Picasso in Paris: is it the ultimate studio for the consummate artist?

MyFrenchLife™-Picasso and Paris-Picasso in studio

“Picasso artist-peintre español” is how Pablo Picasso signed his paintings. Yet while the great artist always identified with his home country of Spain, there is something so inextricably French, and more specifically, Parisian about the oevre de Picasso.

So what came first? Was Picasso made by Paris, or did the man make the muse?

Photographs of Picasso at work in his studio are revered with almost the same levels of awe as his paintings.

Sofitel Hotel’s exhibition ‘Revealed‘—curated by the artist’s grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso—is travelling the world to give an insight into the work spaces of Picasso and other great artists: in one photograph, Picasso sucks the meat from a fishbone, in another he paints one of his female muses. The common thread of the photos is the luxurious, object-rich studios in which he painted.

What at first glance may seem like the spoils of a hoarder lost in the chaos of their own clutter was really, for Picasso, an important artistic resource. It was in this environment, rife with paintings, art objects and sometimes his goat Esmeralda, or the dachshund Lump, that Picasso flourished.

Perhaps it is no surprise then that it was in Paris that Picasso cemented himself as one of the most important figures of modern art. Paris, with its vibrant characters, unique aesthetic and ability to be simultaneously menacing and ebullient proved to be the ultimate studio.

MyFrenchLife™-Picasso and Paris-Le Bateau Lavoir

Endless inspiration for Picasso in Paris

Paris not only gave Picasso the beautiful muses featured in so many of his works, but also the endless visual stimuli at which he could look, and look, and look with his signature regard fort. In regards to this strong gaze, and his propensity to greedily drink in his environment, some people who knew him described a ‘‘predator who gobbled up visual stimuli and wolfed down friends, employees and lovers”.

Perhaps most importantly, Paris provided Picasso with the group of people that would become his friends and creative peers. The famed Bateau-Lavoir in Montmarte was a residence for Picasso, his oldest Parisian friend Max Jacob, and many other poets, artists and intellectuals from 1904 onwards.

According to biographer Mary Ann Caws, the ‘band à Picasso’ would sit in a studio that smelled of turpentine, eating nothing but sardines due to their poverty, against a backdrop of whatever painting Picasso was working on at the time.

MyFrenchLife™-Picasso and Paris-Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon

A spark at Gertrude Stein’s

Picasso found particular support and appreciation of his work in the form of the writer Gertrude Stein, and it was she who introduced him to other painters including Matisse and Dérain. It was at Stein’s house on the Rue de Fleures that the first seed of inspiration for Picasso’s African art period was sown.

Matisse, having come across a window display of African sculpture on the Rue de Rennes, developed an interest in the style and on a later occasion brought a small African art figurine to the Steins. There, Picasso saw it and was thus introduced to the African art that would influence an entire period of his work and produce one of his most famous paintings, Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon.

Picasso in Paris: a cultural flashpoint

Other contemporaries in Paris at the time included Amedeo Modigliani, George Bracque, Juan Gris, Fernand Leger and Constantine Brancusi. They were all influenced by Paris, and in turn influenced each other. This convergence of great artists created a cultural and artistic flashpoint in Paris, drawing more and more creatives to the city.

MyFrenchLife™-Picasso and Paris-Modigliani Picasso and Andre Salmon

It was a dynamic period of discussion, ideas and art that gave birth to modernism. Picasso in particular went on to influence many great artists that followed him: from Jasper Johns to Martin Kippinberger to Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat. The current ‘Picasso Mania‘ exhibition at the Grand Palais, Paris, curates his works alongside those of the people he inspired.

As for whether Picasso was made by Paris, or vice-versa? Perhaps it is best to consider the man and the city as being greater than the sum of their parts. A fated meeting of two giants—the passionate, experimental Spaniard; and lusty, bohemian Paris at the turn of the century—which combined to create one of the most interesting times in human history, and acted as a catalyst for modern art as we know it today.

What is your favourite Picasso in Paris moment? And do you think Picasso was made by Paris, or did the man make the muse?Join the conversation below or on twitter @MaVieFrancaise 

Image credits:
1. Picasso, Villa Californie, Cannes 1957 by Andre Villers, via flickr
2. Bateau Lavoir by Davequ, via wikimedia
3. Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso, via flickr
4. Modigliani, Picasso and André Salmon by Jean Cocteau, via flickr

About the Contributor

Ellen Stephens

I am a gender studies graduate and a current student in the Masters of Publishing and Communications at the University of Melbourne. Originally from Canberra, I am enjoying Melbourne and often get asked questions about my odd-looking French dog, a GBGV named Rudi. Follow me on twitter @Ellenrayes

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One Comment

  1. Taste of France Mar 11, 2016 at 7:31 PM - Reply

    I do love Picasso’s work, but I also think he gets fetishized because of his extreme lifestyle. Georgia O’Keefe was a groundbreaking artist, but not as flamboyant as Picasso. Same for Georges Braques and Fernand Léger, who also led the Cubist movement, but aren’t as well-known.

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