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 ?


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