A lecture by a professor of Fine Arts

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a professor of Fine Arts.

Professor: We're now going to spend some time, class, talking about the most revolutionary, the most prodigious artist in the history of Modern Western art. Do you know who I'm talking about? Of course- it's Pablo Picasso. He was the artist who invented Cubism, he was the artist who invented collage, and he was the artist who experimented with more styles and media than probably any other artist in history, with the possible exception of Leonardo da Vinci. And what I'm passing out to you now are figures of some of Picasso's most famous and most revolutionary paintings.

Picasso was born in Spain in 1881, and he died in France in 1973, so his life spanned most of the development of what we call Modern art. He was a child prodigy. He began studying art very early, under his father, who was in fact an art teacher, and in 1897, at the age of sixteen, he entered the Royal Academy of Arts in Madrid. I fact, he passed their entrance examination in a single day, even though applicants were given a month to do this.

But after only a year there, he felt bored and stifled, and he dropped out. He went back to Barcelona, where he hung out with the other artists and musicians in the cafes for a while, and then he visited Paris, where he had a chance to see the works of such radical artists as Seurat, Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec- all of whom were, in their own unique ways, going beyond the realistic values of Renaissance illusionism. Picasso lived in Paris and Barcelona alternately for several years, from 1900 to 1904, and then he set up a permanent studio in Paris.

1901 to 1904 is known as Picasso's 'Blue Period', when he was a starving artist and sometimes had to burn his own drawings to keep warm. All his paintings during this period were done in sombre shades of blue, and they depicted thin, depressed figures, paupers and homeless people. If you look at the handout I gave you, you'll see an example of his Blue Period- 'The Old Guitarist', painted in 1903. Not a very happy looking fellow, is he?

From 1904, then, to 1905, Picasso passed through his 'Rose Period', when he began to use warmer, more tender colours- pinks and beiges- and his subjects became circus performers and harlequins and clowns. You can see his most famous painting from this period on the sheet- his 'Family of Saltimbanques', from 1905. You'll notice, though, that this quiet group of circus performers still look alienated and uncommunicative, though they are treated more kindly than he treated the old guitar player.

All of Picasso's paintings were rather two-dimensional up to this point, but then he began exploring pictorial volume, and this led to one of his most revolutionary works, 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon', which he painted in 1917. This is usually considered the first Cubist painting. You can see how Picasso reduces the ladies' figures to a series of wide, intersecting planes that are aligned with the surface of the canvas. In this way, they suggest a dissected, multiple view of the world. This was a radically new, abstract pictorial language.

In my handout, you'll also find some other examples of how Picasso's Cubism developed between 1907 and 1921- 'Woman with a Guitar' is from 1912, for instance, and 'Three Musicians', which is a masterpiece of his later 'synthetic cubism' style, was painted in 1921. You can see in the 'Three Musicians' how Picasso's planes have become much broader and more simple, and how they exploit colour so much more.

The invention of Cubism is Picasso's greatest contribution to art, but he was also interested in many other arts- in sculpture, ceramics, graphics, printmaking, and even in stage design- and he experimented imaginatively in all of these areas. Also, as early as 1911, he began to include newspaper clippings and other realia into some of his paintings, and he thus invented collage. His first and most famous collage is 'Still Life with Chair Caning'. You can see it on your sheet- you can see that, in addition to the painted lemon and wine glass, it includes some fragments of literary letters and a piece of oilcloth- and Picasso framed it himself with a length of real rope.

And of course I should mention 'Guernica', the last painting on your handout, which is an extraordinary landmark of modern art- an infuriated Cubist condemnation of war and the atrocities of war that is still unmatched today. Picasso painted it in 1937, just after the Spanish town of Guernica was bombed in an air raid by German planes during the Spanish Civil War. You can feel the brutality, the pain and suffering, in his images of screaming people and animals. And you can see how Picasso could turn his art so effectively into political statement.

By 1945, Picasso was well established as one of the great masters of modern art, but he continued to experiment with styles and techniques throughout his life. We'll be looking at him again later in the term, when we examine Cubism, Surrealism, and other modern visual movements in more detail.


How has the lecturer organized his lecture?


Why does the lecturer mention Leonardo da Vinci?


Which fact supports the statement that Picasso was a child prodigy?


Which is considered Picasso's first Cubist painting?


How did Picasso's Cubist paintings develop?


What is 'Guernica'?