man of those wild harsh forms and black humor

The so called “negroid” works of Picasso, Demoiselles D’Avignon, were the first Picassos to meet with acclaim in their time from avant-garde critics in both Europe and America. It was the historic Armory Show in 1913, which really brought Picasso en bloc to the attention of the American painters, critics and collectors. By that time of course, the artist had been deeply engaged for several years in his exploration of Cubism. One of his earliest works in that revolutionary style , The Girl with a Mandolin of 1909 was sold by Roland Penrose to Nelson Rockefeller for $100K in the mid 1950’s; today the value is stratospheric. And to think in the disastrous Kahnweiler auctions in 1921-23 of confiscated German property, works of this period were sold at forced prices of around $500.

---The period from 1910 to 1912 is referred to as Analytical Cubism. Paintings executed during this period showed the breaking down, or analysis, of form. Right-angle and straight-line construction were favoured, though occasionally some areas of the painting appeared sculptural, as in Picasso's "Girl with a Mandolin" (1910). Colour schemes were simplified, tending to be nearly monochromatic (hues of tan, brown, gray, cream, green, or blue preferred) in order not to distract the viewer from the artist's primary interest--the structure of form itself.--- Read More:

A key to the later Synthetic Cubist period is its masterpiece, the Three Musicians, purchased for MOMA in 1949 for what may have been about $90000 at the time, when it was regarded as one of the most influential of all Picasso’s works in terms of design. Imagine the value today.

With Picasso’s paintings of the early 1930’s , some of them based on stained glass experiments and devoted to extreme, convoluted forms, Picasso brought his public to a new phase of difficulty. Indeed, this phase, represented by the famous Girl Before a Mirror of 1932, probably remained the most difficult of all Picasso’s styles for the public as well as the critics to comprehend. Here the artist’s injunction against the effort to “wish to understand” strikes home with especial force.

---Paul Rosenberg, Paris Valentine Gallery, New York (Valentine Dudensing). Brought to New York, on consignment from Paul Rosenberg, in 1936 - 1937 Mrs. Simon Guggenheim, New York. Purchased from Valentine Gallery, December 1937 - 1938 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Simon Guggenheim, 1938--- Read More:

Valentine Dedensing, one of the shrewdest dealers in modern art New York ever knew and the man who sold “Girl” to the Museum, himself echoes Picasso by remarking , ” I can never sell a picture I understand. If I fully understand it, I feel its day is already over- that we’ve already difested its ideas and there’s no future in it.”


( see link at end) …Picasso once said he wanted to annihilate the figure, but stopped himself from doing so. The result, as he said, was a caricature of it, nominally and (ironically) recognizable as a particular person but otherwise a formal construction. The more the figure became one, the more it lost human presence, finally becoming a kind of absence or ghost in the formal machine of the picture. …

Three Musicians. 1921. Decorative style of Synthetic Cubism. His subject is a triumvirate from the Italian commedia dell' arte: at left, a Pierrot with a dog; in the center, Harlequin; at right, a mysterious monk. Image:

…Modigliani had too much respect for the feelings of human beings to turn them into grotesque, hostile monsters, as Picasso did. It is also the reason Modiglianis figures are never menacing and confrontational, but seem to recede into the private space of their inner selves… In contrast, Picassos demoiselles have only one mindless feeling — rage. I think they enact the rage hidden in the melancholy figures of Picassos Blue and Pink period paintings. This rage finally consumes the Analytic Cubist figures, confirming their inherent negativity. Thus the outrageousness of Picassos death-informed figures has as much to do with their symbolization of life-negating rage as with their outrageous forms.

Compared to the sensitively rendered vitality of Modiglianis figures — even his schematization of their faces makes them seem more exquisitely alive than their natural features would — Picassos demoiselles are puppets in a Grand Guignol theater. Their bodies are flattened like stage props and they wear African masks as though to frighten us. In contrast, the mask-like faces of Modiglianis figures gives them a meditative cast, and their bodies never lose their organic verisimilitude however stylized. Modigliani cherishes the human figure, while Picasso seems contemptuous of it, brutally distorting it to fit into a formal Procrustean bed, as though to deny its inherent appeal and our natural curiosity and spontaneous empathy for it, even our unconscious identification with it….Read More:

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2 Responses to man of those wild harsh forms and black humor

  1. Flo says:


    Would you by any chance know the source of the quote of Val Dudensing ?

    ” I can never sell a picture I understand. If I fully understand it, I feel its day is already over- that we’ve already difested its ideas and there’s no future in it.”


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