Around The Town

Reinventing @ The Frick

                       By Janet Lehr

Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition The Frick Museum, 1 East 70th Street New York  October 4, 2011, through January 8, 2012 or 212 288 0700.   [ co-organized with the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC where it will be exhibited January 29-May 6, 2012 ]


                       By Janet Lehr

Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition The Frick Museum, 1 East 70th Street New York  October 4, 2011, through January 8, 2012 or 212 288 0700.   [ co-organized with the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC where it will be exhibited January 29-May 6, 2012 ]


PICASSO’S DRAWING JOURNEY, THE FIRST 30 YEARS by Susan Grace Galassi  is the first part of the volume accompanying the exhibition.  A well selected quote by Waldemar Georges in the first published volume on Picasso’s drawings which he wrote in 1926 sets the ‘stage’ for the works selected for the present, Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition.

The 60 works include virtuous portrait drawings, early and late cubist works and powerful sculptural images in pastel. As is the Frick’s way, special drawing exhibitions are housed downstairs in their lower level galleries.  To accommodate the scale and scope of this present exhibition, the sculptural pastel images are shown on the main floor and are not to be missed.

Form, considered as an end in itself and as the basic principle of the work of art, is sacrificed to dramatic content.  The purpose of Picasso’s line is to make volumes eloquent.

The second essay by Marilyn McCully is: EARLY CRITICAL RESPONSE

Youth on Horseback. Fig.20

Youth on Horseback painted early in Picasso’s career, 1905-06 clearly shows this affinity; or as Louis Sullivan said, Form follows Function!!

That the appeal of things is the strangeness conferred on the image by the change of aspect, from the characteristic – in this case, from the traditional side view of horse and rider, is the issue in this work.  The image is probably drawn directly from a work of William Holman Hunt, but that brings me, a contemporary viewer, to a thought expressed by Roland Barths in his classic work: Camera Lucida.  In this classic work Barths inquires into the nature and essence of photography.  He develops the twin concepts of STUDIUM and PUNCTUM.  [Studium is the cultural and political interpretation of a work, while Punctum denotes the personally touching detail which establishes a direct relationship with the object or person within the artwork]  As I stood before Youth on Horseback I first noticed and was thrilled by the strange perspective – As I looked longer, I was drawn most curiously to the drawn lines in the riders armpit; shadow? Or?  Though the Studium of a work is probably universal, the Punctum is entirely personal and unique.

The earliest distortive figure in the exhibition is, Reclining Nude 1906, from the Cleveland Museum of Art collection.

Reclining Nude Fig. #23

The distortion of the figure’s form, transforming the subject’s classical features into an elongated mask like visage, presages Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907.  The painting is not included in the present exhibition, but is an interesting reference point for Cubistic Picasso works that follow.



Surely, one of the strengths of this exhibition lies in its superb cubist drawings of 1907-09.

Figure Study 1907 Fig.#57

The boldly dramatic  Figure Study 1907 from the Gretchen and Wohl Bergruen Collection was painted in the same year as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

No longer was the figure flesh colored.  Perhaps difficult to see in this jpg, but very arresting when you gaze at the drawing in the Frick Gallery, is its use of vivid primary colors, RED YELLOW BLUE.  Human color vision is trichromatic, the three primary colors.  The year of the work is 1907, a viable tricolor photographic process, Lumière Autochrome, became available in 1907.

Rapid changes in the ‘art’ of painting followed immediately on the heels of the advent of the camera in 1839.  No longer would the traditional methods of art mimicking life excite the public.  ‘New’ was needed, or, as Paul Delaroche said after Daguerre exhibited the first photograph (Daguerreotype) on August 19, 1839, before a joint session of the Académie des Sciences and the Académie des Beaux-Arts, From Today Painting is Dead.  The first color photograph made by the three-color method suggested by James Clerk Maxwell was in 1855.  Frederic Eugene Ives invented a practical three color camera based on RYB in 1897 and the Lumière brothers, brought the first commercially successful color process, the Lumière Autochrome  to market in 1907.  Almost immediately after 1839, Classicism gave way to Impressionist, to Post Impressionism and by the end of the century, Cubism.  Late 19th and early 20th century thru 1907 was a hot time for experimentation.

Head and Shoulders of a Woman 1907 Fig 31
Bust of a Man with Crossed Arms 1907 Fig 38

 Both bold portrait studies are from 1907.  In both works, the simplified definition of the upper body serves to underscore the drama of the face defined by elusive markings.


Bust of a Woman 1909 Fig. #41

This full sheet work from 1909 places the emphasis on pictoral structure over the requirements of representation.  Here Picasso experiments with the shifting planes of objects in space and allows his color to become the subject of his painting. By the 1930’s Hans Hoffman was speaking about these reference points in his push-pull theory of ‘building’ a painting.

The development of Cubism in Picasso’s drawings built in complexity to explore rhythms and patterns.

Sugar Bowl 1909 Fig.#34
Forest 1908 Fig. #35

The Cubist drama in Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition, continues with many wonderful works of varying complexity, but the simplicity of Standing Woman 1912 proved most arresting to me.

Standing Woman, Summer, Sourge 1912 Fig. #49

My thoughts snapped to Willem de Kooning, and his Women Series, presently in a very impressive monographic, monolithic exhibition at MOMA in New York City.  In an exhibition that thoroughly explores the works of Willem De Kooning, from his earliest classic works thru the surreal to cubism and beyond – One can only imagine what he experienced and how he translated that experience into his works of the early 50’s.  Picasso’s Standing Woman, ink on paper, of 1912 is one of several epiphany moments that Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921: Reinventing Tradition brings to the understanding of the development of Art.

The conclusion of the exhibition is on the main floor, in what the museum calls, ‘The Cabinet’.  ‘The Cabinet’ is not to be missed.  A room perhaps 8 x 20 feet is a perfect showcase for the vivid collection of several superb examples of Picasso’s Classical works, where notions of scale and monumentality blend.
This final nugget of the exhibition proves what can be done in small spaces if you have just the right art

RETURN TO CLASSICISM  [The War of the Ism’s]

In 1917, Picasso made his first figurative painting in a decade.  Picasso, perhaps reflecting society’s disillusionment and shock with the technological horrors of the The Great War, World War I, had begun to revert to a Classicist mode of representation, a return to Humanism.  In the period after World War I, the heady mood of experimentation gave way to the conservatism of Classicism.  Pierre Reverdy, sternly published an article in 1917 in which he declared,
"Cubism is an art of creation, not of reproduction or interpretation.  No cubist painter should execute a portrait."  
In 1921, Picasso rented a comfortable villa in Fontainebleau, bastion of French Classical Style.  Picasso was not to be ‘cowed’.  Slowly, he incorporated the simplified forms into his art and delighted with the boldness of their sculptural forms, their scale and their monumentality; though he continued to create until 1924 in the Cubist style as well, exploring the two visual idioms together.

Head of a Woman 1921 Cover illustration

The pastels from his Fontainebleau summer of 1921 are among his most beautiful works.  They are distinguished in appearance with their heads appearing substantially larger than life-size. 

 Picasso, rejected the teleological view of art history, proclaiming in an interview in 1923, "The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered an evolution.  If the subjects I have wanted to express have suggested different ways of expression, I have never hesitated to adopt them"  (quoted in Dore Ashton. Ed. Picasso on Art, New York, 1972, p.5).

Picasso’s art from the time of the Les Demoiselles was radical in nature; virtually no 20th-century artist could escape his influence. Moreover, while other masters such as Matisse or Braque tended to stay within the bounds of a style they had developed in their youth, Picasso continued to be an innovator.  We look forward to an exhibition and accompanying text by Susan Grace Galassi, of Picasso’s 2nd 30 years

Janet Lehr
Images courtesy of The Frick Museum