Pieter Bruegel the Elder

2019 sees the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c 1525/30 – 1569). To mark the occasion the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is dedicating the world’s first ever major monograph exhibition to the artist widely regarded as the 16th century’s greatest Netherlandish painter.

Netherlandish Proverbs Oil on oak panel, 117 x 163 cm; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin.

After an initial period of brilliance, during which time it rose to achieve perfection, Flemish art gradually fell into decline. Although thorough studies of its origins have revealed works, in particular those of the miniaturists, that are deserving of notice and which predate the artistic careers of the two Van Eycks, Hubert and Jan, the genius of the brothers remains stunningly spectacular, surpassing that of their predecessors to such a degree that it would be impossible to find an equally sudden, decisive and glorious evolution in the history of art.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Painter and the Collector, ca. 1565.
Pen and brown ink, 25 x 21.6 cm.
Graphische Sammlung, Albertina, Vienna.
Petrus Paulus Rubens, Jan Brueghel the Elder and his family, 1612-1613.
Oil on wood, 124.5 x 94.6 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Princes Gate Collection, London.

Even so, the lesser artists who followed the Van Eycks, whether they were either directly trained by them or simply influenced by their work, also possessed talent of admirable quality, but their sense and understanding of nature was less penetrating and profound and their execution less scrupulous. In not applying the same closeness of attention, which till then had been a rule of Flemish painting, these artists lost their opportunity for originality, relaxing their focus on nature and placing the primary importance of their work in its details.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hans Rottenhammer,
Rest upon the Flight into Egypt with the Temple of Tivoli, 1595.
Oil on copper, 26 x 35.5 cm. Private collection.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Flight into Egypt, 1563.
Oil on wood, 37.2 x 55.5 cm.
Courtauld Institute of Art, Count Antoine Seilern Collection, London.

It became increasingly common for these painters to travel to Italy, and consequently their native impressions became mixed with those evoked by the lands through which they passed. Upon leaving the Flemish plains, the monotony of which is scarcely interrupted, the emigrant artists could not help but be struck by the imposing nature of the mountainous regions along their route.

Joachim Patinir, Saint Jerome in a Landscape, ca. 1530.
Oil on wood, 74 x 91 cm.
Museo del Prado, Madrid.

The Alps, the Tirols, and the Apennines offered the artists the rugged landscapes once sought by the Flemish Primitives, to whom simplicity had been of no interest. In their depiction of panoramas that stretched as far as the eye could see, these nomads remained faithful to their excessive preoccupation with the picturesque.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Rabbit Hunt, 1560 (?). Etching, 22.3 x 29.1 cm.
The Royal Library of Albert I, Brussels.

They were of the belief that no amount of detail could be too much, and they tirelessly added bizarre rock formations and countless rivers to the harsh peaks and mountainous landscapes they painted. In addition, they laid out forests, towns, villages and castles that stretched into infinity. When, during their travels, they spent time in towns, at every step the Flemish painters encountered ancient ruins, monuments of various styles, statues, masterpieces by artists of the Classical age, and works of art no less admired by their less worthy successors; and everywhere they went they came across traditions and new ways of thinking vastly different from those they had known until then. How could they resist the seductions that solicited them from every direction? Their Italian colleagues, who were already organized in associations and guilds, welcomed the Flemish artists, affiliated them with their groups and initiated them into the wonders of the ars nova. On their return home, the travellers themselves often became apostles, extolling the principles of Italian painting and art in general, and attempting, though usually with little success, to imitate the Italian style…

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Shelley’s Art Musings – Delacroix Sexist?

 

Eugene Delacroix – Liberty Leading the People (1830) Musée du Louvre

It’s an iconic and powerfully strong image, isn’t it. Lady Liberty leading the charge of freedom, in what is known as Delacroix’s most famous painting, but the symbolism and composition of the piece have opened debates around sexism and imagery.
Delacroix was notorious for his dramatic paintings, but audiences found his topics and depictions rather hard to stomach, as the scenes are overly violent, too grand, oversized and overpowering in the response that they almost demand.
Delacroix was a leading name in French Romanticism, born in 1798 he was educated at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, and at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen, where he immersed himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he started his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David. When his fellow artist Théodore Géricault painted “The Raft of the Medusa” in 1818, this inspired Delacroix’s first major painting – “The Barque of Dante”.

Théodore-Géricault-The-Raft-of-Medusa
Théodore Géricault – The Raft of Medusa (1819) Musée du Louvre

From this point, Delacroix continued to create works which divided the audiences, and it isn’t by chance that “The Raft of Medusa” was the painting to initially inspire him, as later, when creating “Liberty leading the People” he echoed the triangular structure of Géricault’s piece to add depth and balance to his greatest painting.
Liberty broke a trend in Delacroix’s style, with a woman leading the people to hope and freedom over a pile of dead bodies. It was no secret that Delacroix saw women as an aesthetic to life and many of his paintings have women in them as draped and accepting of their fate, so it is unusual to see a woman so dominantly prominent in his work. This was a far cry from the status of women in the 1830s, and there are some interesting factors within the painting which stand her apart from the women of any class during the French revolution. Is this just another painting which demonstrates Delacroix’s feelings on women, or is the symbolism much deeper than his apparent sexism?
Obviously, the woman leading the people is no ordinary women, she is, in fact, Libertas and is the embodiment of Liberty. She is shown baring her breasts and holding high the tricolour flag, while in her other hand a rifle fixed with a bayonet. She strides over the dead bodies of men as a small boy, armed with pistols, hurries along beside her, as the revolutionary men come to join her march.
You may think that this painting was a heavily political piece, a depiction of the revolution from the view of those who were opposed to the government, but this is a painting of a moment in time in the revolution where anything was possible, created by a man that was trying to make sense of what was going on around him; its a moment of anarchic freedom, it is the most enduring image of what revolution feels like from within: ecstatic, violent, libidinal and murderous.
This painting is in the style of romanticism, which doesn’t concentrate on the realism of a situation, more externalises the feeling of the artist on to the canvas.
Liberty shows her breasts, not in a sexual display, but in a display of dominance and power. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At the time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historical propaganda rather than a real woman. She is a robust woman, indicating the strength of her convictions. She is shown in profile, almost obvious to the maddening crowd which surrounds her. She barely notices the path of dead bodies which she strides over. She is ready to fight at close range and defend the honour of her convictions.
The young boy is the symbol of how early this moment in time is within the revolution. He stands for the childlike naivety which the masses created barricades to bring down Charles X. It’s always a disturbing image, an armed child, who doesn’t have the full moral or social sense to truly comprehend what is happening to act on judgement; yet it also echoes the hope which is shown with Liberty at the front.
There are dreamlike qualities to the painting. The revolutionary who looks up at Liberty from the ground has a blue shirt and a red headscarf he has a bit of white shirt poking out under his blue top – that is, he is decked in red, white and blue, echoing the tricolour that flies over the barricades. This man is clothed in a decayed, dying version of Liberty’s flag: he is her sick shadow, an indication and premonition of the outcome of revolution. It doesn’t matter who wins in the end, people still suffer and die.
Is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course, he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However, is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. Its subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution. Oh, so often we hear of the women being the temptress who leads men astray, so why wouldn’t the Goddess Libertas be leading men into a dangerous and fraught situation under the guise of the seduction of freedom.
Delacroix has painted the hysterical freedom and joy of revolution. His painting acting as a reminder of revolution’s most charismatic visual icon, and yet it is not naive. Death is part of the glamour, and there is sickness at the very centre of progress. Romanticism is not an optimistic art. If Delacroix’s painting understands the seduction of revolution better than any other, it also acknowledges the violence that is inseparable from that belief in total change and the rule of the crowd.

Edward Burne-Jones

Edward Burne-Jones, einer der letzten Präraffaeliten, hat imaginäre Welten in beeindruckenden Gemälden, Glasfenstern und Wandteppichen ins Leben gerufen.

Edward-Burne-Jones-exhibition

Als Edward Burne-Jones’ Ölgemälde König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen unter dem gerade fertig gestellten Eiffelturm auf der Pariser Weltausstellung 1889 gezeigt wurde, war dies eine ebenso große Sensation wie der Turm selbst. Für sein Werk bekam Burne-Jones nicht nur auf der Ausstellung eine Goldmedaille, er wurde auch mit dem Kreuz der Ehrenlegion ausgezeichnet.

Burne-Jones_Cophetua_Beggar_Maid_
König Cophetua und das Bettlermädchen, 1880-1884.
Öl auf Leinwand, 290 x 136 cm.Trustees of the Tate Gallery, London.

Er war einer der wenigen „Angelsachsen“ – vom Maler John Constable (1776 bis 1837) am Anfang des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts bis Jerry Lewis (* 1926) am Ende des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts –, denen es gelang, die Herzen der französischen Intellektuellen zu erobern. Sogar die Modewelt wurde von einer Burne-Jones-Begeisterung erfasst, und für eine Weile kleideten und gaben sich die modebewussten französischen Damen einem Stil „à la Burne-Jones“ hin, der sich durch blassen Teint, dunkle Augenringe und einen Hauch matter Erschöpfung auszeichnete.

Edward-Burne-Jones-The-Council-Chamber
The Briar Rose series: The Council Chamber (Der Zyklus der Wilden Rose:
Der Sitzungssaal), 1870-1890. Öl auf Leinwand, 121,9 x 248,9 cm.
Faringdon Collection Trust, Buscot Park.

Die beiden großen französischen Symbolisten Gustave Moreau (1826 bis 1898) und Pierre Puvis de Chavannes (1824 bis 1898) erkannten sehr schnell in Burne-Jones einen künstlerisch Gleichgesinnten. Und der Meister der „Décadence“, der „Sar“ Josephin Peladan (1859 bis 1918), kündigte im Jahre 1892 an, dass Burne-Jones in seinem gerade eröffneten Salon de la Rose-Croix ausstellen würde – neben Puvis de Chavannes und anderen führenden Vertretern des französischen Symbolismus und englischen Präraffaeliten. Burne-Jones schrieb daraufhin an seinen, den englischen Präraffaeliten und Symbolisten zuzurechnenden Künstlerkollegen George Frederick Watts (1817 bis 1904): „Dieser ‘Salon des Rose-Cross’ – ich weiß nicht so recht, was ich davon halten soll – hat mir da so ein Pamphlet geschickt, einen Brief, in dem man anfragt, ob ich dort ausstellen würde. Ich bin jedoch ein wenig misstrauisch.“ Wie Puvis – der gegenüber dem Figaro sogar jegliche Verbindung zu jenem Salon abstritt – lehnte auch Burne-Jones die Einladung dankend ab.

burne-jones-cupid-hunting-field
Cupid’s Hunting Fields (Amors Jagdgebiet), 1885.
Gouache, 97,2 x 75,2 cm. The Art Institute of Chicago.

Es ist relativ unwahrscheinlich, dass Burne-Jones seine Zugehörigkeit zum Symbolismus akzeptiert oder diesen als solchen überhaupt verstanden hätte. In unseren Augen jedoch erscheint er als einer der repräsentativsten Vertreter des Symbolismus und der weit verbreiteten Fin de Siècle-Bewegung. Der Symbolismus entstand im späten 19.

edward-burne-jones-Hoffnung
Hoffnung, 1896. Öl auf Leinwand, 179 x 63,5 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Jahrhundert als Reaktion auf die seit etwa Mitte dieses Jahrhunderts dominierende positivistische Philosophie. Sie drückte sich vor allem in den Gemälden von Gustave Courbet (1819 bis 1877) und Edouard Manet (1832 bis 1883) sowie in den realistischen Romanen Emile Zolas (1840 bis 1902) aus, aber auch im Impressionismus, der vor allem die Sinne seiner Betrachter anzusprechen versuchte.

burne-jones-Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler
Selbst-Karikatur als Straßenkünstler. Tuschezeichnung, 11,4 x 6,3 cm.
Gezeichnet mit „Starving“. Courtesy of Sotheby’s, London.

Die Bewegung war außerdem als Reaktion gegen Fortschritt und Moderne zu verstehen, wie sie sich mit dem Eiffelturm ausdrückten, und gegen den Siegeszug von Kommerz und Industrie, die auf eben dieser Ausstellung in der gewaltigen Halle der Maschinen gefeiert wurden und die bei Puvis de Chavannes Horror und Alpträume ausgelöst hatten.

burne-jones-merciful-knight
The Merciful Knight (Der barmherzige Ritter), 1863.
Aquarell und Gouache, 100,3 x 69,2 cm.

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Edward Burne-Jones

One of the last Pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne-Jones brought imaginary worlds to life in awe-inspiring paintings, stained glass windows and tapestries

When Burne-Jones’ mural sized canvas of King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid  was exhibited in the shadow of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower at the Paris Exposition universelle in 1889, it caused a sensation scarcely less extraordinary than the tower itself. Burne-Jones was awarded not only a gold medal at the exhibition but also the cross of the Légion d’honneur.

King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, 1880-1884. Oil on canvas, 290 x 136 cm. Tate Britain, London.

He became one of those rare “Anglo-Saxons” who, from Constable in the early nineteenth century to Jerry Lewis in the late twentieth century, have been taken into the hearts of the French intelligentsia. For a few years while the Burne-Jones craze lasted, fashionable French women dressed and comported themselves “à la Burne-Jones”, cultivating pale complexions, bruised eyes and an air of unhealthy exhaustion.

The Annunciation (“ The Flower of God”), 1863. Watercolour and gouache, 61 x 53.3 cm.
Collection. Lord Lloyd-Webber.

The two great French Symbolist painters Gustave Moreau and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes immediately recognised Burne-Jones as an artistic fellow traveller. In 1892, the cheer leader of the “Decadence” “Sâr” Joséphin Péladan, announced that Burne-Jones would be exhibiting at his newly launched Symbolist Salon de la Rose-Croix alongside Puvis de Chavannes and other leading French Symbolist and English Pre-Raphaelites. Burne-Jones wrote to his fellow artist George Frederick Watts “I don’t know about the Salon of the Rose-Cross — a funny high-fallutin’ sort of pamphlet has reached me — a letter asking me to exhibit there, but I feel suspicious of it.”

Sidonia von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache,
33 x 17 cm. Tate Britain, London.

Like Puvis de Chavannes (who went so far as to write to Le Figaro denying any connection with the new Salon), Burne-Jones turned down the invitation. It is very unlikely that Burne-Jones would have accepted, or perhaps even have understood, the label of “Symbolist”. Yet, to our eyes, he seems to have been one of the most representative figures of the Symbolist movement and of that pervasive mood termed “fin de siècle”.

Going to the Battle, 1858. Grey pen and ink drawing on vellum paper, 22.5 x 19.5 cm.
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Symbolism was a late-nineteenth-century reaction to the positivist philosophy that had dominated the mid-century. It found expression in the gross materiality of the paintings of Courbet and Manet and the realist novels of Emile Zola and in Impressionism with its emphasis on sensory perception. Above all, it was a reaction against the belief in progress and modernity represented by the Eiffel Tower itself and against the triumph of industry and commerce celebrated in the vast “Hall of Machines” in the same exhibition, which had filled Puvis de Chavannes with horror and had given him nightmares.

Clara von Bork, 1860. Watercolour and gouache, 34 x 18 cm.
Tate Britain, London.

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1000 Portraits of Genius

Exhibition: The Art of Portraiture in the Louvre Collections

Date: May 30th 2018 – Sep 03rd 2018

Venue: The National Art Center, Tokyo

Since Antiquity, portraits have been commissioned to represent important people, figures, heroes, and gods. Over time, this artistic genre has evolved from the embellished Greek marble sculptures to contemporary paintings, photography and abstract works. While the specific aesthetic style of the portrait often varies over time, the main purpose of portraiture has remained consistent-to depict the personality, characteristics or essence of a person or important figure by using the face as the dominant feature of the composition.

The Seated Scribe, Serapeum, Saqqara, Egyptian, Old Kingdom, 4th Dynasty, c. 2620-2500 B.C.E. Painted limestone statue, inlaid eyes: rock crystal, magnesite (magnesium carbonate), copper-arsenic alloy, nipples made of wood, height: 53.7 x 44 x 35 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

The first known portraits can be traced back to prehistoric times (c. 30,000 B.C.E.) when men reproduced the outlines of their shadows as an attempt to preserve their memory in times of absence. Over time these depictions evolved into monochrome representations with simple lines and shapes, which now can be compared to the contemporary “portrayals” and abstract forms created by modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.

Christ Pantocrator, 1148. Mosaic. Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily. Byzantine.

This collective work attempts to create a comprehensive outline of the history of portraiture illustrated in both painting and sculpture. In the hierarchy of art theory, the portrait was initially viewed as inferior compared to history painting but superior to still life and other genre paintings. Throughout the history of art, theorists have occasionally been skeptical or critical regarding the issue of resemblance to the sitter, implying that the artist often portrays his or idealization of the subject. Despite this, the immense number of surviving portraits suggests that portraiture was nonetheless a popular request by those responsible for commissioning artworks across the artistic timeline.

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), Italian, Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder, c. 1475. Tempera on wood and gilded stucco, 57.5 x 44 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Portraiture is often overshadowed by other styles and genres of art. Art that qualifies as narrative painting or sculpture is almost always more appreciated amongst the masses than the black and white portrait of a political figure or famous artist. Perhaps this occurs because people assume that a portrait does not directly appeal to the imagination or tell a particular story. The differences between a portrait and a narrative piece of art can be compared to that of a novel and a biography. The first focuses predominantly on plot and action, while the latter is more concerned with the development and analysis of a specific individual.

Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675), Dutch, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665. Oil on canvas, 44.5 x 39 cm. Mauritshuis, The Hague. Classicism.

Therefore a biography could be considered flat in comparison to a novel that is full of dramatic scenes. However, depending on the nature of the writing itself a biography can be just as fascinating and compelling as a novel. Evidently, in the same respect, a portrait that has been painted in such an exemplary and skillful manner can be just as insightful as an illustration of a particular myth or story.

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), French, Napoleon Crossing the Alps at the St. Bernard Pass, c. 1800. Oil on canvas, 260 x 221 cm. Musée National du Château Malmaison, Rueil-Malmaison. Neoclassicism.

Knowing some background information regarding the identity of the sitter often impacts the accessibility of the portrait, because the spectator instantly recognises the subject and can, therefore, compare their understanding of the person with the particular representation.

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), Belgian, Madame Pollet, 1945. Oil on canvas, 100 x 80 cm. Fondation Paul Delvaux, Saint-Idesbald. Surrealism.

But even the portrait of an “unknown” subject can be so charged with meaning and depth that the visitor cannot help but be intrigued. A great portrait artist can illustrate a story so effectively that sometimes a precise title is not even necessary. Therefore, Titian‘s (Tiziano Vecelli) Man with the Glove, Rembrandt’s (Harmenszoon van Rijn) Portrait of a Man located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Diego Velasquez’s Lady with the Fan may appeal to us even more powerfully than many of the identified portraits by these same masters.

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Art Nouveau

Exhibition: Mucha and the others – Treasures of Art Nouveau

Date: Nov. 25, 2017 – Mar. 25, 2018

Venue: Hall No. 3, 3rd Floor, Guangdong Museum

Art Nouveau was confirmed as a trend in 1900 as a result of the Universal Exposition, which proclaimed the movement’s quasi-universal victory.

Art Nouveau meant marvels of joaillerie, bijouterie, silver, glass, mosaics and ceramics. In the beginning, Art Nouveau was produced by architects and decorators returning to their roots in national traditions (or who simply wished to remain faithful to the same), who were able to derive magnificent and delightful new variations from old domestic themes that had been more or less forgotten.

Enter a captioEmile Gallé, Orchid Vase.
Glass with inserted ornaments and relief.
Private collection.

Art Nouveau was also the work of French architects like Paul Sédille and Jean-Camille Formigé, who (on the heels of their predecessors Henri Labrouste and Emile Vaudremer) eagerly combined novelty with talent, taste, and ingenuity and were able to introduce ornamental iron and ceramic work to the visible structural skeleton of modern construction and homes.

Art Nouveau was the eccentric Barcelona of Gaudí (although notably absent from the 1900 Universal Exposition), which provided Spain such a colourful and appropriate image.

Antoni Gaudí, Dressing Table, c. 1895. Wood.
Güell family collection, Barcelona.

Art Nouveau was the work of English, Belgian and American architects, subject neither to classical principles or the imitation of Greek and Italian models, but deeply and completely committed to modern life, who created a solemn, refined style that was not always faithfully copied by their imitators, work that was new and original and usually excellent: a youthful and lively architecture that truly represented their respective countries and time.

Victor Horta, Solvay House, view from main salon, 1895. Brussels.
© 2007 – Victor Horta/Droits SOFAM – Belgique

Art Nouveau meant pastel-coloured wallpaper, tapestries,10 and fabrics that made French interiors sing with exquisite harmonies and French walls burst forth with delightful new flora and fauna.

Art Nouveau appeared in the form of illustrated books, such as those decorated by Eugène Grasset, Alphonse-Etienne Dinet, James Tissot, Maurice Leloir, and Gaston de Latenay, in France; Morris and Crane, among others, in England; German artists in Berlin and Munich; and Russian artists in Moscow.

Among a few masters in France, England, and the United States, Art Nouveau was the art of bookbinding.

Art Nouveau was the art of the poster, because posters were needed during this era of insistent advertising. Of course, we refer to the poster as created by Jules Chéret, such as it was and continues to be interpreted after him in England, the United States, Belgium, and France by many exceptional artists with imaginative flair: posters displaying delightful whims of colour, harmony, and line, sometimes exhibiting grace and beauty, and posters displaying pyrotechnics, razzle-dazzle, and the use of harsh and brilliant colours.

Eugène Grasset, Salon des Cent, 1894.
Print for a colour poster. Victor and Gretha Arwas collection.

Art Nouveau was the printmaking of Henri Rivière, respected interpreter of the French and Parisian landscape. In the simplicity of his images, Rivière sometimes applied more truth and more genuine and moving poetry than was available in works of the most famous classical masters, and his wondrous rendering, perfect colour, and eloquent Impressionism, evoke and even surpass the very Japanese works that inspired him.

Gustav Gurschner, Nautilus Lamp, 1899.
Bronze and nautilus shell. Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.

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Tout ce qui peut être imaginé est réel

Exposition: Guernica

Date: du 27 mars au 29 juillet 2018

Lieu: Fondation Canal de Isabel II, Madrid. Musée national Picasso | Paris, France

PAIN ET COMPOTIER AUX FRUITS SUR UNE TABLE, 1908-1909 Huile sur toile, 163,7 x 132,1 cm Kunstmuseum Basel, Bâle

Bien que depuis son enfance Picasso menât, selon sa propre expression, une « vie de peintre » et que pendant quatre-vingts ans, il s’exprimât justement dans les arts plastiques de par l’essence même de son génie, il diffère de ce qu’on entend généralement par la notion d’« artiste-peintre ». Peut-être serait-il plus exact de le considérer comme « artiste-poète », car le lyrisme, une mentalité entiè- rement affranchie de tout ce qui est prosaïque et ordinaire, et le don de transformer métaphoriquement la réalité sont tout aussi propres à sa vision plastique qu’ils le sont au monde imagé d’un poète.

Le vieux juif, 1903 Huile sur toile, 125 x 92 cm. Musée Pouchkine, Moscou

D’après un témoignage de Pierre Daix, Picasso lui- même « s’est toujours considéré comme un poète qui s’exprimait plus volontiers par des dessins, des peintures et des sculptures ».1 En fut-il toujours ainsi ? Une précision est nécessaire. Pour ce qui est des années 1930, lorsqu’il se met à composer des vers, et puis des années 1940 et 1950, quand il fait des pièces de théâtre, cela va de soi. Mais ce qui est hors de doute, c’est que Picasso fut toujours, dès le début de sa carrière, « peintre parmi les poètes, poète parmi les peintres ».

La Coiffure, 1906 Huile sur toile, 174.9 x 99.7 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Picasso éprouvait un impérieux besoin de poésie, alors que lui-même possédait un charme attractif pour les poètes. Lors de sa première rencontre avec Picasso, Apollinaire fut frappé par la façon fine et judicieuse avec laquelle le jeune Espagnol saisissait, et cela par-delà la « barrière lexicale », les qualités des poésies récitées. Sans craindre d’exagérer, on peut dire que si les contacts de Picasso avec les poètes tels que Jacob, Apollinaire, Salmon, Cocteau, Reverdy, ou encore, Éluard, ont marqué successi- vement chacune des grandes périodes de son art, ce dernier a considérablement influencé, comme important facteur novateur, la poésie française (mais pas seulement) du XXe siècle.

LES DEMOISELLES DÊAVIGNON, 1907 Huile sur toile, 243.9 x 233.7 cm Musée d’Art Moderne, New York

Considérer l’art de Picasso, tellement visuel, spectacu- laire et, à la fois tellement aveuglant, obscur et énigma- tique, comme la création d’un poète, la propre attitude de l’artiste nous y invite. Ne disait-il pas : « Après tout, tous les arts sont les mêmes ; vous pouvez écrire un tableau avec des mots tout comme vous pouvez peindre les sensations dans un poème. »3 Ailleurs, il disait même : « Si j’étais né Chinois, je n’aurais pas été peintre, mais bien écrivain. J’aurais écrit mes tableaux. » Pourtant, Picasso est né Espagnol et a commencé à dessiner, dit-on, avant qu’il n’ait appris à parler. Dès son plus jeune âge, il éprouvait un intérêt inconscient pour les outils de travail du peintre ; tout petit, il pouvait des heures entières tracer sur une feuille de papier des spirales dont le sens n’était compréhen- sible que par lui seul, sans que, pour autant, elles en fussent privées ; étranger aux jeux de ses camarades, il ébauchait sur le sable ses premiers tableaux. Cette précoce manifestation de la vocation présageait un don extraordinaire.

DEUX FEMMES COURANT SUR LA PLAGE, 1922 Gouache sur contreplaqué, 32,5 x 41,1 cm Musée Picasso Paris, Paris

La toute première phase de la vie, préverbale et préconsciente, se passe sans dates ni faits : on est comme dans un demi-sommeil, au gré des rythmes tant inhérents à l’organisme que de ceux qui viennent de l’extérieur, charnels et sensoriels. La pulsation du sang et la respiration, la chaude caresse des mains, le balancement du berceau, l’intonation des voix, voilà ce qui en constitue alors le contenu. Puis, tout à coup, la mémoire s’éveille, et deux yeux noirs suivent le déplacement des objets dans l’espace, prennent possession des choses désirées, expriment des réactions émotionnelles.

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