Monday, 28 November 2016

'Cubism and War: The Crystal in the Flame' at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona

On my trip to Barcelona last week I popped in to the Picasso Museum to see the new exhibition, 'Cubism and War: The Crystal in the Flame' featuring works during the First World War. It was made up of works by artists in Paris who, for one reason or another, were unable to enlist to fight and so, rather than report on the war. chose to continue experimenting with the Cubist art that had been developed in the year running up to the outbreak of war.

It's quite a small exhibition with a room for each to eh war years and includes a wide variety of works from artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Diego Rivera, Juan Gris, Maria Blanchard, Braque and Fernand Leger as well as others. Some seemed to move deeper into Cubism while others left the movement as the war continued.

The first painting that drew me in was Matisse's 'Flowers and Ceramic Plate' from 1913, pulling at my eyes to sink into the gorgeous colours and shapes on the canvas.  There were only five or six paintings in this first, pre-war room, showing that experimentation was alive and kicking and driving forward their art, and this painting epitomised that for me.

It's a strange still life with a base of blue that draws you into it as you gaze. It's not terribly carefully painted and the paint is quite roughly applied in places but, as a whole, it works in a quite marvellous way. I wonder what those flowers smelled like?

I don't think I've ever seen any paintings by Diego Rivera, who I think of as Frida Kahlo's husband, so it was nice to see some of his works. The painting that most attracted my attention was called 'Maternity' (although it seems to have different names on that theme) that shows a mother and child (so could be quite religious as well as the more clinical 'maternity' title).

I think one of the things that attracted me to this painting is the hairy leg of the mother that made me think of Frida Kahlo even though this was painted years before the pair met and married. It's clearly a woman with a babe in her lap cut up, sliced up, into flat planes and stitched together with colour and a hint of a rocking movement. I actually liked the Diego Rivera paintings that were part of this exhibition and he's someone I ought to look at in other ways other than as Frida's husband. Based on these paintings, he was the one who first returned to realism after his Cubist period.

A Picasso painting that caught my interest was 'Still Life with Compote and Glass' from 1914-15 with it's planes of dots as well as trying to show a table top from all directions at once. It's a very 'clean' composition that shows fruit and a glass bowl on top of a side table. I puzzled over the dotted planes seemingly randomly thrown around the painting as they are in a few others in the exhibition (such as "Man in Front of a Chimney-Piece'). I can't recall seeing this in other Picasso paintings - maybe it's an expression of his frustration with the war?

I'll finish with another Picasso painting since this exhibition is, after all, in a museum that bears his name. This is 'Columbus Avenue' from 1917 and, appropriately enough, is set in Barcelona. It's a painting of the view from his window overlooking the Columbus statue pointing west towards the Americas. It's quite appropriate to end with this painting since the statue is still there and my taxi whizzed round the base of the column on my way into Barcelona a few days earlier.

Picasso has largely moved away from his pre-war Cubism and is celebrating his nationalism as a son of Barcelona. The colours are really attractive and this is one of the paintings available on all of the merch in the shop. The Picasso Museum has a great shop but charging €37 for the catalogue is a bit steep considering how small the exhibition is. At least they have the grace to offer a postcard of the gorgeous Matisse that kicks off the exhibition in the first room.

I enjoyed the exhibition for what it is and there were some quite touching explanatory notes in a room full of war photos of the trenches and ruined villages that served to remind us of the war 100 years ago. As ever, there were queues outside to get in (the name 'Picasso' has a certain monetary value) so buy a ticket online if you plan to go, then you can walk straight in. I did. 

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