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Pablo Picasso: Another Myth of the 20th Century?

In May 2015, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) was offered up by auction house Christie's for $179 million, breaking the record for the highest amount paid for a work of art sold at auction at that time. PHOTO: Vanity Fair

Colin Vernon turns the spotlight on Pablo Picasso

By Colin Vernon

SPEARHEAD — It is reported of the young Pablo Picasso that, on being given a pair of roller skates, he took them apart and fastened the wheels to the undercarriage of a pet tortoise whose slow progress round the patio had annoyed him. A schoolboy’s prank or an early indication of an unsettled mind? We can only conjecture as to the suffering of the mute creature but, as time would tell, inflicting pain both physical and mental was the artist’s true forte.

The son of a drawing master, Picasso is said to have performed brilliantly when, at 15 in 1896, he sat for the entrance examination to Barcelona’s School of Fine Arts. In fact it soon transpired that he had very little use for the School and regarded his own technique as being far and away superior to that of his teachers. Nevertheless, it is beyond question that Picasso was, when he wanted to be, a competent artist, quite capable of holding his own in a profession that was, as always, somewhat overcrowded. But that would not do. His mission, he believed, was to shock, to “rape nature”, as he quaintly expressed it. Importantly, as regards his conventional schooling, the young Pablo learned virtually nothing. Thus when the family moved to a different locality, and his father needed a certificate to show to the new educational authority, he had to persuade the friendly schoolmaster to set his son some very easy questions. Even then, Pablo had to be shown the answers. Here we see the beginnings of an introvert; an individual who knew nothing, and cared nothing, about the world outside of himself.

Blue, pink and diabolical

What is regarded as Picasso’s first personal style is known as his “blue” period 1901-1904, which focuses on loneliness and despair with tones of that colour predominating. The close of this period marks his decision to move to Paris, where he stayed for the rest of his life. In 1905, that is to say before spin doctors were recognised as a separate species, Picasso met a young Polish emigré to France who, if he knew next to nothing about art, had nevertheless an excellent command of words, and successfully promoted the “blue” period products. But possibly the change of air was having a beneficial affect on the master as, for the next couple of years, we have the “rose” period; rather less melancholy, this often featured circus performers, harlequins, dancers and acrobats. […]

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