Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

17
THE APPROACH OF SURREALISM
1923-1924

Just as Picasso was a Cubist before—and beyond—the movement which claimed the title, he was a Surrealist before any of the angry young people who gave themselves that name. Everything was complicated, however, at the time of his Paris retrospective of 1955, by his statement to Maurice Jardot that Surrealist influences had not affected him before his drawings of 1933. 1 In this case, as with les Demoiselles d'Avignon, one should take Picasso's words literally. He was not, in fact, influenced, because he was himself a pioneer. But he had never protested against the Surrealists' use of his pictures in their review la Révolution surréaliste, and as early as 1925 he took part in a Surrealist exhibition.

Starting with his discovery of Cubist pictorial space, which offered possibilities of conjugating various figurative modes, he was attracted to Surrealism by the fantastic, baroque quality which appeared in the movement's work at regular intervals. His exploitation of accidents which occurred during the course of work and his taste for unexpected encounters, facilitated by the discovery of collage, were additional factors which drove him to explore for his own purposes mediums and techniques theorized by the Surrealists, like automatic painting or writing, a free expression of the unconscious, the intimate "modèle interieur."

There was also a constant pendulum movement in Picasso's life and art which drove him to refuse order, harmony, and the already-accomplished as symptoms of torpor, which is to say, of death. The year 1923 was such a turning point: the moment of greatest classicist achievement in representing the human figure accompanied by still lifes which express a sense of growing disquiet. Paintings show Olga pensive and withdrawn. Then, for the first time since 1917, there is the face of a young woman who is neither a model nor Olga. And Olga disappears.

The beginning of the year still expressed harmony. February produced the Saltimbanque assis les bras croisés (Seated Acrobat with Crossed Arms), which would break all records for sales in New York in 1980. This was followed by the celebrated couple in Amoureux2 (not to be confused with the baroque pair of 1919), whose ease surpasses everything produced by the

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