People are always asking me what my favourite genre of novel to read is, and who is my favourite author, but no one ever asks me the same question about art. Perhaps I just don't move in those circles, where elevated conversation gently buzzes through rooms of martini-holding guests (which is how I sort of visualise arty parties). But if anyone actually did, I'd answer without hesitation…
|The famous photo of Picasso shading Franciose|
Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot with Picasso’s nephew on the Côte d’Azur in 1951. Photograph: Robert Capa/Magnum
|I first encountered Picasso in my twenties, when I bought the book written by Francoise Gilot; My Life with Picasso. Gilot became Picasso's lover and the mother two to of his children. Gilot was at that point trying to establish herself as an artist when she met the older man. She is now 94, and was recently interviewed by the Guardian; read the article .|
|La Joie de Vivre, 1946|
Françoise herself is depicted as the central dancing nymph accompanied by a faun and centaur playing flutes and two small goats who are dancing with her in their goat-like way. The colours are muted and restricted to yellow, blue and neutrals, and I stood there thinking how it made me feel free and re-energised.
|Three Musicians 1921|
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painting and see who all these people are
The first puzzle is the name given to the painting. Clearly, the central figure in Velázquez’s original is the Infanta Margaret Theresa, a five-year-old stunner in a costly white dress. The 'Meninas' are her handmaidens, ladies in waiting of high status, dressed quite similarly, a little older than her, and extremely attentive. Noticeably, they have dark, ‘Spanish’ hair, while the Infanta has golden curls.
All this discovery about Velázquez’s painting had come out of learning about Picasso's tribute. I'd been listening to a programme about Picasso’s Guernica,
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His Las Meninas is harder to unravel than Guernica, but, as with other Picasso’s works, it’s even harder to look away. I discovered they also fascinate and frustrate art historians.
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The Infanta is a picture of childhood innocence. Picasso painted her over and over again: Alone, in body and as a bust, the Infanta appears in 14 of the series interpretations. In the work to the left, she does retain that sweet, chubby-cheeked look, but Picasso subverts and alters the original throughout the series. In some she seems to have a sourer look, worldly wise and rather disenchanted. In both representations, she’s wearing a mantilla, unlike the original, which makes me think Picasso wanted to make her seem traditionally Spanish. The colour of her dress and hair also change in each representation and in some her head is out of proportion. To quote art histories, it's possible Picasso twisted Infanta Margarita’s face in order to show how difficult it was for the young princess to balance her contradictory feelings and emotions between traditional etiquette and controlled behavior on the one hand and playfulness.
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So how are these pictures a commentary on contemporary events in Spain, observed by Picasso from his exile in France? Look at the ceiling bosses. They have become grotesque hooks for the suspension of torture victims. In some pictures, the painter becomes a figure from the Inquisition while in one of them a maid has Franco’s moustache.
perfect innocence amid the desperation of Spain at that time.
little by little, I would paint my Meninas which would appear detestable to the professional copyist; they wouldn’t be the ones he would believe he had seen in Velázquez’s canvas, but they would be “my” Meninas.
I like the way that sums up what you see when you look at the canvases, or at least, their representations online.