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Pablo Picasso The Old Guitarist Essay Scholarships

Occasionally the main characters meet: in the astounding drawing "Murder" of 1934, a fleshy version of Olga's "screaming head," now equipped with giant rotting teeth and pinwheel arms, plunges a butcher knife into a sketchier victim who has the rounded tell-tale profile of Marie-Therese. Needless to say, the implications of biography are so heavy in the air here that one can almost hear screenplays and story treatments chugging out of fax machines all over Hollywood.

For anyone deeply interested in painting, this show is a fascinating exegesis on the medium's ways and means, a series of themes and variations -- and more variations -- based on the female body and face. It is also an invaluable commentary on form following feeling, which highlights Picasso's powers of invention and reinvention. And surreptitiousness: in "Guitar Hanging on a Wall" (1927) he covertly acknowledges his new relationship with Marie-Therese by showing her shadowlike profile surveying their linked initials, with hers being arranged to suggest a body with open legs.

There are a few instances of startling ineptness, like the awkward forms and heavy-handed surface of "Bust of a Woman," in which a screaming head appears to bite a black, Malevichian painting. More frequent are moments of blissful beauty: a small painting of Marie-Therese in which her weightless lavender body is dotted with colored circles that may be the most delectable spinning spheres in painting since van Gogh's "Starry Night." And from 1937 and '38, when Picasso was dividing his time between Dora Maar and Marie-Therese, there is a series of images of the latter depicted in the angular style usually reserved for the former.

Best of all are the images that form the core of the show: the drawings and paintings of weeping women that were a byproduct of Picasso's studies for "Guernica." In her essay, Ms. Freeman meticulously delineates the various signs and devices Picasso developed to convey human features under stress. Prominent among these are eyes shaped like teardrops, storm-tossed boats or liquid-spilling saucers; tears that hang from eyes like long nails or narrow cascading waterfalls. Nostrils, ears, tongues, teeth, fingers, fingernails and even handkerchiefs: every detail is manipulated to maximum effect, usually to convey double meanings, always to give the convulsions of grief an almost architectural grandeur and an emotional reality beyond realism.

Finally, for Picasso aficianados, both professional and amateur, this show has inside baseball to die for, most of it hiding in plain sight. As much as Picasso himself, its inadvertent subject is the conflict between the old and the new guard of Picasso scholarship. If one takes the time to read Ms. Freeman's essay and compare it with the works and wall texts in the show, one discovers a substantial discrepancy between her thoughts about Picasso and the thoughts of William S. Lieberman, chairman of the Metropolitan's 20th-century department and a veteran of many Picasso projects and exhibitions, who enlarged and reshaped this show for its Met appearance.

(Mr. Lieberman seems to have other disagreements as well. Picasso's 1923 "Woman in White," displayed just outside the entrance to the exhibition, is listed in its brochure under the heading "Prologue: Olga Picasso," despite a recent article by the art historian William Rubin arguing that the painting is a portrait of the 1920's socialite Sara Murphy.)

It is difficult to assess what Ms. Freeman's show accomplished in its original version, especially since the publication that accompanies the show is more a freestanding book than a catalogue and reproduces about 135 Picassos, of which only 40 were actually shown in Los Angeles. But her essay clearly intends to set Picasso's motif of the weeping woman against a backdrop that extends beyond the confines of love, infidelity and individual personality.

Her thesis, while not entirely new, is that Picasso's images of weeping women were not inspired by the anguish he caused Marie-Therese or Dora Maar, but by his own anguish about the Spanish Civil War and its slaughter of innocent civilians. This approach makes the victimization of women less completely central to Picasso's greatness, and places that greatness in a less isolated, more historical context. (Ms. Freeman also reproduces works made by Julio Gonzalez and Joan Miro for the Spanish Pavilion that involved the motif of women in distress.)

Also implicit in Ms. Freeman's treatment is the possibility that the tragedy of the war, especially after the bombing of Guernica, moved Picasso to create an image of female suffering that was deeper and more sympathetic and humane than the animalistic screaming head of Olga, one that he blended with the features of Dora Maar and Marie-Therese.

Mr. Lieberman has more than doubled the number of works exhibited, often by adding rather conventionally realistic prints or drawings of Picasso's wife and mistresses. Some additions are simply eccentric, if not a bit malicious. He opens the show with "Woman's Arm," a little-known sculpture of a clenched fist that Picasso made in 1951 and, more bizarrely, ends it with a 1962 linocut of Jacqueline Picasso, as if to remind us of the last weeping woman in Picasso's life. More interesting are the additions of two dark paintings of Dora Maar from 1942, in which abstracted animalistic features recall Olga's screaming head and suggest that the humanizing effect that began with the studies for "Guernica" did not last.

Mr. Lieberman's additions give us more to look at, but they also tend to soften and blur the show's focus, diminishing the prominence of the weeping-women images and reinstating the more conventional lover-by-lover treatment that Ms. Freeman wants to revise. Still, it's hard to complain too energetically. Together, Ms. Freeman's book and Mr. Lieberman's version of her show form a kind of two-for-one bargain that, in the end, gives everyone more to think about, adding a note of curatorial tension that is not out of place in this dramatic exhibition.

"Picasso and the Weeping Women: The Years of Marie-Therese Walter and Dora Maar" remains at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, through Sept. 4. It is sponsored by Paine Webber.

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Analysis: Pablo Picasso The Old Guitarist, 1903

By on 02 Mar 2018

The Old Guitarist was created by Pablo Picasso in 1903 while he was living in Spain during what would be later referred to as his Blue Period. This period was hallmarked by almost universal use of a monochromatic blue palette, somber and dismal subjects and an overall impoverished tone. Picasso’s Blue Period is said to have begun with the suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas in 1901, but the timeline is not exact. Much has been written about The Old Guitarist, 1903 as it stands out as one of the most gut-wrenching portraits that Picasso has completed.

The Old Guitarist, 1903 is painted with the typical monochromatic blue palette, with the notable exception of the guitar, which is rendered in a warmer, brown color. This difference in coloration makes it a focal point of the piece and has led to much theorizing.

The wrought figure of the guitarist huddles and curls around his guitar, making him look cramped within the frame of the canvas. Shadows on his face and limbs make him appear gaunt, and starved. The guitar – the only point of warmth in the painting – carries the only sense of hopefulness to be found. Perhaps this guitarist can at least hold onto his form of art in a dark time. It has been said that Picasso saw himself in this guitarist, holding onto his painting during a dark time in his life.

Other influences are noticeable in The Old Guitarist, 1903. El Greco, a Spanish Old Master, is known for his elongated limbs and uncomfortably angular bodies and faces. Picasso takes inspiration from El Greco with the body of his guitarist. Others have pointed out that the eyes of the guitarist are closed, perhaps implying that he was blind. The Symbolist Movement, occurring simultaneously, often used the symbology of a blind person who had inner, divine sight. Picasso may be appropriating and using that movement in his painting.

Read more about Picasso, his printing methods, and his other famous works here:

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