Picasso and Parade, Making Art during Wartime, Part One

Making Parade (1917)

Pablo Picasso during the Great War

Part One

Pablo Picasso was bored. Paris was empty of the stimulating company he had grown accustomed to. His partner in Cubism, its invention, its evolution and its four year development, Georges Braque, had patriotically enlisted and was fighting in the trenches, using guns instead of paint brushes. His German art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, had been declared an enemy alien, his merchandise, including many works by Picasso himself and Braque, had been sequestered by the French government. Albert Gleizes, not necessarily a good friend, but who was at least a fellow artist, had done his time for his country and had mustered out in 1915, spending the rest of the War in New York, joining Marcel Duchamp in exile. The elder Duchamp, Raymond Duchamp-Villion was also serving as a medic, taking care of the war wounded. Most keenly felt was the absence of his supporter in print, the art writer and poet, Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), who was actually Polish and Russian and rather old for the military at age thirty five, but had patriotically gone to war to fight for France.

Apollinaire had been the center of the pre-war avant-garde, organizing the artists and creating a discourse on their art out of his studio visits and café conversations with them. Now he was in the 38th artillery regiment, handling the big guns, the famed Canon de 75 modèle, invented in 1897. Now he was part of a team of twelve, six men, each with a specific task, and six horses with one job–tow the wheeled gun. Apollinaire reveled in the physicality of the labor and found enough private time to produce a body of war time poetry. “I so love art, he said, “I joined the artillery.” Picasso was not so inspired. While others had sacrificed their art careers for an uncertain future on the battlefields, Picasso remained behind, continuing his own artistic endeavors–alone. His remaining confident, Gertrude Stein, American poet and art collector, received word of his unhappiness about the absence of his companions. “Will it not be awful, when Braque and Derain and all the rest of them put their wooden legs up on a chair and tell about the fighting?” he asked her, not understanding the realities of war at all.

From the perspective of Picasso, a supremely self-centered individual, the list of those absent was too long. It was as if Paris had been emptied out of its fabled art world, leaving Picasso, a citizen of a neutral nation, Spain, in the city, bereft of suitable companionship.To add to his sadness, his most recent lover Eva Gouel (1885-1915) , died in 1915. When she arrived in Paris, Gruel had taken a new name, Marcelle Humbert, but returned to her birth name at Picasso’s instigation. Part of a complex plot of secret affairs, Eva had been a friend of Picasso’ current lover, Fernande Olivier, who was having a clandestine affair on the side with a Futurist painter, Umbaldo Oppi. It is difficult to sort out the complications but according to one account, Fernande asked Eva, the mistress of Marcoussis, to keep her secret. Eva, instead, embarked on her own secret liaison–with Picasso. One of Picasso’s most salient works of pre-war Cubism was Ma Jolie of 1911, in which he sent a coded announcement of his new mistress. Fernande and Picasso predictably went their separate ways, and he wrote to Braque, “Fernande left today with a Futurist painter, what shall I do with the dog?” Once he and Eva moved in together, Picasso began taking Russian lessons from a Baroness Helene d’Oettingen, who demanded a great deal of his time, leaving Eva at home and coughing. When she was admitted to the hospital, where she would die of tuberculous, Picasso visited her by day and entertained himself with a new mistress at night. When she died in mid December of 1915, he wrote to Stein, “My poor Eva is dead.. she was so good to me.”

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Pablo Picasso. Ma Jolie (1911)

Other deaths would follow, but after Eva’s passing, Picasso needed distractions. Without the avant-garde artists within the Cubist circles to compete with, without Braque to collaborate with, he embarked on a new brand of Cubism. This new Cubism, Picasso’s alone, was pure painting, but this phase bore traces of the now discarded experiments with collage and are material acknowledgments of his changed circumstances. First, Kahnweiler was no longer his dealer and, because of the War, the traffic in Cubism flowing east to German clients ended; and, second, once Kahnweiler went into exile in Switzerland, Picasso needed a new dealer to look out for his interests. The problem for Picasso was that many of Kahnweiler’s clients were not French, or to put it another way, there were almost no collectors in France for Cubism in 1915. The Steins had moved on, disliking Picasso’s new works years before the War, leaving Léonce Rosenberg (1879-1947) and André Level (1863-1947) as almost the lone supporters available for Picasso. In their own ways, both men were very significant to the next phase of the artist’s career. It was Level who had masterminded the famous Peau d”Ours auction in the spring of 1914. In this auction, a pre-Cubist work by Picasso fetched the highest price, but the true implication of the event was not that Picasso could be a bankable artist but that avant-garde art itself could be a profitable enterprise. Keeping in mind that Parisian buyers were inherently conservative and historically hostile to Cubism, it appears that Picasso made a decision to tame Cubism for financial reasons. One can deduce the process simply by noting the evolution of his art after Braque went off to war in August of 1914 in terms of what he did not do–mixed media–and what he actually executed–paintings that began to resemble painted collages, large blocks of color offset with stippled textures. In other words, Picasso began doing “Cubism” for prospective collectors and “Picassos” for wary buyers. His experimental period was over, and Picasso would remain cautious about being too avant-garde until he was was well established as a successful artist. One can see his desire to reap the rewards of his years of innovation with an eye as to what prospective buyers would want.

Pablo Picasso in his studio in the Rue Schoelcher 0

Pablo Picasso with Self-Portrait with Portrait of a Man and Roofs of Barcelona at the Rue Schoelcher Studio, Paris (1915-1916)

Indeed, Kahnweiler’s Cubist artists, now “abandoned,” as Rosenberg would have it, were in dire straits, needing to be rescued by a new dealer with deep pockets. Level did not have the funds but Kahnweiler’s only Parisian collector, Léonce Rosenberg, founder of L’Effort moderne, an enterprise dedicated to promoting Cubism, was able to step into the breech and assist Picasso. Although history would consider Léonce a less serious collector compared to his brother, Paul, a prominent art dealer, during the War, his support was pivotal for Picasso and the Cubists. However, it should be stressed that, before the War, the Cubism of Picasso and Braque was available only in Kahnweiler’s now closed gallery, mostly sold east, and thus was more of a rumor than reality to the the Parisians. For this art audience, compared to that of Berlin, the “Cubists” were the Salon Cubists, led by Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, who excelled in a colorful and conservative version of “Cubism” that the traditionalists absolutely hated. Apparently understanding the already formed tastes of the potential clients, whether he wanted to acknowledge them or not, Picasso veered in the direction of the Salon Cubists and it is out of this wartime enterprise that his work for Parade (1917) is to be understood.

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One of the best known works of the wartime oeuvre was Harlequin (1915) clearly indebted to collage, with its large areas of color blocks, the assertive diamond pattern. At first glance, this work is a nod to Picasso’s conservative and acceptable past, the Harlequin paintings of his Rose Period. The now strong and intense colors put him more in line with the Salon Cubists, while Matisse, during this same time, went dark, giving up his former bright colors as if fasting for the War. However, it is also clear that the clown is also the artist, saddened by the end of a productive phase in Picasso’s artistic life and lonely without his “band” of supporters. However ambiguous, the return of the character, Harlequin, would attract another admirer, the poet Jean Cocteau (1889-1963). According the Michael FitzGerald’s Making Modernism. Picasso and the creation the Market for Twentieth-Century Art (1996), Picasso was uncomfortable with being associated with Rosenberg’s Salon Cubists, and Cocteau pulled him towards a more eclectic destiny. Cocteau, like many young French men, served in the military as a medic, a posting that seemed to allow him to continue his work as a theatrical producer during the War. Working with Cubists artists, Albert Gleizes and André Lhote on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a venture that did not take place, Cocteau revealed a willingness to work with avant-garde artists and turned his attentions to Picasso himself. Once he was out of the army in 1916, he joined forces with composer Eric Satie and they imagined a new and thoroughly modern spectacle, Parade, a ballet with American references. In order to make the proposition of a contemporary ballet attractive to the Ballet Russes, Cocteau courted Picasso, who was ripe for new experiences, and pulled him into the ballet project. By the fall of 1916, all the pieces were falling into place, with Serge Diaghilev, approving the group of artists–Léonide Massine, the choreographer, Cocteau, the playwright, Picasso, the costume and set designer, Satie the composer– and their ideas for what would become a Cubist ballet. In a letter, Cocteau noted that Apollinaire was “helping” Picasso, who was moving to a new abode in a suburb of Paris. Picasso was becoming mainstream.

In A Day with Picasso (1986), Billy Klüver described how Parade forced Paris to accept Cubism: “There was a growing acceptance on the Right Bank of the music of Satie..and of the new poetry of Apollinaire and Reverdy, but Right Bank resistance to cubist painting was still strong..” Klüver quoted Cocteau as saying, “A dictatorship hung heavy over Montmartre and Montparnasse. Cubism was going though its austere phase..To paint a stage set for a Russian ballet was a crime..” Klüver continued,

Cocteau in his collaboration with Picasso introduced cubism to the Right Bank in such as way that it could not be ignored. In May 1917, the aristocratic patrons of the Ballet Russes were still not ready to accept the cubist sets and costumes with open arms and Parade created a scandal when it premiered. But the ice was broken, and Parade set the stage for wholesale acceptance of these modern masters after the war..It was through his involvement with Cocteau and Parade that he moved into circles around Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes and into personal contact with the dynamic and influential group around art patrons like Comete Etienne de Beaumont and Mme. Eugénia Errazuziz. They began to acquire his work, and about a year later the quintessential Right Bank dealer Paul Rosenberg began to buy paintings.

This famous ballet, Parade, was described as a “ballet réaliste” by Cocteau and Satie. Short, in comparison to its subsequent fame, twenty minutes of modernity, sandwiched between Les Sylphides, Petrouchka, and Le Soleil de nuit. The company dancers had to switch corporeal and psychological gears from one style of choreography to another. Despite its modern theme, the mood for Parade, a rather antic ballet, was a nostalgic one of lost innocence. The ballet juxtaposed modern corporations and the world created by dull business, especially in modern cities–mainly New York and its emerging skyscrapers–to the unbridled joy and absurdity of the old fashioned circus. As Juliet Bellow pointed out in Modernism on Stage: The Ballets Russes and the Parisian Avant-garde (2013), the characters of the Managers in Parade was analogous to the lecturer for old fashioned slide lecture, speaking in relation to a visual image, explaining its meaning. She wrote,

If reads as film exhibitors or lecturers, Picasso’s Managers further destabilized the relation of reality to representation in Parade. At first glance, these manifestly artificial constructions contest with the “real” (that is non-Cubist) bodies whose performances they announce. But as film exhibitors, the Managers would constitute the live portion of the program, transforming the parade numbers into moving pictures. Without their spoken dialogue, however–which to reiterate, Picasso insisted on removing–the Managers could not securely occupy this role. Moreover, Picasso’s flattening costumes, Satie’s caricatural accompaniment and Massine’s stilted choreography refused any body onstage full presence. Even if the dancers were taken to be live performers (which of course, they were), the artifice foregrounded in this production estranged hem from coherent embodiment. The entire production became a hall of mirrors, a proliferation of corporeal copies that challenged he integrity of the original.

Sitting in the audience opening night, the poet Apollinaire, watched the ballet in amazement and scribbled the new word, “Surrealism,” on his program. The next post will continue the examination of Parade and its layers of realities, so dense that a new term was coined.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

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Cubism and Modernity

CUBISM AND ITS CONTEXT

Perhaps more than any other major art movement of the first half of the Twentieth Century, Cubism is both transitional and Janus-faced in its response to the decades of changes of the Nineteenth Century. On one hand, the Cubist artists shared the unease about the increasing industrialization of their way of life as evidenced by their pre-Cubist fascination with all that was “primitive,” from tribal art, to children’s art, to folk art, to low art in an attempt to relocate a kind of artistic expression that was natural and simple and unsophisticated. On the other hand, these same Cubists were equally fascinated with the brave new world of machine driven objects, cars, airplanes and the modern ocean liner. The Cubists were the generation that will absorb and adjust to the Machine Age and the end of the old ways, accepting the new ways of living. The Eiffel Tower, once hated by Parisians who were used to and preferred Charles Garnier’s Opéra, was greatly admired by a new generation that saw the towering structure as the symbol of everything new and modern. Striding over the city of Paris, the Eiffel Tower nakedly revealed the nature and the “truth” of its materials and its method of construction—a deliberately modern statement of all that was new.

The Eiffel Tower is the nineteenth century to the twentieth century with the rational materialism of its skeletal construction, with no skin or covering, no ornamentation or disguise. Now iconic, the Tower rises over Paris aloof in its engineered self-sufficiency. Like the machine, Gustave Eiffel’s design is eminently logical, the product of scientific and abstract thought. The scientific approach to the questions of knowledge is marked by an absence of spirituality and this totally material perspective brought about a new age. The visual culture needed a new art to reflect the new modern era, characterized by an acknowledgment of change and a desire of change. The previous static view of the universe and the assumption of a continuance of tradition and of a social and political stability were perhaps suitable for the period of the Renaissance and the consequent development of monocular perspective for the arts. But the modern world needed to devise a modern form of vision.

Perhaps because of the desire to create an appropriately modern “look,” the new artists of the twentieth century would be more concerned with the more formal aspects of art–its appearance and its mode of production–than with subject matter. Inspired by machines, process begins to take center stage, for it was the process of manufacturing that changed the culture from one of handicraft to that of prefabrication of component parts that could be integrated into a larger design system or constructed pattern. Industrial culture is a gear and girder world, a world that is visually accessible, where all is open to view and the design of each element is obvious.

The assembly and internal workings are laid bare, stressing the process of assembly and demanding that the viewer notice the design and to acknowledge the realities of the fact of making and construction. The early decades of the Twentieth Century produced numerous art movements that recast nature itself in the role of engineer and provided the artist with the new role of industrial designer. Art became technological in that it reflected the perceptual values of industrialization. In this radically new conception of art, art is the machine that obeys the laws of design and making, a machine with a sound structure and efficiency where there are no unnecessary parts.

As an art movement, Cubism was part of larger cultural forces that included industrialization; however, the major artistic influence for the new artists of the new century was an older artist, who had recently died: Paul Cézanne. Cézanne questioned the five hundred year old assumption established in the Renaissance that the role of art was to replicate reality and that the role of the artist was to render this reality as accurately and as believably as possible. The painters during and after the Renaissance had established and developed a new visual vocabulary, a new language, which supposedly mimicked the real world. The space and depth of reality was rendered as perspective, and volumes were rendered as chiaroscuro.

Like Cubism, the language of the Renaissance was linked to a wider change in society—the shift from the spiritual to the worldly. The artistic tricks and painterly illusions of the Renaissance formed a language that was secular in that it measured the literal world and scientific in that it sought to explain and describe the world in an empirical fashion. This system assumed a monocular and fixed vision from a viewer standing in one space with one point in time. The flat picture plane disappeared in favor of the illusion of a window on the world, hovering just beyond the glass surface.

Cézanne questioned the assumption that the language of the Renaissance replicated the real world. Vision was far more complex, taking place over continuous periods of time and within in a space which allowed free and mobile movement. Cézanne’s Post-Impressionist works attempted to knit together the foreground and background, creating a spatial oscillation in contrast to the Renaissance steady and uninterrupted drift into horizontal depth. Cézanne created a near reverse effect by canceling the horizontal movement of perspective in favor of a planar verticality. Cézanne’s picture, as a painting, as a composition, as subject matter, rises from the bottom to top, covering the surface with a compositional grid. Cézanne’s grid was composed of lines and reiterated colors and an overlay of identical repeated brushstrokes, diagonal hatch marks.

Depth, Cézanne’s works seemed to be saying, is a learned pictorial language. But vision, natural vision, only sees but does not know and is not the product of learning. Natural vision is the product of experience. As though reacting to the actual experience of mobile vision, Cézanne’s lines became separated from the objects depicted, hovering tentatively about their colored edges. Color, now freed from description, could travel across the surface, regardless of object. Both line and color are increasingly freed to establish a linear rhythm keyed to the underlying grid and to unite all areas of the painting into a holistic statement of consistent color and paint marks, equally distributed, equally constructed, equally intense.

The result is an all-over evenness working against scene, object, and subject and towards a surface pattern. Subject matter becomes neutral landscapes and still lives that were mere pretext for formal investigations and the exploration of artistic questions about vision. The Cubists investigated the implications of Cézanne’s questioning of the nature of vision in relation to the nature of knowledge. It is interesting to note that, for the most part, after 1910, many Cubists avoided landscape, a painting problem demanding an answer to Renaissance perspective, an answer the young painters found it difficult to come up with.

Cézanne had solved the problem of depth by eliminating it—by developing large areas of strong colors with a visual weight that corresponded to near and far objects. He also “knitted” the canvas together with slanted brush strokes and with a passage of colors moving up and down the canvas. The result was a fusion or union of paint and color that stood in for what the artist saw, not what he knew—that depth existed between objects. The complicated conclusion that Cézanne arrive at was to paint shapes and forms and colors and light that also took the flicker of light over time and the movement of the body through space. The result was arranged on an underlying grid that stabilized the composition in a traditional “classical” manner.

The Salon Cubists, such as Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, responded to Cézanne’s grid and to his suggestion that vision was mobile and, thus, destabilized forms. But these Salon Cubists were reluctant to shatter to shapes, perhaps because they concentrated on the human form. In contrast, Picasso and Braque concentrated on the logical development of Cézanne’s repositioning of vision as a mobile and constant activity roaming across the plane of the canvas, using the studio still life as their starting point. Less wedded to the figure, especially after 1911, this duo felt free to follow the rational process of taking form apart and reducing its component parts to uniform shapes, or “little cubes.” The result was two kinds of Cubism: one conservative and one radical, one traditional and one modern.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]