Self-Portrait with Palette by Pablo Picasso, 1906; Philadelphia Museum of Art: A. E. Gallatin Collection, 1950 © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2016; Photograph and Digital Image © Philadelphia Museum of Art © Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York
At one stage or another during his long career, Picasso fit different models of what an artist could be. Picasso’s versatility as a painter, and ultimately his appetite for dramatic shifts in style, sometimes within the same day, lead observers either to find fault with his work or to deify him. His impulse to change his style – an impulse the artist indulged in to a mischievous degree – and his tendency to rework his own innovations at a later date in the form of irreverent parody, have been a source of frustration for Picasso biographers, with some writers refusing even to acknowledge certain periods in the artist’s career.
Picasso’s range, and his undoubted mastery of every style and medium he worked in, attract the accusation of a lack of serious long-term intent or commitment to any path in particular. At the same time this free-wheeling ease of movement between styles and refusal to be categorised, seem to be his strongest selling points to large art audiences. Even within his own lifetime, Picasso stood in uneasy relation to many of his peers, including artists to whom he was compared, such as Matisse. Whilst Picasso and Matisse shared a similar range of subject matter, Matisse was undoubtedly playing a long game when it came to his exploration of his primary medium – paint. Matisse’s commitment to optics and the investigation of how the painted mark functions was one which led him to tackle his subjects in series and with a forensic obsession for testing, time and again, his own discoveries. For Picasso on the other hand, subject matter takes precedence over the medium of paint, leading the artist off on one route of exploration after another. His virtuosity meant that any one of the artist’s periods could have served as a starting point for a lifetime of incremental development and exploration within that style alone, had he wanted to explore it further. But Picasso’s compulsive restlessness would not allow it. It is only at fleeting moments of calm, when comparing both artists’ treatment of the same subject and having blocked out the background chatter about Picasso’s life and personality, that Picasso and Matisse can truly be appraised side by side. The great Picasso versus Matisse debate is as frustrating as trying to imagine what is happening at the same moment on opposite sides of the planet. Continue reading “Picasso Portraits @ The National Portrait Gallery, October 6, 2016 – February 5, 2017”