Mystery, Magic, and Love in Picasso, 1925–1938: Picasso and the Surrealist Poets Microfilms, Ann Arbor, Michigan. Part of the dissertation, in revised and expanded form, will be published by Yale University Press in 1986 under the title Art as a Form of M
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One of the principal revelations of William Rubin’s great Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in 1980 was the section devoted to paintings and sculptures of the early Thirties which celebrated the artist’s mistress of the period, Marie-Thérèse Walter. “Has sheer physical passion ever been made so palpable in paint or bronze?” I wrote in these pages at the time. However, these works are far more than sublime pinups. They have to be seen in the light of Surrealist theories of “convulsive beauty,” of art as something “marvelous” and “magical,” “uncanny” and “hallucinatory”—all of which has been demonstrated by Professor Lydia Gasman in her exhaustive dissertation, “Mystery, Magic, and Love in Picasso, 1925–1938: Picasso and the Surrealist Poets” (1981).
In the last few months we have had further opportunities of seeing l’époque Marie-Thérèse anew in the light of Professor Gasman’s revelations: at the recently opened Musée Picasso in Paris, which is particularly rich in works of this period. Meanwhile, nearer home, William Beadleston, Inc. has put on an exhibition, in New York, “Through the Eye of Picasso, 1928–1934,” 1 consisting of works from the collection of the artist’s granddaughter, Marina, which provide a microcosm of this fascinating period and which confirm that Professor Gasman has shed more light than anyone else not only on l’époque Marie-Thérèse but on the dark depths of Picasso’s psyche.
To understand the full impact of Marie-Thérèse Walter on Picasso’s life and art, we have to go back to the beginning of 1927, when the artist’s marriage to the beautiful but fiercely jealous Olga Koklova (formerly one of Diaghilev’s ballerinas) was foundering, and his one and only attempt at leading a life of fashionable respectability was ending in resentment and rage. Years later, the artist recalled that he was tempted to put a note on his door: “Je ne suis pas un gentleman.” He was fed up, he said, with nice little evenings at the theater followed by nice little dinner parties; fed up with watching an English governess accompany his overprotected son, Paulo, to dancing class in a Hispano-Suiza driven by a liveried chauffeur. (Ironical that Paulo should end up, thirty years later, chauffeuring his father in the very same car.)
In 1927 Picasso was forty-six years old—an age when the démon du midi is apt to strike. Picasso’s demon had been unleashed by André Breton, leader of the Surrealists. In later years the artist played down the role of Surrealism in his art before 1933 (a line that few art historians accept), but he could hardly deny the role that Surrealism played in his life. For a decade or more—mid-Twenties onward—the influence of Breton and his followers was paramount, not least in helping to liberate Picasso from the bourgeois straitjacket that Olga had tried, with some success, to impose on it. Breton’s concepts of sex and love are especially relevant to the works of this period. Concepts such as “l’amour fou,” a love that would detonate the psyche, could best…
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