Letter to a Daughter

Dear Bee,

How are you? I hope work is fun but you’re getting home at a decent time. So awful at the moment with no sun and dingy mornings, I am ready for Spring to arrive.

I thought about you yesterday. Partly because I was in London (I waved from the train when we passed near your flat. Got strange looks from everyone else in the carriage and the man sitting next to me moved to another seat.) The other reason was because I was going to a Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It reminded me of when I used to take you there when you were little.

We had a lecture first. There was a lot of information (too much to remember actually, but it wasn’t too warm, so I stayed awake.) The lecturer was very good, she obviously knew her stuff, and explained it nice and simply. I think Picasso can be summed up in three words: seedy, witty, clever. But I’ll give you a quick over view of his life, it might be useful if ever you have to look knowledgeable.

img_5544He was born in Malaga (I’m sure you remember this, from our holiday there when you were about 4 years old…) His father was an artist (painted mainly birds it seems – pigeons and doves – very realistically.) Picasso started to copy his father, and when he was just twelve he finished one of his Dad’s paintings and was told it was better than his father’s. We saw a self-portrait he did when he was 13 (to be honest, he did a LOT of self-portraits. Says something about the man, I think.) He was at an art college in Barcelona, and his work was pretty good actually. None of the weird stuff that appeared later.

When he was older, he lived in Paris, and was there during the war (when he used lots of dingy colours and contorted faces to show the unrest/cruelty of the times.) He tried out lots of different styles, copying other artists. There was a bit of cubism (painting weird geometric shapes across the canvas), things like that. He doodled a lot, and drew caricatures of his friends and family. He always refused to take commissions for ‘classical’ portraits, when the model is flattered and surrounded by lots of emblems to show their status. He wanted to paint their personality, their mood. Many of his portraits, even though the subject sat for many hours when posing, are barely even recognisable as human. (I expect some of them were rather cross.) However, lots of his work was given to friends, rather than for exhibition. These pieces tended to be smaller, and more realistic. I preferred them.

I was interested by his realistic portraits. He was undoubtedly talented. I don’t really like his later stuff at all – all those eyes at weird angles and mouths and noses not in sync. However, one thing was interesting. We were shown a cubist painting (which just looked a mess of shapes with a random eye plonked to one side) and were told to ‘fuzz’ our eyes. I took off my glasses (fuzzes the whole world!) and the portrait looked completely different – you could see the man, how he was sitting, holding his hands in front of him. That was clever.

I also went to the gift shop, while waiting for the people who I was having lunch with (who were all rather more interested in the paintings than I was). I managed to avoid the £800 etchings and £52 tray, and even the rather natty ‘Picasso’ tee-shirt and beret set. I was tempted by one of the books though. It was a children’s book, and I wished you were young again, so I could buy it for you. It was written about a little boy’s experiences, when Picasso visited him in England. It showed a glimpse of the man, the child-like, creative, story-telling old man, who was happy to make curiosities for a little boy. There was also a painting of the boy’s mother – all skew-wiffy, with nose and mouth and eyes in different directions. But when you compared it to a photograph of the mother, and drew a line around her profile, what Picasso had painted has exactly the same edge. Which is also clever.

But you’re not little any more, so I didn’t buy you a copy. I bought some postcards instead.
Better go. Try and pop down when you get time. Eat properly.

Lots of Love,
Mum xx

img_5545 Portrait of his first wife, Olga (he had a lots of women, but only married two of them.) This one won a prize in the US (where Picasso never visited, but a friend entered it for him.) I like this painting (it’s less fuzzy in real life). She does look fed up in all of them though, so I think being painted must be boring. She was a Russian ballet dancer, so probs didn’t much like having to keep still for long periods of time.

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