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Young Picasso

Fascinating documentary about how Picasso became Picasso. It highlighted how apparently unimportant developments in Picasso’s youth helped shape his art. So Malaga, where he was born is not just important for the local pigeons and bulls but because, facing the African coast, it was one of the centres of Jewish and Muslim life in Spain.

As Picasso’s father gets teaching jobs first in La Coruna, then in Barcelona, Picasso comes closer to the Spanish and Catalonian art markets – in Barcelona he hangs out with anarchists and Catalonian nationalists and spends his days in cafes painting the poor customers.

Then (still aged 17) he moves to Paris, meets the impressionists and post-impressionists, but also starts to paint rich people’s parties.

All the time his style is technically brilliant – some of the paintings he did at 13 are astounding – but conservative, using traditional themes, or plainly just copying old paintings by Velazquez.

Then his best friend kills himself (possibly because he’s impotent and Picasso has been sleeping with the woman he loves) and the blue and pink periods start, marking a significant break with the old realism.

The film finishes with a lengthy discussion of les desmoiselles d’avignon, which it plausibly argues is the first step on the path to Cubism (though Picasso’s grandson pops up to argue that the claim that its the first modernist painting is a myth fostered by the marketing department of the Museum Of Modern Art). It’s here that you start to see cliche Picasso, where the noses of the painted prostitutes point in a different direction to their eyes. It also is clearly influenced by art from the global south – the film puts this in the context of a recent exhibition in Paris of African masks and Picasso’s contact with Paul Gaugin’s paintings from Tahiti.

In short I learned a lot – fun fact: one of the first champions of les desmoiselles d’avignon was the Trotskyist poet Andre Breton. The film also doesn’t ignore Picasso’s misogyny. And though i find the young paintings of women aesthetically much better than is his later Dirty Old Man period, there is a nude of a teenage girl that i do find disturbing, and not in a good way.

More of this sort of thing.

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