The sound world of Pablo Picasso



Picasso’s music

Philharmonie de Paris

until January 3, 2021

They sing, play the flute, the guitar or the mandolin. They are poor ragged acrobats or vigorous mythological figures born from the Mediterranean imagination. In Picasso’s works, music is a privileged guest. Music, really? Rather, it is the instruments and those who play them that the painter sets up as true heroes of his paintings, drawings or sculptures.

The Philharmonie de Paris explores this singular relationship to its sound environment and the way in which the artist irrigates his work, from his youthful years to the latest paintings. “During his childhood in Malaga, says Cécile Godefroy, curator of the exhibition, her father would take her to listen to flamenco. He was immediately sensitive to the rhythms, to the colors, to the vital pulsation that emanated from them. And for him, music will remain above all a popular expression, a noise of the world much more than a concert hall discipline. As proof, this tambourine on which he crunches, in 1899 (he is 18 years old), a Andalusian couple with supple and elegant silhouettes.

Freshly arrived in Paris in 1904, the young Picasso was quickly thrown into the bohemian universe where painters, poets and musicians met. In the footsteps of Lautrec or Degas, he observes with acuity but also tenderness the dancers of the cabarets of Montmartre, the singers of the café-concerts, the artists of the Medrano circus where good society comes willingly to ensnave. Derisory and tragic, weary and sublime, the figure of the mountebank bears witness to the condition of man in his solitude and melancholy. When Georges Braque – endowed with a solid musical culture – introduced him to cubism, Pablo Picasso meticulously seizes, dissects and reconstructs violins and clarinets. And if the eye of the spectator does not immediately recognize the original form of the instruments, the artist did not however subject reality to his pure fantasy: “We find the soundboard, the rosette, the neck, the frets …”, notes, facing the cut cardboard Guitar (1912), luthier Gilles Chancereul, in the exhibition catalog.

During this period, the representation of the instrument will have taken precedence over that of the musician. However, this materiality claimed and magnified in various media – paint, wood, paper, metal… – does not exclude poetry. “If the curves and lines of a mandolin or a guitar seem ideal in cubism, they arouse an imagination much richer than a glass or a fruit bowl”, assures Cécile Godefroy. As well as the perfectly legible page of a sheet music pasted on Violin and sheet music (1912) revives the sentimental memories of the spectators of the time …

Picasso’s rising fame earned him commissions for musical theater and ballet. The painter is then the companion of Olga Khokhlova, dancer with the famous Ballets Russes of Diaghilev. From 1917 to 1924, from Parade with Satie at Tricorn by De Falla or Pulcinella from Stravinsky, he designs stage curtains, sets and costumes. Without forgetting the masks, extraordinary tributes to the commedia dell’arte that he designs or shapes in wood, paper and painted fabric. With a virtuoso hand, willingly ironic, he portrays Francis Poulenc and illustrates the programs of the very young Groupe des Six supported by Jean Cocteau.

The passage of time modifies Picasso’s instrumentarium: as he reappropriates his Mediterranean origins and revisits Greek Antiquity, the flutes with multiple symbolism, that of breath and that of eroticism, invest his paintings while the musician and the painter merge more and more. In apotheosis, the last room of the exhibition presents nine large canvases (1965 to 1972) powerfully colored and with a recurring motif. To the sound of his indisputably phallic flute or clarinet, a man seduces a swooning woman: a symphonic celebration of life, an ode to painting as a spell, a return to primitive principles which explode in saturated hues, in lines brushed with vigor and panache. As if, after having visited so many aesthetic countries, explored so many styles, diverted or invented so many objects, the hand of the old painter was now directly inspired by Pan or Dionysos.

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