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A lure into young Picasso’s den
Picasso. It represents a name which I have been associating with Cubism, though given the reputation I know there must be much more behind it. There is an opportunity to find out more about Picasso at The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam which is currently showing the exhibition ‘Picasso in Paris 1900-1907’ which will be open until 29th May 2011. The museum organizes monthly lectures and I attended one of them where Peter Read (professor of modern French literature and visual arts at the University of Kent, Canterbury) talked about Picasso's Art and Literary contacts: "Au Rendez-vous des poètes" (The poet’s bistro).
Lures for men, 1901, reproduced in Le Frou-Frou, 31 August 1901
c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2011
An escalator takes me from the square part of the Van Gogh Museum down to the exhibition wing, a part of the building which has been designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa. The curved hallway presents a photographic timeline. As I walk down the hall the Picasso in the pictures gets younger and I am taken back in time to the start of the previous century. I tag along with the tour guide who explains that Picasso arrived in Paris as a young but very talented man to visit the Exposition Universelles of 1900. Later on I take the audio tour which enables me to get information on a subject whenever I choose. Apparently Picasso, unfamiliar with the French language, lacking a social and professional network on his arrival in Paris, nonetheless managed to partake in an exposition at Vollard’s Gallery. Ambroise Vollard was the leading art dealer at the time, who had worked with already big names such as Cézanne, Gauguin, Renoir and of course Van Gogh. Picasso worked hard and finished 2-3 paintings a day to deliver a total of 65 depictions of “modern day life in Paris” for the exhibition. Thanks to the audio-gear, the painting Le Moulin de la Galette is accompanied by music, laughter and the sound of glasses saluting; it gives a very good impression of the atmosphere of the painting. Further down there is a black and white movie showing on the wall. The Moulin Rouge, the dancers, the carriages on the road; the typical jerky movements on film look incredibly old fashioned. Something nostalgic stirs within; an awareness of a time gone by. The paintings and the background information strongly remind me of Moulin Rouge! - a movie directed by Baz Luhrmann where he has managed to capture the typical bohemian rhapsody of the turn of the century. I close my eyes and can almost hear its music… It opens my mind and I can nearly feel the vibrant energy which is also present in the paintings I’m looking at.
Casagemas in his coffin, 1901, Private collection. Courtesy James Roundell
c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2011
Further down I’m led into the area where Picasso’s Blue Period is on display. It is believed that the suicide of Picasso’s friend Carlos Casagemas had led to his Blue Period which subject matter concerns itself with the lower levels of life; the beggars, the sick, the blind. Alcoholism, suffering, loneliness… these have been captured only all too well in the monochrome blue style. As opposed to the hustle and bustle of the previous room, these paintings evoke a sense of silence, almost oppressing. Looking at these raw and cold scenes I almost feel embarrassed; it’s as if a whole layer of society’s cake is considered rubbish and simply does not get touched. A segment of society destined to remain in the shadows, yet it is difficult not to peer and stare. The paintings have a mesmerizing mystique to them. I find them beautiful.
I have to go up the stairs now and find myself looking at a huge photograph of a place called Le Bateau-Lavoir, a studio which had been occupied by artists since 1889. Immediately I feel sorry for Van Gogh; it seems he had missed the realization of his idea with the Yellow House, a place where artists could inspire one another. Picasso moved into Le Bateau-Lavoir and surrounded himself with writers, painters and poets. His door had a sign which said Au rendez-vous des poètes; it was considered a place to meet and be creative, The poet’s bistro. He had achieved what Van Gogh had wished for.
The diners, 1901, Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence. Bequest of George Metcalf
c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2011
It is in this same period where Picasso met his to be mistress and muse Fernande Olivier. It is believed that their meeting led to his Pink (or Rose) Period. The first painting representing this change is called The Actor. In his lecture, professor Read notes that at the end of January last year a visitor at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York tripped and fell into the painting which ended up with a 15cm tear in the canvas. A gasp of horror and nervous laughter is heard through the audience. The painting was immediately taken to be restored. It is the ultimate visitor’s nightmare and I cannot even begin to imagine what was going through the poor womans’ mind as she was falling down. The Pink Period came with a change in Picasso’s palette which turned into more cheerful tones. Its subject matter shifted to yet another part of society; the world of circus artists, known as saltimbanques. His main recurring characters were Pierrot and Harlequin. These figures hold special meaning to most people; they have been around for quite some time and to me represent games, cheekiness, and mockery. These paintings remind me of another movie called The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The similarity lies in the subject of travelling theatre folk, a sense of community, secrets, hidden agendas and multi-layered and surreal existence. I think together with his fascination for Iberian Sculptures his Rose Period is slowly leading up to Cubism, the art movement I had most associated with Picasso before my visit.
The lecture proves to be a valuable addition to what I have just seen in the museum. Professor Read talks about Picasso’s determination and adventurous spirit. To manage to become the leader of the Avant Garde movement within only six years of his arrival as a stranger is very impressive to say the least. Picasso mixed media; he read and wrote poetry – and actually used this as a means to learn French – he visited the theatre and he translated these experiences into his own style of sketches and paintings. He seems a very dynamic personality; charismatic, but also a magnet for other great minds. He was his own Universe, never ceasing to expand. It feels as if Picasso shifted his gaze to every corner of society; the bright and shiny, the shadows, the foreign, the perhaps fourth dimension… One of Picasso’s famous quotes: “Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not. “
The Van Gogh museum has succeeded in giving an overview of Picasso’s diversity in a relatively short time, in a relatively small space. Within only a few meters I entered a completely different world with different emotions, parameters and disciplines. Several times. My suspicions that there was much more to Picasso than I had known, has been confirmed. But interestingly it has also raised more questions. Even weeks after the visit, the paintings, the stories, moreover the emotions and associations, in short Picasso, continue to play a part in my mind. There is still much more to say about what I have seen, and so much more to find out about what I have not.
Picasso in Parijs, 1900-1907
18 February - 29 May 2011
Van Gogh Museum
Paulus Potterstraat 7
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