FEMME NUE DEBOUT A SA TOILETTE by Bob Kessel
Casagemas went to Paris with Picasso to see one of Picasso’s works at the Exposition Universelle, and afterward the pair remained in the city to enjoy a free-spirited bohemian lifestyle. Paris circa 1900 was a liberating place, and Picasso and Casagemas took in as much of the cafes, cabarets, and general wildness as they could afford. Things became complicated by Casagemas’ love for a young woman called Germaine, particularly when Germaine wanted to break off the affair and could not be persuaded otherwise.
Picasso and Casagemas returned to Spain, but Casagemas soon left for Paris again on his own. He was still tormented by Germaine and while with some friends at Montmartre’s L’Hippodrome Café, Casagemas pulled out a pistol and shouted at Germaine, “Voila, pour toi!” and fired at her. She collapsed to the ground and then Casagemas shouted, “Et voila, pour moi!” and shot himself in the temple. Casagemas was dead, but his first shot had missed Germaine. She had thrown herself on the floor as he fired the shot and was hiding under the table.
The news of Casagemas’ death left all the young men of his generation stunned, but none so much as Picasso. The events echoed in the mind of this young artist and he became haunted by grief, guilt, responsibility, the specter of death, and his own need for redemption and absolution. He tried desperately to internalize this horror but, back in Paris several months later, it detonated with explosive van Gogh-like brush strokes and intense colors.
Picasso painted “Head of the dead Casagemas” in 1901. It can be taken as a joke, or a visual pun, but he had discovered that a candle flame not only looks like a vagina, but indeed such a form should be present, since a vagina, after all, helped to destroy Casagemas.
Head of the dead Casagemas by Pablo Picasso
Picasso’s Variations On the Masters
Iconoclastic yet deeply rooted in the art of the past, Picasso endlessly copied, reworked, paraphrased and transformed well-known pictures by artists who obsessed him Manet, Velazquez, Ingres, Delacroix as well as images by Renoir, El Greco, Rembrandt, Gauguin, Degas, Cranach and Courbet.
In Picasso’s “variations” on these artists, he pits his powers of invention against the conventions of his predecessors. The detachment afforded by the variations enabled him to revitalize his art, to assess his own position in the western European tradition and to take up lifelong themes.
Throughout his career, Picasso used classic paintings as inspiration for his own work. Typically, the earlier paintings did not inspire just a single work, but a sequence of paintings, sometimes dozens of them.
Some of these sequences were inspired by Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” and Velasquez’s “Las Meninas”.
First, it shows that, for Picasso, art was a process, rather than a goal. As the sequences develop, we can see him continuously reinterpreting the original, changing directions, as a way of exploring the original and his reactions to it.
It is OK to be derivative (in the best sense). Our art culture places an extreme value on originality. The idea of copying great art, and being inspired by it to develop your own variations on a theme, is currently underappreciated, even though this technique has always been used by great artists. (In art, Van Gogh comes to mind. And in music, Bach, Mozart, and of course, all jazz musicians).