Putting Picasso in His Place

Picasso: The Blue and Rose Periods

by Pierre Daix and Georges Boudaille
New York Graphic Society, 348, 831 illustrations (61 in color) pp., $35.00

The Sculpture of Picasso

by Roland Penrose
Museum of Modern Art, 232, 260 illustrations pp., (paperback, $5.95) (paper)

Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso; drawing by David Levine

No artist has ever become such a legend in his lifetime as Picasso, or been so much written about. The obvious competitor is Michelangelo. The unveiling of the Last Judgment in 1541 was awaited as an event of international importance on which ambassadors to the Holy See reported to their masters; princes, cardinals, and men of letters begged to be given the slightest drawing from his hand, often with no success; and three accounts of his career appeared before his death, one of them in effect dictated by himself. But this was and remained an exceptional case, and there are remarkably few instances before the nineteenth century of artists being celebrated by full-dress biographies or monographs during their own lifetime. With the Romantic movement the situation changed. The artist became a genius and attracted interest from a much wider and less expert public than in previous centuries. But even as late as this artists were usually only commemorated by biographies after their death. An obvious exception is Turner, for at the time of his death Ruskin had already published two volumes of Modern Painters, which was conceived as a monument to the artist’s genius. Delacroix and Ingres were much discussed in articles and reviews, but no general account of their artistic careers was written till well after their deaths.

With Picasso the story is very different. Admittedly the attitude of art historians toward their subject has changed since the mid-nineteenth century, and they have become keenly aware of how important it is to record as much as possible about artists while the evidence is still available from their own mouths or from those of their friends. They looked back with gratitude to Vasari—who was much denigrated in the interval on account of his inaccuracies—for the trouble he took in traveling all over Italy to collect the best information that he could find about the activities of artists still alive or only recently dead. But it must be said at once that Picasso has benefited to a unique degree from this new approach.

His first exhibitions in Paris produced several penetrating and intelligent reviews, and in the years before the First War his work was discussed and publicized in articles by his close friend, Guillaume Apollinaire, who also devoted to him a large section of his Peintres Cubistes, published in 1913. After the war the first general books on Picasso began to appear: Raynal’s lively essay in 1921, Cocteau’s short pamphlet in 1923. The Cahiers d’Art, founded in 1926 by Christian Zervos, was largely a reflection of Picasso’s interests and contained frequent and important articles on his latest works. Finally in 1932 Zervos began the mammoth publication, intended to include every known painting and drawing by the artist and now in its eighteenth volume, which brings the survey up to the year 1959. Since the Second War the bibliography on Picasso has grown…

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