Reimagining Modernism 1900-1950 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Retreat Exhibit: Observing Picasso

Pablo Picasso, The Dreamer (1932)

Cartoonish colors and intersecting curves obscure the humanness of the painting – without prior knowledge that the painting depicts Picasso's young lover Marie Therese, one may not have noticed a woman's figure. She appears to be lying naked on a white blanket in a field outside, looking up into the pale blue sky, accompanied by trees and overlapping clouds and petite white flowers. The pastel color palette, simplistic stripes, and large lines and arcs add a youthful tinge, which may be due to the pre-Surrealist era that Picasso famously pioneered as well as the fact that his lover was just 17 years old. The line work is not impeccable, and the painting lacks detail. Her body, although difficult to make out, is the center of attention in the piece. It is unnerving, plump, and even verging on grotesque. Her features are contorted, as her legs fuse into a mermaid like tail and a single point, her feminine features accentuated to be larger than her face, and her face is shown merely at profile, absent of characteristic facial features like eyes, lip outlines, and ears. There are parts of her body that are ambiguous in the sense that one cannot immediately tell what the part is, if it is even a body part at all. One thing that is noticeable is that the body and its several parts as a composite seem to follow the curve of the trees and the background behind her, making no hint at depth perception, as if she is one with the distorted spinning world that she is dreaming in. It is as daring as the art that surrounded them during that time period, in sync with the height of 20th century experimental classical music that Igor Stravinsky and John Cage cultivated.

Pablo Picasso, Woman Asleep at a Table (1936)

Pablo Picasso's lover Marie Therese is asleep in a chair, resting her head down on a table with her arms curled under her head. She is inside a house with exaggerated geometric architectural features, smudgy charcoal colored walls, and furniture in different shades of grey. It appears as if the entire painting is cast in a shadow, cut up with angles and lackluster romanticism, a stark contrast to her lush depiction in The Dreamer. Her face is a skinny oval, meeting at single points at the top of her forehead and her chin.The light above the table shines in an upwards trapezoid instead of casting down on her, and she is as exhausted and inanimate as the dullness that surrounds her. This painting does not come as a surprise in the sense that Picasso often painted Marie Therese asleep, contributing to the infantile nature of their relationship and age difference, enamored with her innocence as well as her most simplistic states and her anonymity revealed in the title. It could just be a portrayal of the burdens of new motherhood, perhaps post partum depression and exhaustion, or the darkness that the end of their relationship yielded at this period in time. He was, after all, in the process of meeting his new lover when the painting was finished. It could also reveal something deeper and disturbing, straddled chronologically between the exposure of repressed, primal feelings introduced by Sigmund Freud and the controversial pedophilic novel Lolita (1955) by Vladimir Nabokov.


Sasha BerlinerComment