Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Exhibitions: Picasso, Tradition and Avant-Garde at the Prado

The queue is too long for the Picasso Tradition and Avant-Garde exhibition at the Prado museum in Madrid so I decide to head for the permanent collection first, where in the first room San Miguel de Zafra can be seen slaying improbable beasts, an image more suggestive than the tableauxs of the Virgin Mary. Inevitably in musuems of this size, the sheer number of paintings makes it hard to develop a coherent narrative, instead you are left with fleeting impressions and in my case ridiculous associations that have nothing to do with art at all. So the audioguide tells me that Mantegna´s ´´Death of the Virgin Mary´ puts into practice Alberti´s theory on linear perspective but all I can think of is the revolutionary zeal of believers because the disembodied voice also mentions that Thomas, one of the twelve disciples, is late for her demise because he is off preaching in distant lands, which is perhaps something of an irony given he doubted most of all. Next to this is the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, which depicts Adam and Eve being turfed out of the Garden of Eden on one side and on the other the Virgin Mary receiving the Holy Spirt in the form of a dove that is being transported on some kind of golden ray from the hands of God. Again I´m not sure why but I wrote ´self-regulation and control of the body´when I saw this image.
In ´The Triumph of Death´by Pieter Breughel the Elder, death is coming to everyone, emperor and jester alike but why is the executioner carrying a cart of skeletal heads rather than fleshy human remains? His army after all is comprised solely of skeletons.
This is in the same room as Bosch´s Garden of Earthly Delights, with its high fantastical images of fornication and mortification but in his panel piece on the seven deadly sins I can´t make out the one for lust. I liked Él Cambista y su mujer in the same room with the pair greedily counting their money.
I was struck by the incredibly haughty and ugly third son of the Medici family by Bronzino and by the harshness of Las Edades y la Muerte by Hans Building Grien with its depiction of the transience of youth and beauty as against the certainty of decreptitude and death.
Across the way there was a self-portrait of Durer from 1498 who the audioguide explained was the third son of eighteen children and sought after a number of trips to Italy to convince his friends and society generally in Hannover, where he lived, that the artist was more than just a craftsman and was instead a liberal professional.
On the second floor, I thought El XI Marques de Villafranca by Goya bore a remarkable resemblance to the actor who played the nurse in Talk to Her, which I suppose is remarkably trite.
Also slightly perturbed by the off-putting doll-like quality of the children in Los Duques de Osuna y sus hijos, which is apparently one of the few family portraits in Spanish art of this period.
Even the skull seemed to be rotting in San Jeronimo by Antonio de Pereda (1643). The saint is thinking about the final judgement and was one of the most popular subjects for artists of the Spanish Baroque because he symbolised some of the dominant themes of the counter-reformation: repentance and penitence.
While San Jeronimo was ruminating on these lofty matters, across the room, San Bernado was getting a mouthful of milk from the breast of a statue of the Virgin Mary, which was considered a way to help one to remain virtuous.
Las Meninas by Velazquez drew attention to the conditions of production of painting and was clearly the centrepiece of the museum, our Mona Lisa as I overheard a guide saying.
At first, I wasn´t completely sure about the colours in El Greco´s paintings of the Virgin Mary, but they grew on me and I learnt his name was Domenicos Theotocopoulos ans he was born on the Cretan Island of Candia, which at the time - 1560- was under the control of the Republic of Venice.
Later in the afternoon, I managed to get into the Picasso exhibition and the first painting was Boy leading a horse (1906) which I saw in Berlin two years ago when the New York Museum of Modern Art loaned some of its collection to a gallery there.
I realise I know little about Picasso as I wander around even though I went to a museum dedicated to him in Malaga earlier this year because there is mention of a blue period between 1901 and 1904 and then a rose period later than that. In his self-portrait (1906), Picasso seems almost black, a fact explained by his then interest in Primitivist art.
Picasso´s obsession with Las Meninas was surprising to me because I realise I am still labouring under the illusion that great artists and writers somehow spring from the ether whereas imitation is in fact the condition precedent for all art. After this I didn´t feel so bad about being malleable.
Mujer sentada en un sillon (1936) is of his then lover and surrealist photographer Dora Maar. She is being torn apart as a response conscious or otherwise to a Europe in turmoil. Even if it is revolutionary, I still think there is too much violence in what Picasso does to women in his painting, reducing them to geometric shapes and lines of flight. Meanwhile in the later Rape of Sabines (1963), when the technique is dimming, women still get the same treatment. Amusingly it looks like he drew the knackers on one of the soldiers as an afterthought. When you look at la maja desnuda by Goya (1800), the difference is marked - the sensuality of it compared to Picasso´s grotesqueries.
The last of the paintings The Musketeer (1967) is appalling and as I leave I notice the side piece explaining Woman in a red Armchair (1932) states that Picasso has an ambiguous relationship with the feminine.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should really use a spell check.

10:07 p.m.  
Blogger Dotsy's Complaint said...

Thanks for that, anonymous!

4:10 p.m.  

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