I read recently on a different forum something to the effect that Picasso didn’t really paint this picture. It was suggested that either Picasso’s father painted it or that one of Picasso’s teachers painted it and that Picasso took credit for it. Does anyone know the facts in this regard?
Btw, I posted this thread here because it calls for a factual answer and I thought it would reach a greater number of knowledgeable people. Mod, if you think it best to move it, please do.
There’s a guy in one of the Wet Canvas forums who claims Picasso didn’t really paint this picture and that his reputation for having mastered realistic painting at an early age was a sham created to hide the fact that couldn’t really paint very well and therefore had to create cubism to hide his lack of talent. He claims that “First Communion” was probably painted by Picasso’s father, who was an accomplished artist in his own right, or that it was painted by one of Picasso’s teachers so Picasso could claim credit for it and thus enhance his reputation as a genius.
He also claims Picasso could not draw very well, as evinced by the difference in the apparent quality of the drawings he made while still at home with his parents vs. the drawings he did after moving to Paris and being on his own. This person claims he has studied the drawings himself and that Picasso’s supposed early drawings have a different “fingerprint” (or specific style of drawing unique to the individual artist) than those made after he was on his own.
I am highly doubtful of all this. I’ve always heard that Picasso could “draw like an angel,” and I doubt very much that he could have fooled the Parisian art world in general, not to mention such lumionaries as Braque, Matisse, etc. if his talent weren’t genuine.
I was wondering if anyone else was aware of any research into this period of Picasso’s life and the work he did during this period.
I recently saw this painting during a visit to Barcelona. The Picasso Museum there has quite an extensive collection of Picasso’s early, turn-of-the-century work, and The First Communion didn’t stick out as stylistically inconsistent with other works from that time.
On a technical level, Picasso’s early work was extremely competent, and when you take into consideration his age (he was, indeed, only a young teenager at the time), it’s astounding how skilled he was.
However, I don’t think Picasso’s real talent as an artist is evident in these early works. Like I said, they’re very competent, particularly in rendering the human figure, but in overall feeling, works like this are very conventional in tone–full of 19th century sentimentality. There’s really not a whole lot there that distinguishes Picasso as an artist.
It’s really not until his Blue Period in Paris that Picasso emerges as an artist in his own right (with some major debts to Symbolist painters during that period), and in technical terms, the Blue Period paintings are fairly well painted–with realistic figures, albeit quite skinny and disheveled-looking.
Considering all the artistic influences Picasso encountered in Paris–ranging from Symbolist paintings to West African masks–I’d be more surprised if his drawing style did not change over these years.
Thank you, Skopo. Picasso himself readily stated that while his technical skills at that early age were on a par with the old masters it took him many more years to learn how to “draw like a child.” This information is very much in keeping with what I’ve always heard.
I remember that quote, too–something like “When I was a child, I could draw like Raphael; it wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned how to draw like a child.”
I think Picasso was overstating his early talents a bit there–though his early work is very skilled, it’s not quite on part with Raphael. But it does compare pretty will with the best academic painters of the day, and when you consider that those academic artists generally held up Raphael as the standard for painting, maybe Picasso had a point. It would have been too clumsy to say “When I was a child, I could draw just as well as those academic artists who wanted to paint as well as Raphael.”
I like to use his quote whenever people tell me that their kids can paint just as well as Picasso/Matisse/[insert modern artist]–Picasso would have taken their intended slur as a compliment!
From what little I know of Picasso the man, he didn’t seem to be one given to boasting of his abilities and/or giving explaining his art. (Of course, there were always plenty of others willing to do that for him.) Perhaps this remark was intended to identify the style of drawing he was capable of at that age to someone who was already familiar with Raphael, or it might have been something of an exaggeration to prove a point.
It’s amusing how many people feel like the adults you mention who say their children could paint like Picasso, given that Picasso himself often struggled mightily with his paintings as he was creating them. If you haven’t seen the book “Picasso Paints a Portrait,” you might be amused to see this struggle in action. In it, he spends two days (with an old friend who was a photographer for Life Magazine profusely documenting it) painting a picture of his girlfriend at the time, and future wife, Jacquelyn. It looks like one of those paintings someone would think their child could paint, yet he struggled with it a great deal. He would try one thing, then another. Then step back, look at it, and try something else. Then he would sketch it out on paper and experiement with it that way. Then at the end, he remarked to the photographer that sometimes it was more difficult to stop a painting than it was to begin it. Clearly, he was seeing things in the art he was creating, and employing standards to bring it about, that were and are lost on most of the people who see it. (Myself included, as I can appreciate Picasso’s talent but don’t have a clue as to what standards he employed in creating his art, nor what he intended to convey with it.)
I don’t recall if I’ve seen that, but I noticed the same thing about his working method on Guernica when I was in Madrid (this was on the same Spain trip when I went to Barcelona). You can see the progress of his vision in his numerous sketches, and in the photographs that Dora Maar took as he was painting the huge canvas–he’d change his mind constantly, switching the direction of several of the figures over the course of the painting.
A lot of Picasso’s late work (post-1940s) seems a bit repetitive and self-indulgent, and as a person, Picasso was admittedly a misogynistic jerk… but I defy anyone to look at Guernica and tell me that Picasso was not a great artist. I’d seen this painting so many times in reproduction, but standing in front of the actual canvas, it brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you for the link and the insight into the painting of Guernica. I’m glad to discover this site. I can only try to imagine your thoughts upon seeing Guernica itself. I’ve never seen any of my favorite paintings in person, but I’m sure the experience of seeing a “Guernica,” “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “Still-Life, Fast Moving,” etc. would be overwhelming.
I agree that Picasso could be a miserable human being, and he could certainly be cruel at times. But who knows what thoughts were in his mind at the time. I can’t imagine the pressures, concerns and thought processes someone like Picasso goes through. I imagine in his mind his behavior was logical and justified. I know he worried a lot about Dora Maar and paid for psychiatrists and various treatments to try to help her, and that he pretty much supported her for the rest of her life, thanks to a house he gave her as well as a huge store of his paintings that she was able to sell off whenever she needed more money. And he was abominable to his children, particularly the “illegitimate” ones, but who knows his reasons. He wasn’t always that way with them. I suspect he questioned their motives. As I understand from reading his highly regarded biographer John Richardson, Picasso was “much more sinned against than sinning.” I felt much the same way about Frank Sinatra. He could certainly be arrogant and a jerk, but who knows what pressures, conflicts, and manipulations caused him to be that way.
I hope I’m not going too far astray from the original OP. It’s fun to discuss these things with someone who is so knowledgeable.
I agree with Skopo’s assessment. He was certainly very competent in his youthful work. In fact, I have an excellent book of his early work "Picasso - Birth of a Genius - Pub Paul Elek ltd -) " and the drawings particularly (up to the year 1900) are rarely seen but do have a fine quality to them with a very lucid facility but it also has to be said that there were many competent artists around at the time and it wasnt till later that he began to really distinguish himself. There was among these early works, a strong Symbolist influence which carries into his blue period.