Monday, January 28, 2013

Comparisons from Richardson's Picasso

Remoir "Dance at the Moulin de la Galette" , 1876

I don't know why it took me 20 years to discover John Richardson's biography of Picasso.

Maybe it's because my interests lie a bit outside the canonical history of modern art. And even though Picasso's work makes me happy almost every time I run across it, I'm less curious about his personal life than I am about thousands of other stories -- so it took the upcoming "Picasso and Chicago" show at the Art Institute to get me interested in his life.

And I soon discovered that nobody could write about it better than Richardson

Not only is he thoroughly immersed in his subject (so that he can mention a piece from 1958 when he's writing about an episode in 1897) -- but he's a great sleuth, aesthete, and world-class gossip.

And he personally knew the artist over a period of time -- an advantage which future biographers will never share.

He has packed his volumes with reproductions of both Picasso's work, as well as work by his artist friends and rivals -- making this a visual as well as verbal trip through the time machine.

And he loves to make comparisons.


Subsequent to my last post about the charcoal portraits of Picasso and Ramon Casas, this post on Mountshang is going to be an ongoing collection of all the other comparisons that interest me the most -- especially when they involve pieces that can be seen up close on

(though unfortunately, copyright restrictions seem to have kept Picasso's own work off that site)

So I expect to be working on it intermittently over the next few months - and maybe even into 2014 when Volume Four is scheduled to be published.


Picasso "Moulin de la Galette", 1900

(text in green by John Richardson)

The earliest and most important of Picasso’s Paris paintings is his highly charged scene of dancers at the Moulin de Ia Galette. This dance hail, above which Rusiñol, Utrillo and Casas had once had an apartment, was a hallowed haunt of Catalan expatriates.

Picasso would already have been familiar with the look of the place from the unprepossessing view that Casas had painted ten years earlier Casas portrayed the dance hall in daytime as a desultory place that catered to a working-class clientele. Picasso saw the Moulin in a more glamorous, if lurid, spirit. The floor is crowded with a mob of dolled-up cocottes and their top-hatted clients doing one of the new South American dances. The garlands of lights and the hard, bright colors of the women’s dresses are rendered with utmost effulgence, but it is typical of Picasso that he has conceived the composition in terms of modernista shadows rather than impressionist light.

Picasso’s Moulin de Ia Galette also challenged two artists who were far more formidable than Casas: Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec, each of whom had devoted major works to this very subject.

Picasso would have known Renoir’s sparkling view of the outdoor dance floor from visits to the Musée du Luxembourg, which had just been enriched with this impressionist masterpiece and countless others from the collection of Gustave Caillebotte.

Toulouse Lautrec "At the Moulin Rouge , 1890

He would also have known Toulouse-Lautrec’s lower-key but no less masterly indoor view of the music hail, from reproduction, if not firsthand. That someone so new to French art should have pitted himself against these masters at the top of their form is a measure of Picasso’s confidence and daring. He did not have the easy victory over Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec that he had had over Casas. Nevertheless, Picasso’s Moulin de la Galette shows that within weeks of arriving in Paris the nineteen-year-old Spaniard had established his right to a place in the modern French tradition; what is more, without making any concessions to impressionism or neo-impressionism. Unlike Renoir, who uses color to generate an allover sparkle of light, Picasso takes refuge in Spanish chiaroscuro—darkness lit up with incandescent splashes of crimson and yellow. Unlike Toulouse-Lautrec, whose sense of the reality always transcends his fin-de-siècle stylizations, Picasso evokes an erotic ambiance all the more exciting for being faintly menacing.

Van Gogh, 'Dance Hall at Arles', 1888

It is as if he saw the cocottes through Casagemas’s eyes with a little help from van Gogh (Dance Hall at Aries). And then, what a sense of the new century Picasso has already developed. Whereas Toulouse-Lautrec’s gaslit dancers embody the ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay of the 1890s, Picasso’s hookers, with their mascara and lipstick, their cheek-to-cheek smooching, project a sexuality that is distinctly twentieth century. They have abandoned the raunchy cancan for the more sophisticated Argentine tango and Brazilian maxixe (for which the Moulin de la Galette was famous). The girls fondling each other in the foreground are more svelte, more heavily made up.

Braque, 'Le Portugais', Picasso 'The Accordionist', Summer 1911

Picasso, Portrait of a Young Girl, 1914
Matisse, Red Studio, 1911

Chirico, Child's Brain, 1914
Picasso, Man in Bowler Hat, 1915

Harlequin, 1924

Derain, Harlequin, 1923

The Swimmer, 1929

Stephanus Garcia "Apocalypse of St. Sever"
11th Century

Matisse, 1925

Picasso, 1930

The Kiss, Picasso 1925

The Kiss, Picabia, 1925

"Marat", David

"Marat", Picasso, 1935

Matisse, 1927

Pioasso, 1927



Delaunay, 1911


Gleizes, 1912

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ramon Casas versus Pablo Ruiz Picasso

In October, 1899, Ramon Casas (1866-1932)showed his paintings and charcoal portraits athe Sala Pares in Barcelona.

He was a big fish in the small pond of Catalan progressive intellectuals.

In response, the proprietors of the Quatre Cats cafe/salon mounted an exhibit of their young champion, the 18 year old Pablo Ruiz Picasso, "his first serious exhibition"

Here, thanks to John Richardson's biography, are some side-by-side images from both of those shows. (the Casas pieces are to the left -- and while some of these pairings share a similar stance, none of them share the same model)

As Richardson saw it: "right from start he (Picasso) surpasses Casas in suppleness, sharpness of observation, and the pleasure he takes in his own virtuosity"....."Picasso always arrives at an image that encapsulates characters and reveals a subject in a candid new light" ..... "by comparison the people in Casas' 'Barcelona iconography' look like wax works. Their eyes are listless, whereas Picasso always registers the sitter's gaze; and he diagnoses ambition or anguish, slyness or faint-heartedness with insight and wit that has yet to acquire a lethal edge"

So, what do you think?

By comparison, Casas does seem to be presenting people in the third person, while Picasso presents them in the second - as a direct confrontation with the viewer.

And Picasso involves his figures with their backgrounds - while the Casas figures are strictly silhouetted against them.

And yes, Picasso does seem to be dancing circles around Casas in a display of compositional and mark-making virtuosity.

But Casas seems to have a deeper sense of pictorial space and volume.

And when you look at his figures, you feel the physical point-of-view from which they are seen: looking up at the chin and looking down at the feet.

This is very early in Picasso's career -- up to this point he's been a hot-shot art student in a tradition where depth of pictorial space has been highly valued and still is being taught and practiced.

Is he going in a different direction because he is already on the path to the cubism that will make him a superstar of Modernism ?

Or.. has he wisely chosen to pursue the flatter space that is more amenable with his natural abilities ?