Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview
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The first Universal Exposition in Spain took place in Barcelona in 1888, a symbol of that city's separatism, industrial strength, and will to be the equal of London or Paris. One year later the defiant thrust of the new Eiffel Tower would crown the Paris Exposition of 1889. The Paris Exposition of 1900 was a statement of cosmopolitan culture by a colonial power in the process of claiming global status. Visitors entered through a pseudo-Khmer gateway, visible proof that France could justify its conquest of Indochina as a mission civilisatrice. For two years the French government had been revealing to the world, and restoring, the monuments of Angkor. Such activities, of course, tend to exclude any real understanding of other cultures, appropriating their artifacts and reducing them to decor empty of content. The Exposition of 1900 jumbled together every available style, like an academic painter using all the tricks of the past to depict a masked ball. In this regard the Exposition of 1900 was a great deal more reactionary than that of 1889, from which Gauguin had derived some knowledge of Borobudur. It is irrelevant to wonder if Picasso saw his first African masks at the 1900 show. There probably were a few; and they would have been virtually invisible. Everything was on display to express the impeccable conscience of a bourgeoisie which thought itself the ruler of the world and to proclaim that such a conscience existed.

The other justification was industry. The Palace of Electricity, with its decor of Art Nouveau metallic ornamentation, was itself a hymn to extraordinary progress. Certainly Pablo encountered the twentieth century there in ways he could not have imagined, even in Barcelona. But he knew that to assimilate these surprises he had to take his time. We must remember that he arrived for the Exposition's final weeks; the event, which opened on 14 April, was to close on 12 November. His late appearance seems to confirm the traditional account that when Don José had paid the railway fare to Paris there was no more money.

For the first time the Impressionists were appearing in an official show. They had, of course, been part of the centenary exhibition. But that inclusion, by keeping them out of the decennial—where Pablo's Last Moments


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