Today is the birthday (1881) of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, usually shortened to Pablo Picasso. Pablo is the first of his many given names and Picasso is his mother’s father’s family name in the combination of Ruiz y Picasso which is the usual Spanish way of denoting father’s and mother’s family names. Picasso needs no introduction, so I am going to dispense with most (not all) of my usual biographical and technical information in posting on him and cut to the chase. I will also admit that I am posting this year about Picasso because I have 2 recipes which he wrote for Vogue magazine. This is a food blog after all. Sometimes people forget that fact.
Picasso was born in Málaga in Andalusia, the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Picasso’s father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats. Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for “pencil.” From the age of 7, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional academic artist and instructor, who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models.
The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost 4 years. In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his 7-year-old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the jury admitted him, at just 13. Picasso lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented a small room for him close to home so he could work alone, yet he checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his drawings. The two argued frequently.
Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send him to Madrid’s Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the country’s foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and stopped attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements such as his elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.
Picasso’s progress as an artist can be traced in the collection of his early works now held by the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, which provides one of the most comprehensive records extant of any major artist’s beginnings. During 1893 the juvenile quality of his earliest work falls away, and by 1894 his career as a painter can be said to have begun. The academic realism apparent in the works of the mid-1890s is well displayed in The First Communion (1896), a large composition that depicts his sister, Lola. In the same year, at the age of 14, he painted Portrait of Aunt Pepa, a dramatic portrait that in hindsight presages great things.
Art historians usually divide Picasso’s oeuvre into “periods,” which I find a bit academic and stilted, but for the sake of brevity I’ll play along. The resultant gallery does show Picasso’s evolution as an artist which is something I like to contemplate with any artist. My question is always: What did this artist paint besides the immediately recognizable stuff? In Picasso’s case it’s more a matter of: “How did he get here from there?”
We start with the blue period (1901-1904) when he painted primarily monochromatic paintings in shades of blue and blue-green, only occasionally warmed by other colors. These somber works painted first in Barcelona and then Paris, are now some of his most popular works, although he had difficulty selling them at the time. During this period Picasso was financially hard up and chronically depressed. It shows. So does the influence of El Greco (to me, at least).
Picasso’s rose period (1904-1906) presents some more pleasant themes of clowns, harlequins, carnival performers, depicted in cheerful vivid hues of red, orange, pink and earth tones, although the somberness of the blue period is still there. These paintings are largely (not exclusively) based on memory rather than direct observation and marks the beginning of his stylistic experiments with primitivism influenced by pre-Roman Iberian sculpture, Oceanic and African art.
Picasso’s African period (1907-1909), also sometimes called the proto-cubist period, begins with his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso painted this composition in a style inspired by Iberian sculpture, but repainted the faces of the two figures on the right after being powerfully impressed by African artefacts he saw in June 1907 in the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro. When he displayed the painting to acquaintances in his studio later that year, the nearly universal reaction was shock and revulsion. Matisse angrily dismissed the work as a hoax. Consequently, Picasso did not exhibit Le Demoiselles publicly until 1916. Formal ideas developed during this period lead directly into the Cubist period that follows.
Picasso and Georges Braque developed analytic cubism jointly and their paintings in the years 1909 to 1912 often seem stylistically indistinguishable. I am attracted to the cubist paintings of the era by different artists, but I do also notice a fair degree of sameness among them. In mitigation I will also say that I admire collaboration among creative people. I’d appreciate being able to do something similar in my waning years, but I travel too much to settle into a group.
From 1912 to 1919 Picasso’s cubist style shifted from strict analytic cubism to what he called crystal cubism – a more distilled form of cubism – and also towards cubist collage. This is sometimes called his synthetic cubist period. At this point, you can begin to see how the grouping of Picasso’s paintings into “periods,” not especially helpful all along, begins to crumble. During this “period” some of his contemporary complained that he was defecting from cubism back to realism. During this time Picasso entertained a distinguished coterie of friends in the Montmartre and Montparnasse quarters, including André Breton, Guillaume Apollinaire, Alfred Jarry, and Gertrude Stein. (As an aside, Apollinaire was arrested on suspicion of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911. Apollinaire pointed to Picasso, who was also brought in for questioning, but both were later exonerated).
In February 1917, Picasso made his first trip to Italy. In the period following the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Picasso produced work in a neoclassical style. This “return to order” is evident in the work of many European artists in the 1920s. Picasso’s paintings and drawings from this period frequently recall the work of Raphael and Ingres.
In 1925 the Surrealist writer and poet André Breton declared Picasso as ‘one of ours’ in his article “Le Surréalisme et la peinture”, published in Révolution surréaliste. Yet Picasso exhibited Cubist works at the first Surrealist group exhibition in 1925; the concept of ‘psychic automatism in its pure state’ defined in the Manifeste du surréalisme never appealed to him entirely.
During the 1930s, the minotaur replaced the harlequin as a common motif in Picasso’s work. His use of the minotaur came partly from his contact with the surrealists, who often used it as their symbol, and it appears in his Guernica (1937). Guernica is Picasso’s depiction of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This large canvas embodies for many the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war. Asked to explain its symbolism, Picasso said, “It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.” Guernica was exhibited in July 1937 at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition, and then became the centerpiece of an exhibition of 118 works by Picasso, Matisse, Braque and Henri Laurens that toured Scandinavia and England. After the victory of Francisco Franco in Spain, the painting was sent to the United States to raise funds and support for Spanish refugees. Until 1981 it was entrusted to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, as it was Picasso’s expressed desire that the painting should not be delivered to Spain until liberty and democracy had been established in the country.
I saw Guernica in 2007 when I was in Madrid. At the time it was housed in its own exhibit at the Museo Reina Sofia along with dozens of photographs showing Picasso painting it, preliminary sketches Picasso made, and a host of related items exploring the painting’s imagery. I spent a large part of a day at the exhibit.
All right, I’ll leave it there and move to Picasso’s recipes – finally !! These recipes come from Vogue September 1st, 1964, and are reproduced on this website https://www.vogue.com/article/haute-cuisine-pablo-picasso-recipes-vogue At the time Vogue was in the habit of contacting famous people and asking for their favorite recipes. This is Picasso’s contribution. The material is copyright by Vogue.
Picasso’s Omelette Tortilla Niçoise for Four People
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
4 peppers, red and green
2 tablespoons wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
In a flat-bottomed frying pan, heat oil gently, adding the onion, sliced and separated into rings. After 5 minutes, add the peppers, seeded and diced. Mix and cook gently for a few minutes, then slip in the tomatoes, seeded, peeled, and cubed. After mixing and seasoning, cover pan and let simmer over a low flame for 1 hour. Vegetables should not stick. Uncover the pan, pour in the wine vinegar, and let cook until liquid is reduced.
Beat the eggs in a bowl. Pour them over the vegetables, mix well, and let the omelette cook gently without touching it. When it is well set, put a big plate over the pan and reverse the omelette onto it, then slide it back into the pan on the other side. Finish over a higher flame until golden underneath. Cut the omelette tortilla like a pie, and serve with a bowl of garlic-mayonnaise seasoned with saffron.
Picasso’s Eel Stew for Four People
6 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons butter
12 small white onions
1 teaspoon sugar
2 yellow onions, chopped
⅓ pound salt pork, cubed
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eels of about 1 pound each, cut into four- to five-inch sections
1 bottle of good red wine
1 tablespoon flour
Salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
Bouquet garni: thyme, bay leaf, parsley, fennel, and a small branch of celery
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan, add small white onions and sprinkle them with sugar. When golden on all sides, cover the pan and cook gently, turning onions carefully from time to time. Be sure they are well caramelized without sticking. After 10 minutes add the salt pork cut in cubes; when transparent, put in the mushroom heads, and let simmer.
At the same time: Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of oil in a casserole. Cover the bottom with 2 chopped onions, minced shallots, garlic, and chopped mushroom stems. Put the bouquet garni in the center and the sections of fish around it. Season and cook gently for 5 minutes, then cover with wine. Bring to a boil, then lower flame as far as possible, to simmer, without boiling, for 15 minutes.
Drain the pieces of eel and place in the frying pan with the small onions. Keep warm over a low flame.
Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, return to high flame and reduce, uncovered for 5 minutes. Work 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon flour into a paste, and add it in bits to thicken sauce; stir to boiling point before removing from stove.
Cover the eel stew with sauce; and serve surrounded by croutons fried in butter.