Never Too Late Picasso

Looks like we won’t have a chance to see the blockbuster Gagosian show.  By now I’ve however looked through the catalogue a couple of times and am deeply impressed by the assortment of wonderful paintings he amassed for it. (I’m not so big on late Picasso prints, with a few notable exceptions.)  John Richardson’s essay was of course also quite gratifying, as usual.  This is not at all a criticism, for as Richardson somewhere says, including drawings would have of necessity greatly broadened the scope of the show.  It would, I imagine, have been difficult to assemble a suitably representative cross-section of his late works on paper, since his output in the last few years was both vast and varied.  Much of it was also truly great, as great as anything that came before it.  I adore late Picasso paintings, or many of them anyway (I confess that it wasn’t always so, so you’re absolved if you, too, underwent an inner evolution before you, too, grew crazy about Late Picasso).  But I’ve long felt that if I were marooned on a desert island and could take along but one type of Picasso—admittedly a heart-wrenching choice, it would be a drawing.  Of course it would have to be a verdant desert island in the middle of a deep blue sea with plenty of flowers to provide color so I wouldn’t have to rely on the Picasso drawings to do so.

It’s not easy to get a handle on the late drawings.  The Online Picasso Project (OPP) is incomplete, and the most complete catalogue raisonné, Wofsy’s Picasso Project (PP), is comprised of small, black-and-white images, plus you have to buy them.  For those of you interested in an in depth survey of his late works (in all media, for that matter), the best way is to peruse them is by using both of these sources.  If you would like to limit your purchases, I’d recommend the books that include the years 1967-1972, which is when I feel Late Picasso peaked (although there are certainly many great Late Picasso drawings before then).  In order to do so, you’d need at least the last two volumes in the PP series, which span all but the first of these years (The Sixties, III: 1968-1969 and The Final Years: 1970-1973).

If you finish Richardson’s essay and are hungry for more, for further reading I’d like to recommend Picasso: The Last Years, 1963-1973, by Gert Schiff.   I think very highly of Schiff’s essay on Late Picasso, which he penned in the early ‘eighties, long before Late Picasso was fashionable, much less understood by most of us.

Recommended Reading

1. Pablo Picasso: Catalogs of the Printed Graphic Work, Volume One: 1904-1967 by Georges Bloch (see http://www.art-books.com/cgi-bin/artbooks/467-2.html), and is the single most useful print catalogue raisonné. Despite thumbnail pictures, it catalogues 64 years of Picasso’s printmaking career, all but the last three years, and thus provides a wonderful overview of his art in a single, handy volume. Be sure, however, to get the new and improved edition recently published in San Francisco (the old edition is very hard to find, anyway).

2. PICASSO: THE REAL FAMILY STORY, by Olivier Widmaier Picasso, Prestel Verlag, 2004. I am a man of few idols, but, as my friend Joey says of me, when I find something I truly like, I take it till it kills me. In music, those idols are Garcia and Dylan, and, in art, it goes without saying. (We’ll leave literature alone for the while.) I accept my idols as flawed creatures since, as they say, to err is human. I’ve often said that I’m glad that Hitler was a lousy artist, because I’d have to draw the line somewhere. But though I’ve long considered Jerry a nice guy with a wonderful personality, I’ve thought of Picasso and Dylan as mean-spirited people with whom I probably would not have wanted to be friends, had the opportunity presented itself. Until now. Olivier Widmaier Picasso, son of Maya and grandson of Picasso and Marie-Therese, goes a long way in debunking what I now realize are the slanderous myths that shroud Picasso’s life in the sensationalistic media of our times. Arianna may know how to sell copy, but this book reads like a factual, accurate account.

Turns out Picasso was a nice guy! He was generous with all of his wives and mistresses. He couldn’t divorce Olga due to legal constraints and her obstructions, but proposed to Marie-Therese the very year his first wife died (she refused him, perhaps wisely). He was also very generous with many friends, strangers and various causes. He was a delightful, charismatic conversationalist and a good friend. If he retreated into reclusion late in life, it was only to create the most art possible in his race against death. He loved and cared for his children and grandchildren, with only occasional and understandable exceptions. Marina, that unfortunate basket case, was the product of an annoying, gold-digging mother with whom Picasso and Paulo, her ex-husband, wanted nothing more to do—the grandchildren unfortunately bore the brunt. Francoise Gilot, who wrote the only other memoir by a family member or consort that rings true, is more critical of Picasso, and serves as a perhaps useful foil for Olivier’s generally rosier account. One must of course admit that Picasso, like the rest of us, was no saint. But he certainly wasn’t the monster the media have made him out to be.

3. Picasso: Style and Meaning, by Elizabeth Cowling, Phaidon Press, 2002. This is an outstanding, thoroughly researched and very readable landmark book about the meaning of Picasso’s art and to the antecedents and development of his many styles.

4. Picasso: Magic, Sex, Death, by John Richardson, three lectures on two DVDs, 2003

5. A Guide to Collecting Picasso’s Prints, by yours truly (click the “Collecting Guide” link on the right)

6. Picasso: The Last Years, 1963-1973, by Gert Schiff.  Though John Richardson’s essay in the Gagosian catalogue is wonderful, I think very highly of Schiff’s essay on Late Picasso, which he penned in the early ‘eighties, long before Late Picasso was fashionable, much less understood by most of us.