“Yo, Picasso” (I, Picasso), look at my life, read my journal through my work, decipher the codes…this is what the artist seems to state in this self-portrait from 1901…
A giant masterpiece of a man who painted his life one day at a time, an intimate diary that was shown to spectators. I think particularly of the year 1969, spread out like the pages of a book in Avignon in 1970 following the Zervos couple’s initiative (Picasso’s Les Cahiers d’Art and catalogue raisonné), who would later reproduce this experience in 1973. The year 1969 was one of shock for viewers, who were shown 165 paintings and 40 drawings hung chronologically according to the artist’s wishes, incomprehensible for some. Douglas Cooper (1911-1984), an art critic, even called Picasso a senile old man! And yet it’s a free Picasso who returned to the fundamentals of his art—it is this young artist, passionate about bullfighting, who reappears in this moving self-portrait from 1972.
Laurent Le Bon, the director of the Musée Picasso, met with me to clarify certain things regarding the broad subject of the museum, situated in the beautiful setting of the Hôtel Salé in the Marais. First thing’s first: Le Bon’s decision to present “a human Picasso.”
“With this ¡Picasso ! exhibition, we wanted to emphasize what I call the submerged continent, that is to say the 200,000 pieces from the archives that showcase Picasso’s daily life.” – Laurent Le Bon
The year 2015 marked the museum’s 30th anniversary and the age of adulthood and maturity. The commemorative exhibition began in October and celebrates Picasso, even including the inverted Spanish exclamation points. These represent the return to the fundamentals—Picasso chose France, yet he always remained Spanish—Picasso upside-down, the mystery of creation. It is also another anniversary: that of “Mystère Picasso,” the 1955 film by Henri-Georges Clouzot that highlights the creative process of the artist. Picasso’s works, showcased in his studio as if in a theater, become actors of the film. In 2016, there will also be an opportunity to pay homage to Jacqueline, Picasso’s wife for the last 20 years of his life up until his death in 1986.
“A few years ago, I had done an exhibition on Dadaism in which we also celebrated the anniversary, the Dada movement was born in 1916, and we wanted to show the Dada side of Picasso…” – Laurent Le Bon
The hanging was proposed by designer Jasmin Oezcebi, and is on display in the museum dedicated to the artist in Paris. The painting recounts another one of Picasso’s manners: through large glass panels, vertical documents are presented, situated in the middle of the rooms where his personal papers, cards, letters, press, invoices, and even museum tickets all are…
His notes, such as this one, amuse me: “You have to really be in a funk in order to be afraid of a dove…” (said in regards to the dove of the peace movement which was associated with the Communist party at the time of the Korean War). In the same tone, Dali sent him a card that said, “I’m holding a grudge against you.”
Even more moving are the letters and poems by Max Jacob, his good friend, who welcomed him to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, and who Picasso was unfortunately unable to save during the Occupation and who later died in Drancy. Max Jacob gave the name “Bateau-Lavoir” to the house where Picasso eventually settled in.
The articles that grip me and remind me of certain, striking episodes of the Master’s life are as follow: Guernica, showcased in a Spanish pavilion, the portrait of Stalin done by communist Picasso, following the former’s death in 1953, as well as the 1949 drawing “A ta santé Staline.”
I found the story of the Dove of Peace—an interview with artist Gérard Fromanger, covers of Paris Match, Picasso already an artist of the people (one used to say “Jet-Set”)…I could stay for hours!
An entire life’s worth of memories, all conserved in his houses and castles. This arrangement of works allows us to at the same time read about his life and to really see his paintings, to unveil a bit of his mystery.
“What’s fantastic in his painting is that each work is a showcase of deep research and that the painter himself is in most cases not capable of willingly dissecting his work, of saying that’s why I did it, that’s what I think…on the contrary this is what makes his painting a major work of art: it’s an open path in an absolutely fantastical jungle of ideas through which the painter himself searches for his own determination; it’s why from one piece to the next, it’s a kind of uninterrupted continuation that when the painter speaks, they are all there…He spoke vehemently when there were some select moments where he wanted to talk about painting with others and in his own contradictions was searching for a truth; it’s the word that he uttered the most often…” – Hélène Parmelin, a journalist, novelist, and wife of painter Edouard Pignon; the couple were good friends with Picasso.
Each floor has a defined role, each room has its own identity, the chronological order is respected as the new commissioners had decided, and the result is very pedagogical in its goal of helping understand Picasso.
Over the course of our conversation, I learned of an exhibition at the end of 2017 in partnership with the Tate focusing on the year 1932, which is scheduled on the museum’s calendar. 1932 was the year of “The Dream”; Picasso had a love affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who he met near the Grands Magasins when she was only 17…and he 45. With Marie-Thérèse hidden since their first 1927 encounter, he lived with Olga, the Russian dancer. It’s quite mysterious how he represents her in the form of a code…the three letters “MTW” are stylized for us to discover his new love!
1932 was also the year of Picasso’s first retrospective in Zurich, during which he had arranged 200 paintings entirely on his own—this event turned out to be a success. At a very young age the artist had chosen to paint his life, his women, dramas, passions, politics…he had an exceptional vitality, was a hard worker as well as a demiurge of creation.
“There is always renewal…I think that he knew what he wanted in the long run, and every step of his creation was like a little chapter of a great stream…I think that he is determined…” – Laurent Le Bon
Picasso would say, “Doing something I know does not interest me at all.”
Picasso had excessive pride all while being doubtful. One day, he paid a visit to the Louvre by bringing his own paintings to see how they would register next to those of the great masters. This is the same Louvre that will later refuse “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” in 1937 at the bequest of Jacques Doucet’s widow…
“I cannot help but see in ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ the principal event of the beginning of the 20th century. This is the painting that would walk, as did before the Virgin of Cimabue, across the streets of our capital, if skepticism outweighed particular virtues that our time possesses, anyway…” – André Breton to Jacques Doucet, 1924
In this museum, we could spend hours on the ocean that represents Picasso, and I would love to end my article with this statement by Picasso: “All I want is to live life as a painter.”
Florence Briat Soulie
Translated by Erica DeMichel, Wesleyan University, Vassar Wesleyan Program in Paris Fall 2015