Monday, March 2, 2015

How Well Could Picasso Draw?

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), like Rembrandt, is probably still synonymous with "artist" for the general public. As regular readers of this blog probably know, I am not a Picasso fan. I never liked his work aside from a very few paintings. On the other hand, I have no problem with artists who are famous and financially successful in their own lifetime, something that applied to Picasso in spades.

From what I've read, it seems that his abilities were regarded with something like awe by artist friends in his early Paris days. That prompted the idea behind this post: just how well could he draw? After all, the ability to draw is an important artistic skill.

Below are some examples of Picasso's naturalistic drawings that should help indicate how well he could depict people when he put his mind to it.


Femme assise dans une chaise (Dora) - 1938
To begin, here is a drawing of Dora Maar, his mistress at the time this drawing was made. I include it as a reminder of one sort of drawing he made later in his career. Some Modernist Art fans might insist that this is a marvelous drawing if one disregards accurate depiction and considers other qualities. But that is a separate matter from this post's focus.

The Artist's Father - 1896
Picasso was 15 or 16 when this painted sketch was made. Okay, it's not a drawing, but not a finished painting either. It does show that he was precocious. Very good considering his age.

Unknown subject, unknown date
Were I really diligent I might have tracked down the missing information. What matters is the quality, which seems to me is at the level one would expect from a good academic art student.

Self-Portrait - 1901
I like this drawing. It captures the 20-year-old artist without hard-edge detail: "suggestive," I'd say.

Portrait d'Olga - 1920
This is Picasso's first wife. It seems he first sketched in pencil and then inked it -- some pencil lines still show, especially near her nose and left eye. Anatomically correct aside from her fingers that seem over-simplified.

Olga au chapeau à la plume - 1920
Her head seem a bit small compared to the rest of her, but otherwise this is a competent linear treatment.

Mother and Child - from p. 28 of sketchbook 77 - ca. 1922
By this time, Picasso was in his classical phase where heads were inspired by Greek statuary and bodies were somewhat massive. An idealization, not really a depiction.

My verdict from the gallery above is that Picasso was quite capable of representational depiction. But this did not rise head-and-shoulders above what a number of other artists could do. He was a shrewd man and made a wise career choice by becoming a Modernist. Otherwise, he seems to have had nothing special to offer artistically.

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