Picasso Prints Exhibition – British Museum
“You and I are going to do great things together,” the words uttered in 1927 by Picasso to Marie-Thérèse Walter when they met and who features in many of the prints by the artist now on display at the British Museum. The exhibition is a fascinating insight into the artist’s thinking, emotions and life during the 1930s.
Picasso’s prints created in the inter-war period leans towards the more traditional genres of art; the nude, the interior and history/mythology. During this decade Picasso was engaged with the classical past and these prints are remarkably unlike Picasso’s Cubist works from the earlier part of the twentieth century that made him famous, in fact only one of the displayed prints conveys echoes of Cubism. The exhibition displays a series of prints in which Picasso turned away from his Cubist style in favour of a more restrained form of classicism, although they do not fully conform to academic conventions in terms of accurate representation of the human form and perspective.
Art from this decade in Paris however, was one that saw a reduction in artistic radicalism as observed by the painter Amédée Ozenfant. At the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques dans la vie Moderne’ in 1937, Ozenfant perceived that “in architecture, as with all the other arts and techniques, it is our advances that are being shown, advances definitely gained, consolidated. The fact is that, as I have said, we are not in a moment of innovation, but one of taking stock.” The lack of groundbreaking innovative art in this period in the history of Paris is linked to the Wall Street crash in 1929 which sparked the Great Depression and subsequently caused the market for modern art to collapse. Paris was still the undisputed centre of the art world, however, thanks to the city being host to such canonical artists such as Picasso, Braque and Mondrian; yet the works produced did not compare to the artistic radicalism of their earlier careers in the first quarter of the century.
Mythological elements are evident throughout Picasso’s prints. The style he deployed is reminiscent of Ancient Greek vases and alludes to classical sculptures such as the ‘Three Graces.” The classical influence however is most notable in the depiction of the mythical creature the Minotaur. This was an important symbol to the Surrealist art movement, which was very much alive in the Parisian art world at this time, as it was seen as a representation of the sinister forces of the unconscious mind. It is in the image of the Minotaur that Picasso portrays himself when he documents visually his affair with Marie-Thérèse Walter; most evidently in Dying Minotaur where the Minotaur is shown being defeated in a bull-fighting ring in front of a row of spectators, all of whom are Marie-Thérèse and makes his final plea to her.
Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter when she was just seventeen and they began a passionate affair that lasted several years and is perhaps his most famous muse. She featured in numerous works by Picasso; his depiction of himself as the Minotaur, symbolic of the forces of uncontrollable emotion and behaviour, acts as a representation of his passion and feelings for her; intense and beyond his control.
The styles in which Picasso created these images, whilst not as radical as his early Cubist works, is a move away from the conventions of form and perspective in academic practice. The female figure is not anatomically correct as is evident by the unnatural characteristic of limbs and facial features. Picasso’s view on academic training in painting was that it did not constitute art; he believed that “art is not the application of a canon of beauty but what the instinct and the brain can conceive beyond any canon. When we love a woman we do not start by measuring her limbs. We love with our desires.” Picasso was essentially stating that academic convention could not compare with painting from personal feelings and desire; and this sentiment is apparent in this exhibition through Picasso’s fluid lines and is essentially an expression of his feelings for Marie-Thérèse Walter.