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Posts tagged ‘Picasso’

Cubism’s hidden depth: The Crystal in the Flame

Any artist will tell you that paintings flowing from instinct will always work better. Those forced, because of instruction or a self-imposed target, will often miss the mark. When I paint from the heart, it always works better, and the style to which I always find myself returning in those unencumbered, free-flowing moments is a form of cubism.

I have always shied away from over-categorising my work. I rarely find such labels to be helpful, as indeed can be said of pigeonholing people. But I am the first to admit that there is something decidedly cubist about my recent work, especially when I design straight from the heart. This tendency arises, I believe, from my perfectionist attitude when it comes to composition and line, since there is nothing quite like the geometric delineation of cubism to satisfy that inherent need for order within me. However, it is also a tendency which arises directly out of my adoration for the genre in general.

Cubist works have always held an enduring fascination for me. In a gallery of plenty, they are always the works which later I will proclaim to have been my favourites. And last weekend, when I was lucky enough to attend an entire exhibition of cubism at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, I realised quite how innately inspired I am by the cubist age.


Juan Gris, Portrait of Josette, 1916


Gino Severini, Still-life with Bottle of Marsala, 1917


Juan Gris, La Guitarra, 1918

The museum’s fascinating new exhibition, Cubism and War: the Crystal in the Flame, sets out to explore another face of the artistic masterpieces produced during the time of the First World War. When WW1 broke out, cubism as an artistic genre, was considered to be a fully-established school, with the likes of Picasso and Braque, Diego Rivera and Juan Gris its leading proponents. Rather than break with this new innovation when the war made images of blood-soaked trenches and destroyed landscapes a reality, those same artists and their followers were determined to keep the style alive. However, whether it be as a direct response to the horrors of war or a reflection of the modern, mass-machine, emotionless reality of the age, the time of war did bring about a distinctive sub-class of cubism, and it is this period on which this exciting new exhibition focuses.


Juan Gris, Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan, 1915


Pablo Picasso, Still-Life with Compote and Glass, 1914-15

Known as “crystal” cubism in reference to the tightening compositions, enhanced clarity and sense of order reflected in the works, this new modification of cubism has been likewise linked to a much broader ideological transformation towards conservatism in both French society and culture (the crystal movement was largely painted out of Paris). It was certainly a purification of the style, moving from a complex analytical form of cubism, in which cubism was used to decompose a particular image or person after study, to a synthetic process whereby the cubist composition was built on the basis of geometric construction without the need for prior study. The “crystal” period took synthetic cubism one step further with works inherently characterised by a strong emphasis on flat surface activity and large overlapping geometric planes controlled by the primacy of the image’s underlying geometric structure, rooted in the abstract.


Juan Gris, Pierrot, 1919


Juan Gris, Still Life with Newspaper, 1916

The exhibition brings together an incredible away of works from the crystal period, and such was the perfection of the works on display that the show got my little perfectionist heart all in a flutter. Moving between a kind of infatuated admiration of the works and a despair at my own failure to produce masterpieces of the kind, I left the exhibition full of inspiration and a determination to continue along my own road of crystallised composition. I have already started work on my own painting inspired by the show. But in the meantime I am happy to recommend the exhibition to you all and to share some of its masterpieces on this post (most of which are Juan Gris, by far my favourite of the lot!).

Cubism and War. The Crystal in the Flame, runs at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona, until 29 January 2017.

Melancholy Woman: Lament for a Broken Union

Sometimes in life you receive news that shocks you to the core. News which wrenches the inside of the stomach, infiltrates the heart and mind, brings tears to the eyes and fills your life, your hopes and your ambitions with darkness. I have lived through the pain of death, and the anguish of heartbreak. And all I can say is that that same physical reaction as I had experienced before once again engaged with my total metal and corporal being when last Friday I awoke to the news that the UK had voted to leave the European Union.

There is much that can be said of a Union which has grown too big, of laws unruly, of an organisation stretched beyond its limits, but there is very little which can justify the decision of 52% of the UK’s voting population opting to leave the EU for what were utterly anachronistic, completely unintelligent and sickeningly ignorant reasons. A  wave of xenophobia, which has long infiltrated English society, was normalised by a leave campaign which popularised an exit from the EU as being an excuse to cleanse the country of foreigners and in so doing exercise what they lauded to be the action of “taking the country back”. Such a move does not enable Britain to become in any way stronger, nor more progressive. It is a retrograde step which will see the nation isolated, deprived economically and falling far outside the progressive benefits of a globalised society.

It is a move which has already seen the value of the pound plummet, the political system spiral into disarray, and the relationship of the UK notably deteriorate with its neighbours and allies near and far. In leaving the EU, those who wished to reinstate an England of the past have robbed its future generations of an actively mobile, economically stable future, all the while forgetting, with an unfathomable level of hypocrisy, that the England of the past was a country whose very success and global position had been marked by its own breed of imperialism and abuse of other countries and cultures overseas.

Little more can be said to best express my feelings of dismay at this time. Embarrassment of being English is coupled with my fears of being like a disconnected refuge living abroad without the rights and the freedoms to which I have become so easily accustomed all my life.

Melancholy Woman FINAL

Melancholy Woman: Lament for a Broken Union (after Picasso) (2016, acrylic on canvas ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

In reflecting on this time, I turned to art, as I always have in times of happiness and grief. When I saw the painting by Picasso, Melancholy Woman (1902), I felt engaged by a work of art which appeared to me to sum up the emotions of the moment. Taking a spare canvas, and moving immediately to paint an interpretation of the work, I created my own Melancholy Woman in the abstractive interpretative style which has shaped the body of my recent creations. In repainting this work, I have kept to Picasso’s expertly chosen colour palette, founded of his famously melancholic blue period, replacing his forms with a more geometric gathering.

Melancholy Woman: Lament for a Broken Union (after Picasso) (2016, acrylic on canvas ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)


My melancholy woman laments, like Picasso’s, for an intense heartbreak. I imagine his protagonist wept over some lover, some union lost. My woman also weeps for a broken union. The European Union. Broken by those who entirely misunderstood the modern world, proactively destroying the future of those who might still have benefitted from it. What happens next, no one knows.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part VIII: Antibes

Of all the places we visited on the French Riviera, I think Antibes was most probably my favourite. Drawn to the old coastal town by its arty reputation, and in particular by its well known connection with Picasso and the museum which now bears his name, we didn’t ultimately end up going to the Picasso museum at all, such were the alternative attractions the town had to offer. For Antibes was all about the atmosphere of its street life – its bustling covered market place, its squares full of cafes and its ancient city walls today imbedded with art galleries – and to enjoy this, one could do no better than to simply stroll. And that is precisely what we did.

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Beginning our visit in the more modern spread of the town, we gasped in delight as we walked along the sandy beach to see the old town in the distance, its silhouette characterised by the rising tower of the Picasso museum, by the old roof of the terracotta and yellow Church of the Immaculate Conception, and by the ancient ramparts which encircle the town. Moving inside those ancient walls under a series of arches and along various beautiful streets, we entered a centre teeming with life, colourful houses, and cafés spilling out onto the pavements.

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Having sampled one such elegant café all decorated in soothing shades of grey, olive and white, we moved out of the town slightly to tour its amply sized marina, full of yachts and sailing craft, and then spent some time on the little beach which is perfectly nestled within the curve of the ancient walls, like a mother’s arm, scooping up sand enough for her child to play in. It was back to the cafés after that, via a multitude of art galleries, colourful shops selling local produce, and sandy squares where locals played pétanque. In the Place Nacionale, we found Antibes’ beating heart in the form of a shady square lined with cafés, bistros and brasseries, and playing host to a busy antiques market, and there, around a fountain which reminded me of the stunning street fountains we had discovered in Aix, we ended the day with a well deserved ice coffee and a glass of wine. Santé!

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown ©2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Honeymoon Chronicles, Part I: La Colombe d’Or

To say that my wedding and the honeymoon which followed was a whirlwind of emotions would be no exaggeration. Within minutes of cutting our sensational ombre wedding cake in Chelsea, we were whisked off in the old fashioned style, straight to our honeymoon, leaving our guests behind, and sadly no tied up cans trailing our vehicle. Our destination was the French Riviera, and with only further wedding cake to keep post-wedding hangovers at bay, we tried to prepare ourselves mentally for this further change in circumstances as we were whisked through the night to the South of France.


Our arrival in the tiny village of Saint-Paul de Vence near Nice could not have been more different from the city we had departed. Utterly at peace, with a distinctive fragrance of pines and cypresses freshening the air. As darkness had already descended, the village was permeated by little yellow street lamps, subtly illuminating the central plaza where pétanque balls lay in wait for the following day’s play. And amidst the darkness, one sign glowed more than any other: Lighting a golden dove on a blue and yellow sky, it was the sign of La Colombe d’Or – we had arrived.

Our bedroom at La Colombe d’Or

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La Colombe d’Or (the golden dove) is a legendary destination in the South of France. First opened in the 1920s by Paul and Baptistine Roux, it began life as a quaint little inn nestled against the magnificent ancient ramparts of the village of Saint-Paul de Vence. Its stunning garden terrace abundant in shady fig trees together with its cosy restaurant interior soon began to attract a faithful clientele, and as the French Riviera became progressively more a centre for thinkers and artists, so too did La Colombe become a gathering place for the crème of the artistic set.

Around the pool and in the gardens

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As the years went on, and the Roux family continued to welcome and befriend some of the world’s most famous artists and intellectuals, so too did La Colombe’s remarkable collection of modern art grow, much of which was swapped in exchange for accommodation and their famously delicious Provençal cuisine. So La Colombe d’Or grew, both physically (gradually subsuming neighbouring buildings) and reputationally, and its art collection today stands as one of the most staggering private collections of modern art you could ever hope to see. On its walls, original works by Picasso, Braque, Sonia Delaunay, Calder, Miro, Chagall, Cesar and so many others hang; its leafy terrace is dominated by a stunning ceramic mural by Fernand Leger; and its most stunning swimming pool languishes alongside a remarkable Calder Mobile, a mosaic by Braque, and a recently installed ceramic mural by Sean Scully.

Interiors, and La Colombe’s incredible collection of modern art

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For any enthusiast of 20th century art, or indeed for anyone beloved of the utmost aesthetic tranquility, La Colombe d’Or is a paradise on earth, beyond mere description – it has to be experienced. In the unpretentious little chairs which are clustered on its restaurant terrace, one can see the ghosts of the famous writers and artists who used to sit there in the shadows of the fig trees Jacques Prévert, Yves Montand, James Baldwin, Pablo Picasso… In the unapologetically rustic walls and furniture, you feel as though invited into the warmest of family homes. And in its paradisal gardens, fringed by pillars and scattered with fallen blossom, and alongside that most sensational of swimming pools, you feel as though you have entered some kind of parallel world. Utterly at peace. This was paradise found.

La Colombe’s stunningly cosy restaurant terrace

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And so in La Colombe d’Or, we happily stationed ourselves for the first four days of our honeymoon. And so the rush of emotions which had commenced at our wedding continued. It was to be the most sensational few days imaginable.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Conscience and Conflict: Pallant House explores British Artists and the Spanish Civil War

As the year draws to a close, it is only natural to look back on the highs and lows, and to review everything a little. When it comes to exhibitions, I wouldn’t say that 2014 was necessarily the strongest of years in the UK. I was left a little disappointed by a number of exhibitions I attended, especially at the Royal Academy and Tate Britain. However that is not to say that there were not a number of sure hits. My top 5 exhibitions of the year (in no particular order) have to include the Matisse Cut-outs at Tate Modern, Malevich at Tate Modern, Egon Schiele at the Courtauld, and Rembrandt at the National Gallery. But for the final of the 5, one further exhibition has managed to squeeze into my year’s hit-list, just before 2014 expired: Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

As far as modern world history goes, the Spanish Civil War is too often overshadowed by the longer, larger Second World War that followed it. But none can underestimate the significance of this conflict which, in effect, lasted decades beyond the cessation of fighting, and not least because this was one conflict where the Fascists won the war, right on the doorstep of democratic civilisation. And it was this fear – the very real concern that fascism might win at a time when two major fascist dictators were already installed in Germany and Italy, and when a greater world conflict seemed more than likely – that inspired the artistic reaction amongst British Artists that is the focus of this excellent exhibition.

Frank Brangwyn: For the relief of women and children in Spain (1936-7), detail

Frank Brangwyn: For the relief of women and children in Spain (1936-7), detail

Clive Branson, Demonstration in Battersea (1939)

Clive Branson, Demonstration in Battersea (1939)

Merlyn Evans, Distressed Area (1938)

Merlyn Evans, Distressed Area (1938)

Walter Nessler, Premonition (1937)

Walter Nessler, Premonition (1937)

Edward Burra, The Watcher (1937)

Edward Burra, The Watcher (1937)

Stanley William Hayter, Paysage Anthropophage (Man-eating landscape) (1938)

Stanley William Hayter, Paysage Anthropophage (Man-eating landscape) (1938)

For British Artists between 1936-9 were reacting not just to the horrors of the war, often with surreal images (Edward Burra’s brilliant watercolours being a prime example), destroyed landscapes (Merlyn Evans), and distraught victims (Henry Moore and Picasso), but also to the innate frustration that the British Government had adopted a non-interventionist policy. This felt like utter madness when the fascist leaders of Europe were actively intervening in the Fascist cause, and caused artists of Britain to uprise, creating brilliant propaganda posters supporting the Republican Cause and, ultimately, fighting in the war themselves.

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937)

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman (1937)

John Armstrong, Invocation (1938)

John Armstrong, Invocation (1938)

Alastair Morton, Spanish Civil War (1939)

Alastair Morton, Spanish Civil War (1939)

Joan Miro, Aidez L'Espagne (Help Spain) (1937)

Joan Miro, Aidez L’Espagne (Help Spain) (1937)

Henry Moore, Spanish Prisoner (1939)

Henry Moore, Spanish Prisoner (1939)

So this is an exhibition of posters and of paintings, all sharing the high tensions and morbid premonitions of the time. How apt, for example, was Walter Nessler’s Premonition in 1937, in which he imagined London suffering the same bombardment as had destroyed the Basque town of Guernica only weeks before. How right he was, for only 3 years later, his imagined landscape would become a stark reality for Blitzed London. Those tensions are also brilliantly played out in posters such as Brangwyn’s For the Relief of Women and Children in Spain, which uses the catholic imagery of Mary to emphasise the war’s human plight, especially amongst Spanish Children, and of course in Picasso’s Weeping Woman, painted at the same time as the most famous of all reactions to the war, Guernica, and which makes for a sensational focus of this exhibition.

Conscience and Conflict has only 6 weeks to go, but it’s a truly brilliant exhibition, and if you can’t make it your last favourite of 2014, make it your first of 2015. The exhibition closes on 15th February 2015.

Picasso at Tate – highlight of London’s exhibition year so far

The new exhibition at Tate BritianPicasso and Modern British Art, is a triumph. In analysing Picasso’s complex relationship with the UK and his influence upon Modern British painters and sculptors, the Tate approach a well-trodden artistic oeuvre with a new, fresh perspective. The exhibition not only shows off some wonderful Picasso’s, including many lesser known works from the beginning of his career, but it also places the spotlight on some lesser known British artists such as the superb, prickly and moving work of Graham Sutherland, promoting them to the undisputed limelight enjoyed so regularly by Señor Picasso.

The story of Picasso’s relationship with the UK runs throughout the exhibition, both through the works on show and by way of useful curator commentary placed alongside the canvases. Who would have thought that the artist, so universally  accepted as a leading genius of modern art, and whose paintings comprise the top three most expensive paintings ever sold at auction, should have once been so inexorably spurned by the British art institution? When his work was first exhibited here in 1910, one critic, GK Chesterton described one of Picasso’s cubist paintings thus: “a piece of paper on which Mr Picasso has had the misfortune to upset the ink and tried to dry it with his boots”. 

Picasso, Flowers (1901) - Tate's first conservative Picasso purchase

This sort of reaction was by no means unique, and with his few British fans stemming almost universally from groups of budding artists such as the Bloomsbury group with the exception of a few steadfast collectors, it was many years before one of Picasso’s works entered the public collections in Britain. In fact when Britain did at last buy a Picasso work, they made the purchase of probably the most innocuous and dull painting Picasso ever created – Flowers (1901) – which was purchased in 1933 by Tate.

Picasso’s popularity in England did increase in the inter-war period, with works entering the private collections of collectors such as Douglas Cooper, Roland Penrose and Hugh Willoughby, as well as the stir caused as the worldwide propaganda tour of Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica, passed through the UK in 1938 in support of the Spanish Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War. Nonetheless, it was not until post-WW2, when, numbed to the horrors of war, a newly optimistic peace-time Britain was ready to truly accept and celebrate the talents of Pablo Picasso. Shortly after the end of the war in 1945, the Victoria and Albert museum held an exhibition of Matisse and Picasso, and in 1960, Tate held the largest exhibition of Picasso’s work to date, an exhibition which proved popular enough to attract some 500,000 visitors.

Picasso, The Three Dancers (1925)

It was only after this time that Picasso agreed to sell what he regarded to be one of his most important works to the Tate Gallery in Britian: The Three Dancers, a sale which was agreed in 1965. The work remains one of the masterpieces of Tate Modern’s collection.

Perhaps it’s not all that surprising that Britain was slow to accept Picasso. Historically, the Brits have been a bit slow in adopting anything which causes a disturbance of the traditions which they have always held to be dear. Just look at House of Lords reform – the labour government tried to reform the upper house of Parliament in 1999, but clearly found the disturbance of tradition so ultimately unsettling that they have left the reforms only half completed to this day, a house of semi-herditory peers suspended in history. Even in his time, Turner’s later, more impressionist works proved to be somewhat controversial, even though, by the time the French Impressionists rose to the fore, Turner, cited as a huge influence for the likes of Monet, was held dear to the hearts of the British public. When Picasso came along, the Brits were only just swallowing the new craze of impressionist work coming over from France. Picasso’s cubism and misplaced faces proved a little too radical for most. It is for this reason that Britain, by contrast with the likes of MOMA in New York, holds comparatively few Picasso’s in its public collections (Perhaps this is why Britain is trying to make up for it’s past vacillation by so readily accepting crappy modern art work like Tracey Emin and Martin Creed (you know – lights on, lights off) into its folds? Yes, once again, Britain is out of touch it seems).

Picasso, Weeping Woman (26 October 1937)

Wyndham Lewis, A Reading of Ovid (Tyros)

But despite all those years when Picasso was conspicuous by his absence in the UK’s public galleries, this did not do anything to prevent our budding young artists from being heavily influenced by his work. The second thread of Tate’s exhibition demonstrates how comprehensively Picasso influenced the works of British artists of the time. Duncan Grant, for example, saw many of Picasso’s works when he was in Paris mixing with the likes of Leo and Gertrude Stein. Grant quickly adopted the African-style works which predominated in Picasso’s work around the time of Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, as well as responding to the collages pioneered by Picasso and his Cubist colleague, Georges Braque. So too was Wyndham Lewis, leader of the Vorticist movement, influenced by Picasso’s work, although he actually sought to criticise Picasso who he considered to be overly sentimental and putting the modern movement “under a cloud”. In fact Lewis’ painting A Reading of Ovid (1920-1) (one of my favourites from the exhibition, sought to criticise Picasso’s return to large curvaceous classical figures at that time (such as The Source, below).

Of other artists influenced by Picasso over the years, amongst them Ben Nicholson (whose first abstract works were notably cubist in style) and Francis Bacon (who readily adopted Picasso’s screaming figures from the Guernica era), one of the most strikingly influenced is British sculptor extraordinaire, Henry Moore. The exhibition proficiently sets up direct comparisons between many of Moore’s sculptural forms and drawings and Picasso’s work. For example in his 1936 Reclining Figure, you can see a direct reference to Picasso’s classical work, The Source. Meanwhile, Moore’s incredibly unsettling and violent work, Three Points (1939) appears to reflect the screaming mouths of Picasso’s Guernica figures, painted two years earlier.

Picasso, The Source (1921) and above, Henry Moore's Reclining Figure (1936)

Henry Moore, Three Points (1939-40)

Picasso's Screaming Horse (1937)

Probably my favourite of the British artists on show was Graham Sutherland, whose works had largely escaped my radar before I saw some of his works a few months back at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. Sutherland, who acknowledged his debt to Picasso and in particular to Guernica as he set about painting a number of unsettling works during wartime Britian, particularly in his images of the bomb-damaged English cityscapes and his thorn-like figures, is probably best known for his Crucifixion which he was commissioned to paint for the church of St Matthew, Northampton. One such work related to the commission was included here – a blue-backed crucifixion which I just adored.

Graham Sutherland, Crucifixion (1946)

Some critics who have been to this exhibition had derided the British artists included in the show, pointing out that next to Picasso, their works fall by the wayside. I disagree. Of course it is clear that many artists owe a great debt to the superbly imaginative, constantly changing oeuvre of Picasso (me included), but this is what artists have always done throughout history – borrowing from one another – just like Picasso himself did when he worked relentlessly on reimagining Las Meninas by Velazquez as well as works by Manet and Delacroix. Nonetheless, all of the British works show an originality and vibrancy of their own, from the undisputed sculptural genius of Henry Moore, to the next level of cubism – photographic cubism, advocated by David Hockney. Of course the true star of this exhibition is Pablo Picasso, but then, that kind of is the point of the show.

Picasso and Modern British Art runs until 15 July 2012 – well worth a visit!

PS Other works I loved…

Picasso, Woman Dressing Her Hair (June 1940)

Picasso, Girl in a Chemise (c.1905)

Picasso, The Frugal Meal (1904)

Picasso, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) - the most expensive painting ever sold at auction

Persistently mysterious; indubitable genius: Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe

It’s a mystery to us all. Just why would a naked woman be sitting with two clothed men in the middle of the forest? Are they not hot? Is she not cold? Why is there an uneaten picnic, and why does the background look so flat, almost like stage scenery? What is the woman in the background doing and why is the woman in the foreground looking at us with such fervour?

Ever since it’s sensational first appearance at the Salon des Refuses in 1863, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (luncheon on the grass) by Edouard Manet has given rise to a relentless stream of questions and comparatively few answers. While it’s meaning and narrative might have been profoundly unclear to contemporary audiences, what it did do was shock and inspire in equal measure from the first moment of its appearance. It disgraced the reserved Parisian audiences of the 1863 Salon des Refuses, spurred on by a sensational outcry in the press, outraged to see a shockingly unapologetic female nude staring out at the audience so audaciously and mixing with fully clothed civilised gentlemen. But in equal measure it inspired: It was art for art’s sake – not retelling a classical mythological tale as was common at the time – this was a large canvas reserved for every day life. It was a work which exposed the artist’s active hand through visible brush strokes and a hastily composed background. It was a nude woman whose every crease and curve was unflatteringly exposed, ending the previous hypocritical use of nudes as a representation of deity in all their smooth perfection – here was a real woman, with folds of flab and an unwavering gaze. Unsurprising then that this painting became the touchstone of a new impressionist movement, a movement of artists who would circle around Le Déjeuner’s maker, Manet, making him their leader, a movement which would change the course of art history forever.

Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe by Edouard Manet (1863)

No surprise then that despite the initial outcry caused by the image, Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe has gone on to inspire countless generations of artists, and has become an artistic icon of our times. The work has always been one of my favourites of the (pre-)impressionist era, and I too have been inspired to recreate the scene in my own individual way (and yes, it involves Norms!). I’ll be unveiling my finished work tomorrow, but before I do, it seems only appropriate that the original work and those works which have followed in its shadow should be separately analysed, not least because of the sheer number of artists who have been similarly inspired by the work.

The Judgement of Paris by Marcantonio Raimondi (c.1510-20)

However, before looking at the subsequent reinventions of the work, it is interesting to note the possible sources of Manet’s inspiration as he set about painting this work. It is now thought that Manet was at least partly inspired by two works which would have been staple masterpieces of his time. The first is The Judgment of Paris by Marcantonio Raimondi (above). The engraving, which itself was based on a work by Raphael and copies of which would have been widely distributed at the time Manet set to work on Le Déjeuner includes a familiar composition in the bottom right hand corner. Here, a water nymph and two river gods are sat on the ground watching the judgment of Paris in poses which are exactly reminiscent of the poses adopted in Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe. It may well have been that when deciding to reference these poses, Manet was making a purposeful reference to the judgment of Paris as being like the judgment of paintings submitted to the Salon, the annual open art exhibition of Paris for which Manet’s work, as with every other artist’s work in Paris at that time, was intended. For Manet, it was important to be accepted by the unforgiving group of Salon judges, but only on his terms. Therein lay the difficulty. Nudes were very popular at the time, generally as mythological characters, and it is possible that in painting his very realistic confrontational nude, Manet was both aiming to please the Salon, while also sticking a finger up at their traditions – giving with one hand, and taking away with the other. As for Manet’s decision to mix his nude with clothed male characters, it is likely that Manet took inspiration from Pastoral Concert (c.1510) attributed to Titian and a gem of the Louvre collection. Here two contemporaneously clothed men are joined by two naked nymphs – but this was excusable being that the nymphs were inherently and permanently naked.

Pastoral Concert, attributed to Titan or Giorgione (Louvre Paris) c.1510

Here an interesting point arises. In subsequent xrays of Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, it has been revealed that the pile of clothes on the left of the scene was actually a last minute addition by Manet. It is therefore highly possible that in first painting the scene, he wished to conform with Salon standards by painting two contemporaneously dressed men being visited by a classical nymph, or two (and thus representing an up-to-date reinvention of the Titian work). It was only towards the completion of his work, perhaps realising that despite his coarse brush stroked finish and striking pose of the nude, his work was not going far enough to be innovative and daring, that he decided to add the discarded clothes, thus transforming the nude from a nymph into an everyday woman (it is highly possible he would have added the light chiffon clothing to the woman in the background at the same time). In adding these clothes, Manet transforms the entire tenor of the piece, from mythological pleasantry into a scene of social scandal, as ladies of the time would have recognised the nude as a prostitute consorting with well-bred gentlemen, while the gentlemen in the audience would have undoubtedly felt judged and debased by the direct unwavering gaze of the nude as if to say: “remember me? I’m the one you had behind your wife’s back in Montmartre last night”.

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War on canvas: Guernica – history repeating itself

On the 5th February 2003, when the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, took to the stage at the UN headquarters in New York to present America’s case for war against Iraq, one thing was missing, or at least appeared to be missing from the much-photographed press area outside the Security Council chamber. For concealed beneath a baby-blue banner containing the UN logo erected for the occasion was a tapestry reproduction which had hung proudly in its place for almost 20 years. Appropriate? Maybe, as the masterpiece carefully concealed is easily the most striking, anti-war demonstration ever created, a work which art historian Herbert Read described as “a cry of outrage and horror amplified by a great genius” and by the ‘genius’ himself as “an instrument of war against brutality and darkness”. The artist? Picasso. The masterpiece: Guernica.

Between 4:30 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. on the 26th April 1937, in the midst of Spain’s vicious Civil War, the Basque village of Guernica was brutally attacked by an unprovoked raid of German bombs and gunfire on the orders of the Nationalist leader, General Franco. One third of the population of the village, some 2300 people, were either killed or severely injured, and the old town was utterly destroyed. At 7:39 am on the 11th March 2004, the first of 10 bombs exploded in a train packed with Madrid’s early morning commuters. Almost 200 people were killed in this horrendous massacre, innocent lives destroyed, families ripped apart and Spain, targeted in this ‘second Guernica’ by an unprovoked attack of terrorist means. The similarities are striking. Both the fascist regime of Franco along with his Nazi and Italian fascist support and the terrorist organisation of Al Qaeda sought to intimidate and terrorise and take whatever innocent lives were necessary in pursuance of their iniquitous objectives, while both attacks have rendered Spain the victim of unspeakable horror and its attackers the subject of international abhorrence and outrage. So while Colin Powell and the advocates of the Iraqi war may have felt more comfortable in covering up this phenomenal anti-war masterpiece when they promoted a new war in which similar scenes of horrific slaughter would be an inevitable result, there can be no doubts of the unquestionable relevance which the painting has in today’s violent and nonsensical world.

Guernika – the basque town in ruins after the bombing

Memorial to victims of Madrid 3/11

In this post, I will begin by exploring Picasso’s use of intrinsically nationalistic themes in Guernica, which present such a powerful portrayal of the suffering not just in Guernica, but for the nation of Spain as a whole. Secondly I will go on to illustrate the continuing relevance of these nationalistic sentiments, highlighted most powerfully by the events of the 11th March in Madrid, which inspired my own interpretation of Picasso’s work, ‘Segunda Guernica’ .

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Norms do…Goya – The Third of May 1808

When people think about paintings of conflict, the first name to pop into their head is generally Guernica. The painting, by Picasso, has become a worldwide antiwar symbol, and as if proving the fact, a large tapestry of the painting hangs outside the UN’s Security Council HQ in  New York (you know, the same one that they covered up with curtains when making the decision to go to war against Iraq). But in actual fact, there was painted, some 120 years earlier, an equally striking image of conflict, sacrifice and war, an image so resonant, in fact, that Picasso  cited it as an inspiration to his Guernica. The painting is The Third of May 1808, by Francisco Goya.

As my regular readers will have twigged, I’m a big fan of Spanish art, and therefore it is no surprise that somewhere in the dark depths of my imagination, a Norm version of Goya’s magnum opus would take its form, emerging as a brief watercolour sketch the other night. Here it is, with Goya’s original masterpiece.

Norms on 3rd May 1808 (after Goya) (Watercolour, 2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya (1814), courtesy of the Prado, Madrid

To give a brief background, Goya’s work represents an uprising of Madrid residents in response to the French invasion of Spain under Napoleon I. Having tricked the Spanish into an alliance with the French armies with a view to conquering Portugal and splitting it between then, Napoleon entered Spain with his armies in November 1807 under the guise of strengthening Spanish troops. However, having entered Spain, Napoleon’s true intentions were unveiled, and the French troops moved in to take control of the country, facing very little resistance. It was only on 2 May 1808, when the people of Madrid learnt that the Spanish royals were to be exiled to France, that many of them rose up in rebellion against the French troops. The French army ultimately prevailed, but not without great bloodshed, and Marshal Murat, head of the French army in Spain declared: “The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance. All those arrested in the uprising, arms in hand, will be shot.”. Goya’s painting depicts the moment, early the next morning, when hundreds of Spaniards were led from the monastery where they had been imprisoned overnight (probably the buildings shown in the background) to the surrounding barren lands where they faced point-blank execution before a firing-squad.

The Second of May 1808 by Francisco Goya (1814), courtesy of the Prado, Madrid - partner of the Third of May, this painting depicts the uprising itself.

Goya’s painting is a stunning symbol of slaughter and sacrifice. It works so well on so many levels. There is, for example, the haphazard grouping of sacrificial victims on the left, a monk-like figure shown bending to meet his fate, others turning away in despair, the blood of innocents all over the floor, bloody corpses foreshortened as though falling into the space of the audience. The group of victims shows a human, unorganised element which compares effectively with the group of gunmen on the right who are rigid, dark, sinister, grouped together like a killing machine showing no remorse or sway in their murderous resolve. This contrast of dark and light creates a wonderful tension – good versus evil. Of course the most striking character is the central victim, dressed in a glowing white, his colours matching those of the lantern which casts light upon the scene. Shown with his arms outstretched, he is a christ like figure – he even appears to have the marks of stigmata upon his hands – all suggesting that he represents those Spaniards who stood up to the French invaders, sacrificing their lives for the sake of ultimate Spanish victory. It’s a work which portrays bloody human waste – a waste of life, the destruction of the innocents – and this is why it still stands today as such a powerful anti-war symbol.

Unsurprisingly the painting has inspired countless artists since it went on display in a rather pokey corner of the Prado (after it lay in storage for 40 years – the King of the time, Ferdinand VII, didn’t like it as it glorified people rather than him). One of the first interpretations of the image was this one, by Édouard Manet, which depicts the execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.

Édouard Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximilian (1868-1869)

Maximilian, a member of the Hapsburg family of Austria, had been installed in power in Mexico by Napoleon III of France in an attempt to recover unpaid debts and establish a European presence there. This endeavor failed, ending with the execution of Maximilian and two of his generals by firing squad on 19th June 1867. Here, the emphasis is reversed, as Manet, ever anti-Napoleon, makes the executors the heroes of the piece, dressed in their smart livery, whereas Maximilian and his generals are, by contrast, depicted with dark, undefined, sinister brushstrokes.

The second most significant use of Goya’s composition is Massacre in Korea by Picasso which depicts the Sinchon Massacre, an act of mass killing carried out by the South Korean and/or American forces in 1950.

Pablo Picasso, Massacre in Korea (1951)

Here the firing squad are once again the aggressors, and Picasso has taken the idea of the killing machine to a new level, depicting the squad as a fantastical group of sinister, mechanical automatons, killing without emotion of any kind. By contrast, the victims are as emotive as could be depicted – women and children, one seemingly pregnant, another’s face crippled with despair.

A final, lesser-known depiction, is the pop art homage painted by Irish artist, Robert Ballagh.

The Third of May - After Goya, 1970, by Robert Ballagh

Entitled The Third of May 1970, the painting makes a direct reference to Goya’s work, making no changes to the composition whatsoever, but converting the work into a pop-art creation using black outlines and block colours. The 1970 title of the work is intended to reflect another time of great conflict – this time in Northern Ireland – when British troops entered to enforce some semblance of control.

All three depictions serve demonstrate the continuing relevance of The Third of May 1808 in times of conflict. Like Picasso with his Guernica, Goya created a work for all times, a stark reminder of the brutality and savagery which comes so easily in times of conflict, a brutality which has continued to erupt intermittently around the world, and which, only 120 years after the Third of May, savaged Goya’s homeland, once again.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Norms do… Degas’ L’Absinthe

I’ve always been a bit obsessed with the la fée verte . That is to say, I’ve always been fascinated by the debauched charm of that wonderful peppermint green drink which was and still is (in its full potent form) an illegal alcoholic substance: Absinthe. For absinthe has long been the chaperone of artistic legend, as all the most romantic illusions of the impoverished, desperate, inebriated artist are indubitably accompanied by a bottle of the green stuff, or a glass of its milky diluted counterpart. Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, the green faced cancan dancers of Toulouse Lautrec’s underworld masterpieces, and the dissolute tale of a spiral into poverty and lascivious living on the hillsides of Montmartre in Zola’s L’Assomoir all centre around the mirky hallucinogenic potency of this green-eyed alcoholic monster. It is the very essence of bohemian artistic Paris, and it’s association has pervaded art and its cultural progeniture for decades. One of the most prominent sources of the liquor’s legendary quality is the sensational painting L’Absinthe by Edgar Degas. I first saw the painting in London, when it was exhibited at Tate Britain’s superb exhibition Degas, Sickert and Toulouse Lautrec in 2005-6. I was instantly struck by the simple solitude of the female figure, caught in a moment of absentmindedness and melancholia, appearing quite isolated despite the figure sat to her left, he looking away in his own depressive daydream. I’ve remembered the painting ever since and therefore I was so excited to make its acquaintance once again upon visiting the Musée d’Orsay the other week that I decided I had to turn it into a Norm painting. And so, when the Norms do Degas, it looks something like this…

L'Absinthe Norm (after Degas) (Acrylic on canvas, 2011 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown)

Degas’ original painting, on the other hand, looks like this…

L'Absinthe (Edgar Degas, 1876)

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