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Picasso: The Artist's Studio
Picasso: The Artist's Studio

Who Was Picasso?

<I>The Sculptor</I>, December 7, 1931<BR>Oil on plywood
<BR>Musée National Picasso, Paris
<BR>[Cat. no. 24]
The Sculptor, December 7, 1931
Oil on plywood
Musée National Picasso, Paris
[Cat. no. 24]
©2001 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Return to Naturalism and Neoclassicism

Picasso’s life changed dramatically after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. Drafted by the French army, Braque left for the front and never resumed his close working relationship with Picasso. Working mostly on his own in wartime Paris, Picasso began to experiment with a naturalist or classicizing style, while simultaneously continuing to develop Cubism in new directions. The first public demonstration of this new trend in Picasso’s art appeared in his stage sets and costumes for the ballet Parade, first performed in Rome and Paris in 1917. Parade also marked the beginning of a period of prolonged involvement with the theater. From 1917 to 1924 Picasso collaborated with Jean Cocteau, Sergei Diaghilev, Erik Satie, and Igor Stravinsky on a series of theatrical productions. Picasso also began moving in new social circles during this period, especially after his marriage to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova in 1918. After WW I, they moved to a fashionable apartment on the Right Bank and spent much of their time entertaining high society.

Picasso’s paintings of the early 1920s, especially those associated with the birth his son Paulo in 1921, often convey a tranquil, contented view of domestic life. A more violent style, emphasizing double images, emerged with his painting The Three Dancers of 1925. Some historians attribute this new direction in Picasso’s art to growing tensions in his relationship with his wife Olga and the appearance around 1927 of a new mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter, a sensual, blonde, teenage counterclerk at the Galeries Lafayette. Picasso’s developing fascination with psychologically-charged, erotic, and scatological themes is also associated with his close relationship with André Breton and the Surrealists.

Picasso’s paintings were a major source of inspiration to the Surrealist movement, founded in 1924 by the poet André Breton. Although Picasso never officially joined the group, he contributed to its exhibitions and publications. The Surrealist magazine Minotaure published several seminal articles about his art. Picasso shared their interest in exploring the hidden life of the unconscious through dream imagery, black humor, and erotic sexuality, as well as their rejection of bourgeois morality and social conventions. But he never accepted the Surrealist emphasis on chance and accident, and always remained too independent to join a group movement.

From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, Picasso produced some of the most important and provocative works of his career. Collaborating at times with Julio Gonzalez, he created a remarkable series of welded iron sculptures. Picasso also developed new methods of assembling constructions from found objects, and he created innovative sculptures in plaster and bronze. Demonstrating equal mastery in the graphic arts, Picasso produced several distinguished series of prints, including Le Chef d’oeuvre and The Vollard Suite.

Following the birth of his daughter Maïa in 1935 by Marie-Thérèse Walter, tensions in Picasso’s personal life (especially with his wife Olga) made it increasingly difficult for him to paint or sculpt. For a time, he turned to writing automatic poetry. The appearance in 1936 of yet another mistress, the Argentinean photographer Dora Maar, deepened the developing crisis in his art and personal life.

<I>The Studio,</I> winter 1927-28; dated 1928<BR>Oil on canvas
<BR>The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, 1935
<BR>[Cat. no. 19]
The Studio, winter 1927–28; dated 1928
Oil on canvas
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Walter P. Chrysler, 1935
[Cat. no. 19]
©2001 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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