Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview
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Jean Cocteau, then a worldly young poet, was taken to see Picasso, in the Rue Schoelcher, by the musician Edgard Varèse. It was the end of autumn. Through the window Cocteau could see the Montparnasse cemetery, while Picasso talked of a young woman about to die. The poet remembers only a jumble of African carvings on the floor, which he did not like. But he must have noticed the Harlequin canvas because when he came back on leave in 1916, he arrived at Picasso's wearing a Harlequin costume under his raincoat. Without the costume, Picasso might have paid less attention to a project explained by the overly agile young man who seemed, with his effervescent manner, always to be acting. 1 Picasso clearly had no idea that this project would profoundly affect his private life for the next twenty, even forty, years.

Given what Picasso represented and the work he was doing at the time, the proposal was remarkable: that he should participate in the creation of a ballet for Serge Diaghilev, proprietor and founder of the Ballets Russes, who had brought his company out of Russia. The story was to be by Cocteau, the music by Erik Satie, the sets and costumes by Picasso. Ballets designed by painters rather than theatrical designers was a Russian idea, dating back to the beginning of the century. Diaghilev had already brought two splendid successes to Paris: Firebird and Petrouchka by Stravinsky, with sets by Bakst, and a triumphant Swan Lake. Cocteau had collaborated with him in the scenario of Dieu bleu, danced by Nijinsky in 1912. He had already published two collections of conventional poems; the war was delaying his third, Potomak, a "modern" outcry.

Cocteau had surely been aware, in 1914, of the stir provoked by Famille de saltimbanques. He proposed a program—Parade—within the context of the rose period: a group of circus artists at a street fair on a Paris boulevard. An acrobat, a Chinese conjurer, and a young American girl would perform, attempting to attract the attention of the public. Picasso reserved his answer until he had moved from the Rue Schoelcher, 2 where Éva's memory was a painful presence, to Montrouge, some twenty minutes' walk from Montparnasse. In the interim he had some long talks with Satie,


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