Monday, February 21, 2011

Armchairs in Art: Picasso

I like art. If I weren't a struggling musician, I would be a struggling art historian. Like Simon Schama. Except he's not struggling. And not exclusively an art historian. Also, he's a dude. And Jewish. And from the UK. So really, nothing like Simon Schama.

It's true, though- few things relax me more than a good documentary about art. Which probably means it's better that I'm not an art historian by trade. This way, I can watch Sister Wendy without having to question the quality of her scholarship. Not that I would even be watching Sister Wendy in this scenario. I'd probably be writing a really unoriginal paper about Monet in some awful library with fluorescent lighting. Here, I can sit back and appreciate art from the comfort of my metaphorical armchair.

Speaking of Simon Schama, my most recent Netflix delivery included the first 2 discs of his 2006 BBC series, "Power of Art." In each hour long segment, he focuses on a particular artist through the lens of a particular masterpiece. It has everything: sweet dramatizations, cool music, fun biographical and historical tidbits, and even the odd joke. I love it. So, I started thinking, what can The Armchair bring to the table when it comes to a discussion about art? Probably not much. But what if we narrow our focus down to something more specific? Say, art that... includes actual armchairs?


Welcome to Part I in the series, Armchairs in Art. Each week, we'll explore a new artist and a new painting or paintings. Paintings... with armchairs in them.

Let's dive right in.

Pablo Picasso

Here's what I can say about Picasso without Googling or Wikipeding:

20th Century
Blue Period

Here's what I can say about Picasso after having done a bit of research:

First of all, Spanish baptismal names are amazing. Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso was born in Málaga, Spain in 1881 to a middle class family who encouraged his talent from an early age. Around the turn of the century, he moved to Paris and started hanging out with folks like Gertrude Stein and Guillaume Apollinaire.



And later, Serge Diaghilev and Igor Stravinsky.



You know, the down-to-earth set. He divided his time mainly between Spain and France, made art, and enjoyed the company of many women. (There's a nutshell for you.)

One such woman, Olga, was a dancer in Diaghilev's Ballets Russes and Picasso's first wife. She is the subject of our first armchair painting.

Portrait of Olga in the Armchair, 1917
Oil on Canvas
Musée Picasso, Paris

Not what first comes to mind when you think of Picasso. In terms of artistic periods, the years from 1912 to 1919 were marked mainly by a shift from "analytic" to "synthetic" Cubism. Even if you're not familiar with Cubism, you can probably guess that this painting has little to do with it. This can be partially explained. In the late teens, without abandoning Cubism, Picasso went through a brief phase of what is apparently referred to as "New Mediterraneanism." During this time, he was influenced by the works of earlier artists like Renoir and Ingres.

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
Portrait of Madame Leblanc, 1823
Oil on Canvas
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

That's pretty easy to see. Allow me to offer another, purely speculative explanation. Pablo and Olga weren't married until 1918. My guess? This painting (and maybe the whole of the "New Mediterraneanism" thing) was part of the courtship. You know, less to do with aesthetic principles and more to do with "sleep with me." I read in at least one place that Olga initially resisted Picasso's advances and fiercely protected her virginity even after the marriage (at least for a while). You definitely get a feeling of coldness from her portrait. Who knows? (I mean, other than all the people who have written papers and books about it. They probably know.) One thing is clear- she was certainly more the posh socialite than the Montmartre/Montparnasse Bohemian. I imagine the portrait would have pleased her. I like it, too.

Then again, I also like this:

Large Nude in a Red Armchair, 1929
Oil on Canvas
Musée Picasso, Paris

Yowza! Here's Olga again...looking a little different. I'm kind of obsessed with looking from one painting to the other in rapid succession. Look at the bright red of the armchair. Fantastic. And the body! Olga may or may not have been a little ticked upon viewing this. I don't think it's too surprising that they soon split. (His real "muse" at this time was a teenager named Marie-Thérèse Walter, brief companion and mother to his elder daughter, Maya. Sadly, Marie-Thérèse hanged herself four years after his death in 1973. She wasn't alone among Picasso's women in taking her own life, either. His second wife, Jacqueline Roque, shot herself in 1986.)

So there you have it. Armchairs. Picasso. These aren't his only "armchair" works, but it's a good place to start. Want to know more stuff? Here are some links.

Official Website
Bio at (Great!)
Excellent Timeline
Matisse & Picasso
Musée Picasso (Paris)
Museu Picasso (Barcelona)

1 comment:

Bill said...

Funny and now I know stuff.

Verification word of the day: 'antlete' - gold medalist at the 2011 Ant Olympics.