D.H. Kahnweiler, who knew Picasso for over sixty-five years, wrote: “It is true that I have described his oeuvre as ‘fanatically autobiographical’. That is the same as saying that he depended only on himself, on his Erlebnis. He was always free, owing nothing to anyone but himself.” Jaime Sabartés, who knew Picasso most of his life, also stressed his complete independence from external conditions and situations. Indeed, everything convincingly shows that if Picasso depended on anything at all in his art, it was the constant need to express his inner state with the utmost fullness.
One may, as Sabartés did, compare Picasso’s oeuvre with therapy; one may, as Kahnweiler did, regard Picasso as a Romantic artist. However, it was precisely the need for self-expression through creativity that lent his art that universal quality that is inherent in such human documents as Rousseau’s Confessions, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell. Let it also be noted that Picasso looked upon his art in a somewhat impersonal manner, took pleasure in the thought that the works, which he dated meticulously and helped scholars to catalogue, could serve as material for some future science. He imagined that branch of learning as being a “science of man — which will seek to learn about man in general through the study of the creative man.”
But something akin to a scientific approach to Picasso’s oeuvre has long been current in that it has been divided into periods, explained both by creative contacts (so-called influences, often only hypothetical) and reflections of biographical events (in 1980 a book called Picasso: Art as Autobiography appeared). If Picasso’s work has for us the general significance of universal human experience, this is due to its expressing, with the most exhaustive completeness, man’s internal life and all the laws of its development. Only by approaching his oeuvre in this way can we hope to understand its rules, the logic of its evolution, and the transition from one putative period to another.
The works of Picasso published in the present volume — the entire collection in Russian museums — cover those early periods which, based on considerations of style (less often subject matter), have been classified as Steinlenian (or Lautrecian), Stained Glass, Blue, Circus, Rose, Classic, “African”, proto-Cubist, Cubist (analytic and synthetic)… the definitions could be even more detailed. However, from the viewpoint of the “science of man”, these periods correspond to the years 1900-1914, when Picasso was between nineteen and thirty-three, the time which saw the formation and flowering of his unique personality.
There is no question about the absolute significance of this stage in spiritual and psychological growth (as Goethe said, to create something, you must be something); the Russian collection’s extraordinarily monolithic and chronological concentration allows us to examine, through the logic of that inner process, those works which belong to possibly the least accessible phase of Picasso’s activity.
By 1900, the date of the earliest painting in the Russian collection, Picasso’s Spanish childhood and years of study belonged to the past. And yet certain cardinal points of his early life should not be ignored.
Some of the featured artworks of Picasso:
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