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Art: London Greys

3 minute read

Only one living artist has deliberately matched his art against the superhuman mayhem of air bombing. Picasso did it for the Spanish Government building at last year’s Paris Exposition with a 22-ft. by 10-ft. mural, Guernica, which nobody enjoyed and nobody forgot. Last month this painting and 67 auxiliary sketches were exhibited at London’s New Burlington Galleries, quickly became the sensation of the opening season.

Done in grey, with staring whites and blacks, Guernica had a visceral effect on Londoners who had just got over the war scare, an esthetic kick for the critics. The Times’s, Eric Newton noted that in his studies for a screaming woman (see cut) Picasso had drawn each feature from the most expressive angle (eyes from the front, nose from the side, nostrils from below) for intensity. The Observer’s Jan Gordon observed that the big composition employed Abstraction in its jagged design, Expressionism in its mangled figures, Surrealism in its eerie details.

Last week London’s renewed interest in many-minded Pablo Picasso was whetted by a big, swank show of paintings from the School of Paris at the spacious old Lefevre Galleries off St. James’s Square. Eight Picassos of different periods (he has had eight so far: Realist, Toulouse-Lautrec, Blue, Rose, African, Cubistic, Neo-Classical and Surrealistic) were surrounded by canvases by Bauchant, Bonnard, Braque, Dali, Derain, Dufresne, Dufy, La Fresnaye, Leger, Lurçat, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, Pascin, Redon, Rousseau, Rouault, Segonzac, Soutine, Utrillo, Vuillard.

Shown for the first time in London was the only known portrait of Picasso, painted at the height of the Cubist movement by one of Cubism’s great saints and Picasso’s great friend, the late José Gonzales or “Juan Gris” (John Grey). This ex-engineering student said, “The only possible pictorial technique is a sort of flat-colored architecture,” used few brilliant colors, painted his Hommage à Picasso in green, brown and grey.

While homage was thick in London, Paris burbled over Picasso’s latest joke. Sitting as usual in the evening at the Café de Flore with a chic woman, the forelocked Spaniard who has the Midas touch was joined by three picture dealers, then by three more. He picked up an empty cigaret package, cryptically manipulated it under the table, finally brought out a little figurine of a dancer with the remark: “Well, there’s the latest Picasso.” Amid a chorus of admiring compliments, artist and girl friend departed. The six picture dealers were just on the point of springing as one man for the latest Picasso when the girl returned, picked it up, apologized for having left it, swept away to where the grinning painter watched from the door.

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