The Fallen Angel?


Pablo Picasso’s reputation as a dominant figure in twentieth-century art is unparalleled, fed by an extraordinarily diverse body of criticism that began in his early youth and continues unabated today. Throughout the century his work has attracted numerous champions as well as critics. When he was undisputed leader of the avant-garde, everyone wanted him on their team, from modernists, neoclassicists, and Surrealists to Communists. More recently he has been both claimed as an anarchist hero (by Patricia Leighten in Re-Ordering the Universe1 ) and demonized by feminists and popular writers such as Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington (Picasso: Creator and Destroyer2 ), as well as in a movie, James Ivory’s Surviving Picasso (1996).

In her recent book The Picasso Papers, Rosalind Krauss has added a new variation to the legend: Picasso as the fallen angel. She regards his cubist collages—papiers collés—executed between 1912 and 1914 as the defining moment of a new system of meaningful signs, the crowning achievement of modernism; but she accuses him of turning his back on modernism after World War I in favor of “neoclassicism,” for her an uninspired, imitative art based upon “pastiche,” or borrowings from the past, which included such works as his drawings Sisley and His Wife, after Renoir (1919) and Sleeping Peasants (1919). She writes:

The period up to 1914 represents a triumphant development of the cubist logic, which with the advent of collage increasingly fashions a visual sign free to circulate within pictorial space, independent of any fixed referent, and thus wholly inconvertible: a signifier-as-token, indeed, in free play. This is the modernist, “true” Picasso. But the postwar period, so significantly announced by the Rosenberg exhibition [1919], is not only a return to the gold standard of visual naturalism. To the extent that this return via the imitation of a range of “classical” artists, from Poussin to Ingres to late Renoir, is conducted under the banner of pastiche, it has branded onto its very surface, as it were, the mark of its own fraudulence. Here is Picasso as counterfeiter, his act a blatant betrayal of the modernist project.

To account for Picasso’s alleged about-turn, Krauss, who has attacked the biographical approach to art,3 looks to developments in the psyche of the artist and argues, on the basis of Freudian theory, that “reaction formation,” in which “prohibited desires are turned into their opposite,” was responsible for his rejection of modernism. Her book is argued with great subtlety, but it is based on a number of false premises: it implies that there was a clear-cut break between Picasso’s cubist and classicizing work; it creates a false opposition between these approaches rather than appreciating their parallel development; and it alleges that Picasso’s artistic choices are to be explained by a psychological “structure of duplicity,” for which she offers no convincing evidence.

The years in which the fall of this Lucifer took place, between 1915 and 1919, have remained somewhat glossed over in the Picasso literature—including Krauss’s book—because they do not fit neatly into the division of the artist’s work into “periods.” Indeed, the works and events of the war years, in which Picasso continued to wrestle with fundamental artistic issues of representation, remained obscure until the publication of John Richardson’s A Life of Picasso, Volume II.4 Richardson’s careful, documented account of the artist’s personal and artistic activities during the war years has filled in a large gap in our knowledge of the man and the development of his art.

Our understanding of Picasso’s work has also been changed by the discovery that he took a great interest in photography. Picasso himself remained secretive during his lifetime about both his own activities as a photographer and the part that photography played in his art. Nonetheless, since 1994 Anne Baldassari’s work on photographic documentation in the Picasso Archives5 has compelled art historians to rethink the genesis of such central paintings in the history of modernism as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 (The Museum of Modern Art, New York). It is clear that in this brothel scene and in the paintings and drawings that led up to and succeeded it, the series of photographs of half-naked Senegalese girls by Edmond Fortier that Picasso owned were as important to his conception as his references to tribal sculpture, the prostitute drawings of Constantin Guys, or the apocalyptic figures of El Greco.

Krauss is right to question some of the conclusions drawn by Baldassari about the use that Picasso made of his own photographs, especially the suggestion that Picasso’s collages themselves are indebted to the photograph’s automatic power to synthesize images. However, one cannot doubt the importance that photography had for Picasso. He was fascinated by its possibilities, although there is no reason to believe that he felt more threatened by them (as Krauss suggests) than he did by any other method of representation by previous artists that he encountered and wanted to absorb into his own practice. In 1909 he experimented with double exposures to consider the effect of multiple views in single compositions; later, in 1913, he photographed his own constructions and still-life setups in his studio.

Not only did these particular photographs serve as records of work in progress, but in some of them he actually made marks—indicating the intersection of angles, for instance—on the photographs themselves. These corresponded to objects and to the two-dimensional relationships of objects in the photographic prints. (See illustration on this page.) The same marks correspond to “signs” in cubist paintings and in the papiers collés, to which the title of Krauss’s book refers, that Picasso produced in the two or three years before the war.

The revolutionary nature of Picasso and Braque’s cubism and especially of the papiers collés—the collages incorporated pasted-on pieces of paper, including newsprint, wallpaper, and colored papers, and actual as well as imitated mechanical textures—lies in a new means of representation, in which the thing represented can be indicated, for example, by an aspect of its form, such as a curve (of a bottle or a face), the space it occupies (indicated by its shadow), or, in the specific case of collage, even the thing itself, such as a scrap of newspaper. That all of the component elements could also stand for something else—the same piece of newspaper could function as a label or even be cut in the shape of a glass—expanded the possibilities of representation.

In 1912-1913, Picasso also developed similar ideas in three-dimensional constructions in which he made new objects by assembling pieces of cut metal, rope, wood, and artifacts such as spoons or tin cans and combining them with various painterly and/or sculptural techniques. As with the papiers collés, the actual objects and textures used in the constructions could function in a variety of ways. In the case of color, for instance, the association with the things that particular colors would normally describe became in some works secondary, if not unnecessary. An area of colored dots in a construction or a painting could refer to a plane of light which was divided into its chromatic components or, equally, to the mechanical tints used in printed illustration or to commercially produced wallpaper.

Picasso was continually investigating ways of dealing with the artistic problem of representation, and how different approaches could be combined in his art. In 1914 he took up the challenge of juxtaposing a traditional representational style—what has sometimes been called his Ingresque line—with the analytical approach to objects that is basic to cubism. In a series of drawings of a seated man which he began in the spring of 1914 and continued over the next eighteen months, we can recognize an artistic experiment in which Picasso made reference to different representational systems or sources. In addition to Ingres, he refers to Cézanne, whose paintings he had just seen exhibited in Paris. He evidently also drew on photographs he owned of seated or standing men taken by the Turkish photographers Abdullah Frères, which bear striking resemblance to certain of his drawings. One can even detect the presence of identifiable models, including the Basque painter Iturrino, who visited Picasso in the summer of 1914. All these drawings are ignored by Krauss. Yet they suggest that Picasso was probing the implications of bringing together different systems of representation, either by combining them or, as is the case with a series of drawings done in a 1915 sketchbook, by overlaying one naturalistic system with a different one, based upon geometric analysis. (See illustration on page 20.)

During the first years of the war Picasso remained in Paris and cubism continued to underlie the structure of his work. Among the paintings that preoccupied him was the large Harlequin (The Museum of Modern Art, New York), which was finished in Paris at the end of 1915. Both the bold construction of the Harlequin, in which the figure, objects, and space are handled as broad planes of color against a somber background, and its simplified palette represent a new departure in scale and mood from Picasso’s pre-war compositions. While this painting appears in surveys of his art, historians and biographers have usually emphasized its meaning as an expression of personal grief, since it was done at the time that Picasso’s mistress Eva Gouel was dying.6 But the main importance of this work surely lies not in the emotional situation in which it was painted but in the way in which it anticipates the scale and spatial considerations of some of Picasso’s “neoclassical” paintings of monumental nudes or the superb still life Table, Guitar, Bottle of 1919 (Smith College Museum of Art).

The other major wartime cubist painting, a huge Seated Man, which underwent a significant metamorphosis, commented upon by various witnesses while it was being painted in 1915 and 1916, has been until recently7 almost completely neglected in discussions of the artist’s work. (See illustration on page 21.) Krauss does not mention it. It is true that it has remained in private hands since it was first sold just after it was completed in late 1916, but Picasso himself singled it out as a work of importance in a series of photographs that he took of himself in front of the painting at various stages of its development. Although these black-and-white photographs have been reproduced, and the painting was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s great Picasso retrospective exhibition of 1981, the canvas has remained something of a mystery. The unraveling of the processes involved in this many-layered composition has much to reveal about the artist’s preoccupations during the war with different systems of representation and different influences. These include cubism as it had developed in the Harlequin, and also in his series of drawings and prints of a seated man, as well as in his other wartime work, particularly a group of large-scale still lifes and guitar players done in 1916. He also drew on some unexpected visual sources, including the cinema and photographic images of skyscrapers.

Some historians and critics, such as Kenneth Silver,8 have suggested that Picasso, who chose not to volunteer for military service during World War I but stayed in Paris, turned away from cubism to escape criticism. Cubism, as an art of the avant-garde, was regarded during the war, especially among French “patriots,” as art boche, somehow connected with German intellectual and political ideas. The cubists were even implicated in the absurd scare, just after the outbreak of war, caused by rumors that serial numbers on billboards for Kub bouillon cubes were coded messages to the enemy.9 By shifting to classicizing forms and subjects, the argument goes, Picasso wanted to distance himself from cubism and instead align himself with values associated with Mediterranean tradition. This interpretation not only fails to take into account Picasso’s continuing exploration of cubist language in paintings such as the Seated Man but also his public identification with cubism during the war. In 1916 he first exhibited Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (of 1907) at the Salon d’Antin in Montparnasse, and in the following year he took part in the scandalous production of Parade at the Théâtre du Châtelet, for which his costumes were a new development in cubist construction.

Picasso’s association with the Ballets Russes and his trip with the company to Italy in 1917 also gave rise to the myth that he started the war as a cubist but emerged as a neoclassicist, partly because he was drawn by Jean Cocteau into the Parisian social world frequented by the ballet and Diaghilev during the war. Some of the artist’s enemies perceived these associations as a sellout. But while it is true that Picasso enjoyed the patronage of Diaghilev’s circle and that his material circumstances improved, in his art he characteristically turned to his own advantage the opportunity to work in a new setting. Indeed, in the case of Parade, Picasso and the composer Erik Satie did their best to outflank Cocteau’s gimmicky ideas and transform the production into a serious artistic enterprise. When it came to Tricorne, on which he collaborated with Léonide Massine, Manuel de Falla, and Diaghilev in 1919, Picasso’s approach to costume design was to animate cubism by treating the costumes and sets as if they were a large-scale part-traditional, part-cubist composition incorporating actual movement. Far from pleasing the crowd, the costumes upset the critics, one of whom complained of the

insistence of those noisy dresses, dresses that never seemed to move with the wearers or answer the changing curves of their bodies, that looked as if they were cut in cardboard, harshly barred and rayed, with all their contours heavily outlined in black. One or two of such queer garments might have been forgiven, but multiplied to ten or twenty, they become merely ugly.10

For Krauss the Picasso of 1919 is revealed in the exhibition mounted by his new dealer Paul Rosenberg. This show, the art historian Michael FitzGerald writes,

did not include any of the Cubist paintings [Rosenberg] had bought from Picasso over the previous year and a half, but it did highlight Picasso’s remarkable production since their association began. It consisted entirely of drawings and watercolors…organized by subject in the catalogue:…Harlequins and Pierrots, Scenes of the Bullfight and Circus, Dancers, Windows at Saint-Raphaël…and, finally, three drawings after Ingres and Renoir.11

Krauss falls back on the old view that Picasso’s art had changed because of a failure of nerve. She attributes this change principally to his character rather than to either the political situation or his work on the ballet, and suggests that neoclassicism—an art based upon “visual naturalism” and imitation or “pastiche”—simply replaced revolutionary cubism. In this way she counterposes to the “modernist purity” of the papiers collés what she indiscriminately groups together as Picasso’s postwar neoclassicism—“its counterfeit Other.”

Krauss sees a parallel here with the neoclassical work of Stravinsky and cites Theodor Adorno’s attack on Stravinsky for “retaining tonality” in no matter how “mutilated” a form, in contrast to Schoenberg’s heroic pioneering of his new twelve-tone system. Stravinsky, she writes, composed a “borrowed music of the pastiche,” a music that amounts to a “fake modernism, which is nothing but a betrayal of real modernist procedures.” But Krauss simply accepts Adorno’s critical distinctions without any serious analysis of his claims about the twelve-tone system; and she accepts his denunciation of Stravinsky, ignoring both Stravinsky’s innovations and Schoenberg’s own reliance on classical models.

Charles Rosen, in his book on Schoenberg,12 gives a quite different, and more illuminating, view of the two composers’ parallel approach to the disappearance of the traditional language of tonality. He points out that Stravinsky’s “great neoclassical works of the 1920s and 1930s…use and exploit the elements of tonality according to an elegant set of new rules,” while Schoenberg’s invention of serialism “was specifically a move to resurrect an old classicism as well as make a new one possible.” Adorno’s dialectical method—and a distaste for Stravinsky’s music as great as his admiration of Schoenberg’s—required him to contrast the two composers rather than see the similarities in their different approaches. For Krauss flatly to compare the neoclassical Stravinsky with the neoclassical Picasso in order to suggest that Picasso betrayed his cubist work seems particularly odd as well as unconvincing.

Krauss also draws upon André Gide’s The Counterfeiters, first published in France in 1925, for a literary analogy for the idea of the counterfeit in art, and she uses the metaphor of money to tie together her various chapters, beginning with the introduction, “A Penny for Picasso,”13 and ending with “Dime Novels.” Taking the coin as a “sign” whose meaning can be elucidated, she wants to set, on the one hand, the “semiotic gold” Picasso struck with his use of newsprint in the papiers collés against, on the other, his alleged betrayal during the postwar neoclassical period—his “expensive mining of past art in service to the laws of pastiche.”

In Gide’s story of counterfeit and betrayal, in which fake coins are put into circulation as if they were gold, the worthless false coins have glass (ironically, a pure material of a different kind) at their core. While Gide was writing, the gold standard was abandoned (it was suspended during World War I), and thus the intrinsic value of the coin had changed. What we are left with, then, according to Krauss, is an abstract sign. Here Krauss draws an analogy with aesthetic modernism, which she argues reached its highest point by achieving a kind of purity, just at the time that gold was about to be replaced by paper, itself an abstract sign. In art, Krauss observes, when the connection between a representation (in either words or images) and the thing to which it refers in reality (its referent) is severed, the result is that signs (like token money) “circulate through an abstract field of relationships.”

Building on her notion of freely circulating signs, Krauss describes a group of collages that were completed in the autumn and winter of 1912- 1913, and she analyzes with great precision the various procedures and materials employed by Picasso to create them. With its frequent allusions to Saussure and structural linguistics, her eloquent analysis of the different levels of interpretation is dazzling. Newspaper cuttings, she writes, can be seen as compositional devices to create or to make ambiguous space, volume, and form; they can also figure in a collage as a news story, a bottle label, a texture resembling scumbled paint, or an allusion to conversation around a café table, or to the voice of a poet or even that of the artist himself, suggesting that Picasso’s selection of a particular news item was made for a specific reason. For Krauss the inclusion of headlines from the Balkan war gives some credence to the interpretation that Picasso had strong political interests, but she is careful to dismiss the unsubstantiated claims that he was driven by his anarchist sympathies.14 When the collage evokes the presence of a woman—through the use of a lingerie box lid—Krauss infers that this is an allusion to Picasso’s girlfriend Fernande Olivier, whom she takes every opportunity to dismiss as frivolous, especially because in her memoirs Olivier failed to take an interest in cubism.

That there was a rupture in Picasso’s artistic development is critical to Krauss’s argument, as has been said, but just when it actually occurred she leaves somewhat open. She suggests that neoclassicism and cubism were regarded by critics and other observers as, stylistically, in opposition to each other. She also cites the painter Robert Delaunay’s view, expressed in 1923, that Picasso’s cubism itself was just another of his imitative periods, including “…Renoir, Ingres,…Puvis de Chavannes, neo-Italian…,” as proof of the artist’s lack of seriousness and sureness. This may have been the view of some observers, including the competitive Delaunay, but Krauss fails to consider the fact that others saw cubism, with its emphasis on rigorous form, as part of a “new” classicism, which was a fundamental element of many aspects of modernism.

The tendency toward classicism in the first quarter of the century is far more pervasive and complex than many modernists have been willing to acknowledge; and, as we have seen, Krauss’s polemical contrast between the “true” cubist Picasso and the “counterfeiter” of the postwar period obscures the shades of difference among various works as much as it denies parallels and resemblances. As had happened in past periods in which classical ideas were influential, early- twentieth-century artists in every medium felt the need for greater rigor in their work. Many thought that ornament, romance, symbolism were burying “pure” art. But the forms of classicism were extremely various.15 The genius and traditions of Mediterranean culture were an important theme in Spain, southern France, and Italy, and painters and sculptors looked to ancient art for inspiration: in Picasso’s case, he was especially drawn both to archaic sculpture and to the art of Pompeii. In its Catalan incarnation, Noucentisme (“1900s art”), the cultural movement that promoted Mediterraneanism as a foundation for art of the new century, included not only the work of the sculptor Maillol and his followers but also Picasso’s cubism. Apollinaire’s Catalan disciple Josep Junoy, writing in 1912, saw in cubism’s emphasis on form and structure and its reference to Cézanne an art that fulfilled the aims of a new classicism.

When Picasso arrived with the Ballets Russes in Barcelona in 1917, the direction that Noucentisme had taken in the arts extended not only to the Cézanne-inspired, arcadian compositions of painters such as Jaume Sunyer or the Iberian-inspired sculptures of Enric Casanovas but also to an emerging avant-garde, among the most forward-looking of whom was the young Joan Miró. The presence in Barcelona of foreign artists fleeing the war, including the Delaunays and Francis Picabia, had brought local artists into direct contact with their work. Moreover, Catalan publications such as Junoy’s Troços and Arc Voltaic, edited by Joan Salvat Papasseit (and for which Miró contributed a cover in February 1918), had affinities with pre-war Paris publications, particularly in their commitment to vanguard poetry and experimental typography inspired by Apollinaire’s calligrams.

Picasso was intrigued by the noucentista movement and outdid the local artists by producing his own noucentista paintings, such as his Harlequin of 1917 (Museu Picasso, Barcelona), which refers to Léonide Massine and in which the classicizing, sculptural head and hands are combined with a flattened body, defined by the thinly painted segmented costume and the space around it. In contrast to the degeneration into pastiche represented by the subsequent work of Sunyer and many of the other Catalans, however, Picasso’s 1917 Harlequin and other works done in Barcelona that year anticipate his nudes of the following years, whose monumentality is often conveyed not by conventional “imitative” means but by a similar expressive exaggeration of limbs in volume and size.


Krauss does not consider Picasso’s wartime work in any depth, apart from recounting Cocteau’s involvement with it.16 Instead she moves ahead to Picasso’s big 1919 exhibition of works on paper at Paul Rosenberg’s gallery,17 which Michael FitzGerald has argued was conceived by the dealer to introduce a “worldly Picasso”—with “Harlequins and Pierrots…and drawings after Ingres and Renoir”—to the postwar art world and was presumably calculated to convince prospective buyers that the artist had left his bohemian reputation behind him.

Although a number of critics praised the show at the time, including André Salmon in the catalog essay, Krauss has chosen the German collector Wilhelm Uhde’s retrospective testimony (1928) to suggest how badly—as a “ghastly betrayal of cubism”—the 1919 exhibition was received. Here Krauss seems unaware that Uhde, who had indeed championed Picasso’s cubism before the war, felt excluded from the artist’s inner circle—if not betrayed since he was no longer directly involved—after he was compelled to return to Germany. His views were also colored by the fact that his own collection, including cubist paintings, had been sequestered by the French during the war and subsequently sold. Although in his book he, like Krauss after him, claimed to have recognized the advanced qualities of the pre-war papiers collés, the rest of his argument is less convincing because of his determination, which Krauss also seems unaware of, to see the pure cubist Picasso—along with Douanier Rousseau and Marie Laurencin—as a modern equivalent of the German gothic spirit.

While Krauss generally rejects linking any discussion of artistic practice to biography, the explanation she proposes for Picasso’s postwar artistic activity is based on psychopathology, and for evidence she relies on the recollections of Françoise Gilot, who, like Fernande Olivier before her, wrote a book of memoirs about the years she shared with Picasso.18 From Gilot’s observations about such matters as Picasso’s fear of death and his superstitions about personal habits or possessions, Krauss concludes that he was ridden with anxiety. Using a psychoanalytic model, she maintains that the Freudian process of “reaction formation” accounts for Picasso’s artistic use of pastiche. Like Gide’s coin, this, she writes, is a dialectical process based on the idea that prohibited desires are actually turned into their opposites by the anxious sufferer—“anal eroticism converted, for example, into obsessional cleanliness or conscientiousness”—thereby warding off any danger that might come from the prohibition itself or from the covert continuing enactment of that which is prohibited. So in turning to neoclassicism, Picasso was responding to his own anxiety (evidence for which Krauss finds in Gilot’s Life with Picasso) and to the internal threat caused by the fact that, in Krauss’s view, Picabia had usurped the avant-garde high ground.

As with her citation of Adorno’s attack on Stravinsky to promote his heroic view of Schoenberg, Krauss invokes Freud’s theory as if its truth were established, quoting it at length and then attempting to apply it to Picasso (solely, it might be added, on secondary evidence). Reaction formation is one of the weakest links in Freud’s theory of personal development—a convenient means to account for one pattern of behavior or its opposite—and was devised to reinforce the concepts of repression and sublimation. Krauss seems unaware of, or unwilling to consider, serious criticism of Freud’s theories, for example in Malcolm Macmillan’s Freud Evaluated,19 which explores the unscientific basis of the concept of reaction formation. Here Krauss would have been wise to heed Adorno’s advice (in discussing Stravinsky): “It is the act of a philistine to confuse the objective form of a work of art with the psyche of the man who created it…. Only if you fail to comprehend the thing will you seek to make up for it by attacking the person.”20

Nevertheless, Krauss also uses Freudian theory to allege that Picasso’s subconscious feelings about photography account for the change in his painting. Between 1915 and 1917, she writes, Picabia had worked out a “full-blown doctrine of the mechanical in art and thus art’s photographic destiny.” Picasso’s dislike of this view, she writes, is telling evidence of how his fear and purported abhorrence of the medium led him to appropriate—however much he may have denied it—the very thing which repelled him. Krauss rejects the suggestion that photography could have had any importance for Picasso’s pre-war cubism, a suggestion that, as we have seen, is contradicted by his actual use of photographs. But photography’s role in his approach to art during and after the war is fundamental to her argument. In particular she considers the use he made of photographs of the Ballets Russes dancers in his neoclassical drawings, especially his use of an uninterrupted contour line. This line, Krauss claims, has the character of mechanical tracing, in which the artist’s mark is no longer distinctive but depends on the underlying mark being traced; thereby, she once again relates Picasso’s approach to pastiche and his dependence on the work of others. Krauss goes on to connect this “automated, serialized” line with the concept of denial at the heart of reaction formation, for she believes that in these drawings the line has “come to embody the very opposite set of values” from the values of cubism—values associated in his neoclassical work with the idea of purity and with the, for her, discredited culture of the museum.

Another way of looking at Picasso’s refinement of this line, however, suggests that it owes something quite different to photography. Picasso appears to have been investigating, among other things, the way in which the edges of forms are defined in black- and-white photographic images, where some things are in focus and others are not, and how this definition could be reinterpreted in drawing in order to suggest volume with a minimum of conventional means. Evidence for this can be seen in a marvelous series of drawings of bathers at the seaside done in the early Twenties, where Picasso used an uninterrupted line to evoke at once space, volume, and weight.

Picasso’s portrait drawings of 1917- 1920, to which Krauss refers, of the personalities associated with the ballet, including Count Etienne de Beaumont, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Manuel de Falla, and Erik Satie, are frequently reproduced from plates that make them look as if the artist used a hard, uninterrupted line. Examining a number of the actual drawings, however, I have found that there is usually another, underlying image which Picasso partly rubbed out but had deliberately left visible. By leaving this earlier “after-image,” Picasso produces both a cinematic effect, whereby the previous image lingers on, and also a sense of structure and volume in the figure itself.

While applying entirely speculative Freudian schemes to Picasso’s inner life, Krauss also endorses the structuralist premise that the work of art must be evaluated quite independently from the artist’s persona. At various points in the text or endnotes Krauss questions the overinterpretation of biographical materials by several writers. Her own use of such evidence is more extensive than she might admit, but she is particularly hard on any approach that rests on the assumption that art reflects life in any direct way. In order to emphasize her view, she severely criticizes the Canadian Picasso sleuth Herbert T. Schwarz, who has claimed that the appearance of the double-profile head in Picasso’s work, which he associates with the entry into the artist’s life of the young Marie-Thérèse Walter, appears two years before the date both Picasso and Marie-Thérèse said they had met. Schwarz believes he has proof of a cover-up, since Marie-Thérèse would have been only fifteen if they had met in 1925 rather than 1927. Krauss dismisses this theory, arguing that in this case the work can be said to anticipate the event rather than the other way around. She makes the suggestion that Picasso acted out the surrealist scenario of l’amour fou—a chance amorous encounter—when he recognized a girl he had already portrayed.

Krauss is not the first to demonstrate that it requires a sophisticated understanding of the relationship of art and life to interpret biographical evidence bearing on an artist’s work. Her hypothesis in the case of the l’amour fou incident is anticipated by a fully documented episode, which John Richardson recounts in A Life of Picasso, Volume II. The chain of events reconstructed by Richardson begins in 1907, when Apollinaire published a story, thought to be true, about an Albanian friend of his, Faïk bég Konitza, who decided he could be liberated from an unrequited passion for a young woman by abducting another. Nine years later Apollinaire was willing to serve as Picasso’s accomplice in the artist’s abduction of Irène Lagut, the girlfriend of the painter Serge Férat, shortly after Picasso’s marriage proposal to another woman, Gaby Lespinasse, had been turned down. As Richardson showed, the whole story of the affair then reappeared in Apollinaire’s novel, La Femme assise, in which the 1907 story is also reused (almost intact), its protagonist now an Albanian painter called Pablo Canouris (i.e., Picasso). Irène Lagut collaborated with the poet on the text of the novel, and the resulting mixture of fact and fiction is reflected in its title, which refers to the seated figure of Helvetia that had appeared some years before on counterfeit Swiss coins.

In the last chapter of her book, “Dime Novels,” Krauss rages against the “biography industry” centered on Picasso and cites in particular three offending writers, who make fairly easy targets: Schwarz, the novelist Norman Mailer, and the artist’s mistress Fernande Olivier. One of the problems with the biographical approach to the life and art of Picasso that emerges from their writings—and, indeed, from many of the other books written about the artist—is that it tends either to canonize or to demonize him in order to advance the writer’s own particular cause. Mailer, for instance, clearly adopts Picasso, and particularly his sexual reputation, for his own purposes, retelling the story of Pablo’s life and loves as if he had identified himself with the painter.

Fernande Olivier’s memoirs present a different case, for she was a witness to the events under discussion, unlike Gilot, whose stories about the cubist period were retold to her by Picasso some forty years later. Olivier’s book, Souvenirs intimes (1988), is in both style and form, as Krauss rightly points out, indebted to the popular romantic novel. The story of her abused childhood and forced early marriage to a man who raped and beat her,21 and from whom she escaped to the bohemian world of artists and models, is indeed the stuff of pulp fiction, although many details of her account do in fact find corroboration elsewhere. But Krauss goes on to accuse her of filling her “fraudulent” memoirs with suspect biographical details and of failing to appreciate Picasso’s advanced work.

When I examined the actual handwritten manuscript of Olivier’s book some time ago, it was clear that she had written the entire text at a relatively late date, and that she had incorporated some of the same material that she had used for Picasso et ses amis (1933). But she also wrote as if she based the early chapters on a youthful diary, either real or imaginary. In addition to this text, Olivier wrote revealing and informative letters (not referred to by Krauss) to both Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein, including a series of long descriptions of life with Picasso in Horta de Sant Joan in 1909, some of which she planned to publish with the help of Toklas. Taken as a whole, Olivier’s record provides us with invaluable details about the patterns of her life with Picasso and his responses to friends, patrons, and other guests who visited the studio; and, to her credit, she tells her stories in a relatively unjudgmental way. Despite her errors of memory, evasions, and habit of disguising names, it would be impossible to write accurately about Picasso during that period without taking account of her testimony.

While he tried to prevent the publication of Picasso et ses amis in the Thirties, Picasso also admitted that it gave a good picture of their life together. To dismiss Olivier’s book because she was a romantic and failed to recognize the full implication of Picasso’s cubism is to do her an injustice. More serious, however, is Krauss’s failure to address the authoritative and critical biographies of either Pierre Daix (although his work is frequently cited) or John Richardson. Both authors undermine her view that the biographical form is just another “dime novel.”

Krauss frames her “cautionary tale” around what she perceives to be the two sides of Picasso’s art—on the one hand “his triumphant development of the cubist logic,” on the other his “betrayal of the modernist project.” Krauss raises a number of issues at the core of contemporary discussions of aesthetic modernism and what followed. She proposes that if we flip the modernist coin what we will discover is its devalued other side. Just as Gide drew on a story of counterfeit gold coins to discuss fraudulence in politics, art, and life, Krauss wants to use the alleged abandonment of revolutionary cubism for classicism in order to debunk the reputation of the artist whose work acquired huge material value.

She is undoubtedly right that the financial measure of Picasso’s artistic worth is highly debatable, for the current market value placed on every scrap of his work has distorted the real nature of his achievements. But the dichotomy of a true and a false Picasso presented in The Picasso Papers is impossible to accept. What Krauss misses is that Picasso’s genius was not limited to any one approach to art—marvelous though his cubist collages certainly are. His genius was also for combining different approaches to representation in ways that were bound to disturb the proponents of modernist orthodoxy of his time and that still do so today.


The Picasso Papers’: An Exchange October 7, 1999

  1. 1

    Princeton University Press, 1989.

  2. 2

    Simon and Schuster, 1988.

  3. 3

    See, for example, Rosalind Krauss, “In the Name of Picasso,” October (Spring 1981), pp. 5-22; reprinted in Rosalind E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (MIT Press, 1996).

  4. 4

    Random House, 1996. As Richardson’s collaborating author, I contributed to the planning and research for this biography.

  5. 5

    Baldassari first began publishing unknown photographs from the Picasso Archives in Picasso photographe (Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux) in 1994, and the fullest selection is contained in Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror (Houston Museum of Fine Arts/Flammarion, 1997). She argues fervently for the importance of the photographic medium to Picasso, but her approach to the evidence is that of an archivist rather than an art historian. Much art historical investigation now needs to follow her groundbreaking study on the specific issues that these photographs and the many unpublished documents (some 15,000 in the Picasso Archives) raise for the analysis of Picasso’s working methods at every stage of his career. See also my review, “Picasso and Photography,” Burlington Magazine (June 1997), pp. 420-421.

  6. 6

    In her discussion of the relationship between Picasso and Eva, Krauss repeats an old mistake concerning Picasso’s alleged renaming of his dying mistress. Eve Gouel (the name that appears on her birth certificate) had called herself Marcelle Humbert before she met Picasso; all he did was to change her given name to its Spanish equivalent.

  7. 7

    See Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Vol. II, pp. 407-417.

  8. 8

    See Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1925 (Princeton University Press, 1989).

  9. 9

    See Richardson, A Life of Picasso, Vol. II, p. 352.

  10. 10

    W.A. Propert, The Russian Ballet in Western Europe, 1909-1920 (John Lane, 1921), p. 55.

  11. 11

    Making Modernism: Picasso and the Creation of the Market for Twentieth-Century Art (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1995), pp. 92-93.

  12. 12

    Arnold Schoenberg (Viking, 1975), pp. 72-73.

  13. 13

    Krauss adds (p. 21) to her literary analogy a puzzling reference to Eliot’s “penny for the Old Guy” (written as an epigraph to his 1925 poem “The Hollow Men,” to refer to the straw effigies of Guy Fawkes) as if the line referred to giving money to an old beggar (and by association in her chapter title to Picasso) rather than to a child for fireworks or candy.

  14. 14

    See Leighten, Re-Ordering the Universe, pp. 124-126.

  15. 15

    This aspect of modernism has most recently been explored in relation to both music and art in Canto d’Amore: Classicism in Modern Art and Music 1914-1935 (Basel: Kunstmuseum Basel, 1996). Many of the contributions effectively refute the suggestion that classicism was simply a conservative phenomenon.

  16. 16

    Krauss quite rightly cites John Richardson’s rejection of the power of influence that Cocteau claimed to have exerted over Picasso during this period (p. 254, note 17).

  17. 17

    This show was his first in Paris since the large retrospective exhibition Vollard mounted in 1910 and not, as Krauss claims (p. 11), since the 1905 exhibition of circus pictures at the Galeries Serrurier.

  18. 18

    Life with Picasso, with Carlton Lake (McGraw-Hill, 1964).

  19. 19

    Amsterdam: Elsevier Science, 1991; MIT Press, 1997.

  20. 20

    Theodor W. Adorno, “Stravinsky: A Dialectical Portrait,” in Quasi una Fantasia: Essays on Modern Music (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1963; Verso, 1992).

  21. 21

    Fernande (born June 6, 1881) was actually eighteen when she married Paul-Emile Percheron on August 8, 1899, not sixteen as Krauss asserts both in her text and endnotes (pp. 59, 248).