The Success and Failure of Picasso
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At the height of his powers, Pablo Picasso was the artist as revolutionary, breaking through the niceties of form in order to mount a direct challenge to the values of his time. At the height of his fame, he was the artist as royalty: incalculably wealthy, universally idolized−and wholly isolated.
In this stunning critical assessment, John Berger−one of this century's most insightful cultural historians−trains his penetrating gaze upon this most prodigious and enigmatic painter and on the Spanish landscape and very particular culture that shpaed his life and work. Writing with a novelist's sensuous evocation of character and detail, and drawing on an erudition that embraces history, politics, and art, Berger follows Picasso from his childhood in Malaga to the Blue Period and Cubism, from the creation of Guernica to the pained etchings of his final years. He gives us the full measure of Picasso's triumphs and an unsparing reckoning of their cost−in exile, in loneliness, and in a desolation that drove him, in his last works, into an old man's furious and desperate frenzy at the beauty of what he could no longer create.
emigrants from the poverty of the south. Madrid, for its own interests, encouraged the differences between factory-owners and workers. The factory-owners, having no judiciary or state legal machinery with which to control their workers, had to dispense with legality and rule by direct force. The workers had to defend themselves against the representatives of Madrid (the army and the Church) and against the factory-owners. In such a situation, and with little political experience to help them,
the world. There were motor-cars. There was chromium. There was aluminium. There were synthetic textiles. There was wireless. At the beginning of the century there were only 3,000 motor vehicles in France. In 1907 there were 30,000. By 1913 France was producing 45,000 a year. The Wright brothers began working on aeroplanes in 1900. Their first successful flight, lasting fifty-nine seconds, was in 1903. In 1906 Dumont in France made a short flight. In 1908 Wright flew for ninety-one minutes. In
of the Bull’s Head, Picasso has not changed the form of the saddle and handlebars at all. He has scarcely touched them. What he has done is to see their possibility of becoming an image of a bull’s head. Having seen this, he has placed them together. The seeing of this possibility was a kind of naming. ‘Let this be a bull’s head,’ Picasso might have said to himself. And this is very close to African magic. Janheinz Jahn, in Muntu,15 his study of African culture, writes: It is the word, Nommo,
later. An unbroken horse erects his mane, paws the ground, and starts back impetuously at the sight of the bridle; while one which is properly trained suffers patiently even whip and spur: so savage man will not bend his neck to the yoke to which civilized man submits without a murmur, but prefers the most turbulent state of liberty to the most peaceful slavery. We cannot, therefore, from the servility of nations already enslaved, judge of the natural disposition of mankind for or against
beforehand what I shall put on the canvas, even less can I decide what colours to use. Whilst I’m working I’m not aware of what I’m painting on the canvas. Each time I begin a picture, I have the feeling of throwing myself into space. I never know whether I’ll land on my feet. It’s only later that I begin to assess the effect of what I’ve done. Picasso has to submit to a vision rather than dominate it. Penrose, discussing the accounts of people who have watched Picasso at work, makes a similar