto and Erik Satie’s music.  “Much of the energy generated by [Parade] derived from the way Picasso played Cubist elements against figurative ones, especially the contrast between the lyrical classicism of the safety curtain and the violent modernism of the set behind,” Fraquelli writes.  Picasso’s Cubist costumes, including that for the Chinese Conjuror (shown above), literally brought Cubism to figurative life on the stage.  Seeing recreations of the giant costumes loom over you and watching performances of Parade in the exhibition, you get a sense of the collaborative energy of the piece and Picasso’s desire to get involved.

     

  • Image:  Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).  Olga Khokhlova with a Mantilla, Barcelona, summer–autumn 1917. Oil on canvas, 25 3/16 × 20 7/8 in. (64 × 53 cm). Private collection. Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Photo: Gasull © FABA © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation. 
  •  

    Parade rejuvenated not only Picasso’s search for stylistic resolution, but also his love life when he met (and later married) ballerina Olga Khokhlova (shown above).  In his catalogue essay, Kenneth E. Silver credits Cocteau as “a specialist in binaries like these [found in Parade], and of invoking and unhinging them in especially provocative ways.”  Picasso found Parade provocative in a good way, but the public, unfortunately, generally didn’t.  Cocteau’s dream of uniting the old form of ballet with the new forms of modern art failed to appeal to a public, Fraquelli suggests, “long[ing] for the escapist entertainment of classical dance, not a foray into contemporary life and popular culture.”  Accounts of the uproar vary, but in the worst, only Apollinaire, in uniform and sporting a bandaged head wound, could save the angry mob from throttling the cast and crew.  Parade’s failure illustrates the mood of the time as well as the high stakes of the stylistic games Picasso was playing.

     

  • Image:  Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).  (Left)  Pierrot, Paris, 1918. Oil on canvas, 36 1/2 × 28 3/4 in. (92.7 × 73 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Sam A. Lewisohn Bequest. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.  (Right) Harlequin Musician, 1924. Oil on canvas, 51 3/16 × 38 1/4 in. (130 × 97.2 cm). National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Given in loving memory of her husband, Taft Schreiber, by Rita Schreiber, 1989.31.2. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  • Picasso continued to oscillate between styles, not schizophrenically, but in a single-minded search to expand his horizons while escape all boundaries.  The exhibition offers the 1918 Pierrot (shown above, left) and the 1924 Harlequin Musician (shown above, right) as perfect examples of Picasso’s ability to shift gears and consolidate approaches continually.  The only constant is Picasso’s constant searching for a new method, a new approach to representing the world and the people in it.  Pierrot is more realistic, but his sadness “recalls the unsettling and enigmatic ‘realism’ of Giorgio de Chirico’s early metaphysical paintings,” Fraquelli points out.  On the other hand, the allegedly cold, analytical Cubist Harlequin explodes with color and joy, perhaps the realistic picture of a man deliriously in love.  Picasso forces us to ask which is the more “real” picture.

     

  • Image:  Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973).  Self-portrait, 1918–20. Pencil on paper, 12 5/8 × 8 7/16 in. (32 × 21.5 cm). Private collection. Courtesy Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte. Photo: Marc Domage © FABA. © 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.
  • What is the “real” picture of Picasso?  Is it the postwar self-portrait he drew (shown above), mingling Neoclassical realism with the strong line he would go on to simplify into stirringly childlike power to touch the emotions?  Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change fills in more details of the “real” picture of Picasso, especially for those who know him best as the creator of Guernica, the most powerful artistic peace statement of whole war-torn 20th century.  Just as the First served as a prelude and catalyst for the Second World War, Picasso’s artistic response to World War I shaped and inspired much of his response to World War II, when his native Spain lost its neutrality and joined in the carnage.  A small but tightly focused show, Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change argues by the end that all Picasso wanted was freedom from all ideologies, all dogmas, all limiting labels—the freedom to be and to find out what being entails, a freedom critics and wars so often curtail.

  • [Image at top of post: Installation of Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change, 2016. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation.]
  • [Many thanks to the Barnes Foundation for providing me with the images above from, press materials related to, and a review copy of the catalogue to Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change, which runs through May 9, 2016.]
  • [Please follow me on Twitter (@BobDPictureThis) and Facebook (Art Blog By Bob) for more art news and views.]
  • LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

    Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

    Getty Images
    Sponsored
    Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

    No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

    Keep reading Show less

    Kosovo land swap could end conflict - or restart war

    Best case: redrawing borders leads to peace, prosperity and EU membership. But there's also a worst case

    Image: SRF
    Strange Maps
    • The Yugoslav Wars started in 1991, but never really ended
    • Kosovo and Serbia are still enemies, and they're getting worse
    • A proposed land swap could create peace - or reignite the conflict

    The death of Old Yugoslavia

    Image: public domain

    United Yugoslavia on a CIA map from 1990.

    Wars are harder to finish than to start. Take for instance the Yugoslav Wars, which raged through most of the 1990s.

    The first shot was fired at 2.30 pm on June 27th, 1991, when an officer in the Yugoslav People's Army took aim at Slovenian separatists. When the YPA retreated on July 7th, Slovenia was the first of Yugoslavia's republics to have won its independence.

    After the wars

    Image: Ijanderson977, CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

    Map of former Yugoslavia in 2008, when Kosovo declared its independence. The geopolitical situation remains the same today.

    The Ten-Day War cost less than 100 casualties. The other wars – in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo (1) – lasted much longer and were a lot bloodier. By early 1999, when NATO had forced Serbia to concede defeat in Kosovo, close to 140,000 people had been killed and four million civilians displaced.

    So when was the last shot fired? Perhaps it wasn't: it's debatable whether the Yugoslav Wars are actually over. That's because Kosovo is a special case. Although inhabited by an overwhelming ethnic-Albanian majority, Serbians are historically very attached to it. More importantly, from a legalistic point of view: Kosovo was never a separate republic within Yugoslavia but rather a (nominally) autonomous province within Serbia.

    Kosovo divides the world

    Image: public domain

    In red: states that recognise the independence of Kosovo (most EU member states – with the notable exceptions of Spain, Greece, Romania and Slovakia; and the U.S., Japan, Turkey and Egypt, among many others). In blue: states that recognise Serbia's sovereignty over Kosovo (most notably Russia and China, but also other major countries such as India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and Iran).

    The government of Serbia has made its peace and established diplomatic relations with all other former Yugoslav countries, but not with Kosovo. In Serbian eyes, Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was a unilateral and therefore legally invalid change of state borders. Belgrade officially still considers Kosovo a 'renegade province', and it actually has a lot of international support for that position (2).

    The irony is that on the longer term, both Kosovo and Serbia want the same thing: EU membership. Ironically, that wish could lead to Yugoslav reunification some years down the road – within the EU. Slovenia and Croatia have already joined, and all other ex-Yugoslav states would like to follow their example. Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have already submitted an official application. The EU considers Bosnia and Kosovo 'potential candidates'.

    Kosovo is the main stumbling block on Serbia's road to EU membership. Even after the end of hostilities, skirmishes continued, between the ethnically Albanian majority and the ethnically Serbian minority within Kosovo, and vice versa in Serbian territories directly adjacent. Tensions are dormant at best. A renewed outbreak of armed conflict is not unthinkable.

    Land for peace?

    Image: BBC

    Mitrovica isn't the only area majority-Serb area in Kosovo, but the others are enclaved and fear being abandoned in a land swap.

    In fact, relations between Kosovo and Serbia have deteriorated spectacularly in the past few months. At the end of November, Kosovo was refused membership of Interpol, mainly on the insistence of Serbia. In retaliation, Kosovo imposed a 100% tariff on all imports from Serbia. After which Serbia's prime minister Ana Brnabic refused to exclude her country's "option" to intervene militarily in Kosovo. Upon which Kosovo's government decided to start setting up its own army – despite its prohibition to do so as one of the conditions of its continued NATO-protected independence.

    The protracted death of Yugoslavia will be over only when this conflict is finally resolved. The best way to do that, politicians on both sides have suggested, is for the borders reflect the ethnic makeup of the frontier between Kosovo and Serbia.

    The biggest and most obvious pieces of the puzzle are the Serbian-majority district of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, and the Albanian-majority Presevo Valley, in southwestern Serbia. That land swap was suggested previous summer by Hashim Thaci and Aleksandar Vucic, presidents of Kosovo and Serbia respectively. Best-case scenario: that would eliminate the main obstacle to mutual recognition, joint EU membership and future prosperity.

    If others can do it...

    Image: Ruland Kolen

    Belgium and the Netherlands recently adjusted out their common border to conform to the straightened Meuse River.

    Sceptics and not a few locals warn that there also is a worst-case scenario: the swap could rekindle animosities and restart the war. A deal along those lines would almost certainly exclude six Serbian-majority municipalities enclaved deep within Kosovo. While Serbian Mitrovica, which borders Serbia proper, is home to some 40,000 inhabitants, those enclaves represent a further 80,000 ethnic Serbs – who fear being totally abandoned in a land swap, and eventually forced out of their homes.

    Western powers, which sponsored Kosovar independence, are divided over the plan. U.S. officials back the idea, as do some within the EU. But the Germans are against – they are concerned about the plan's potential to fire up regional tensions rather than eliminate them.

    In principle, countries consider their borders inviolate and unchanging, but land swaps are not unheard of. Quite recently, Belgium and the Netherlands exchanged territories so their joint border would again match up with the straightened course of the Meuse river (3). But those bits of land were tiny, and uninhabited. And as the past has amply shown, borders carry a lot more weight in the Balkans.

    Keep reading Show less

    Scientists claim the Bible is written in code that predicts future events

    The controversy around the Torah codes gets a new life.

    Michael Drosnin
    Surprising Science
    • Mathematicians claim to see a predictive pattern in the ancient Torah texts.
    • The code is revealed by a method found with special computer software.
    • Some events described by reading the code took place after the code was written.
    Keep reading Show less
    Videos
    • Facebook and Google began as companies with supposedly noble purposes.
    • Creating a more connected world and indexing the world's information: what could be better than that?
    • But pressure to return value to shareholders came at the expense of their own users.
    Keep reading Show less