Picasso: Life and Art

By Pierre Daix; Olivia Emmet | Go to book overview

39
ABOVE AND BEYOND

The exhibition of his last paintings opened at the Palais des Papes in Avignon late in the spring the year of his death. The astonishment of the critics—and even of some specialists, like Douglas Cooper, to whom for years Mougins had been closed—was an almost unbearable reminder that Picasso was still a living force. He had once again made a violent escape from everything which had been expected of him, from everything which people had come to consider his art. Were these works examples of decay, degeneration, and senility? At the time I was one of the few critics—in my review for Artnews1—to show that these works, considered by some to be "incoherent scribbling," in fact made sense. The reproductions which I chose then—from Nu accroupi (Huddled Nude) to Enfant à la pelle (Child with Shovel)—from among the strongest works, were retained for the final Picasso exhibitions and prove that although Picasso sometimes painted those things within himself which were in the process of being extinguished, his hand and his eye were still at the service of his capacity for structural expressivity when he wanted them to be.

The mad charm of Femme au chapeau assise (Seated Woman in Hat, 28 July 1971) 2 was included in the Basel "Spätwerk" show, one of the most "painted" canvases of the period and the most accomplished in its rhythms and in the vivacity of its color contrasts—a refutation par excellence of the notion that these expeditious works are a product of haste induced by the approach of death. Hélène Parmelin, one of the last to see Picasso alive, noted that for him at the time, the "perfections" of his youth seemed "horrible." Avignon 1973 was from every point of view the end of the road, the object of the journey, a diametric opposition to any notion of surrender to fatigue or old age. He had mastered the miniaturist's skills when it had suited him to do so. Now he was painting otherwise, quite deliberately; recording the de-composition of painting, an analogue to the research of 1911-14—the period of Cubist analysis and synthesis. These phenomena, erroneously categorized as a "return to figuration" at the Paris Biennale of 1985, for example, were quite properly considered by Picasso's juniors a matter of passionate concern.

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