An artistic genius in Montmartre


It is Easter Monday in Paris, a French national holiday, and in the warm light of morning the streets are calm, few cars clogging the rue and quai of the central city.

Easter Monday @ Montmartre

But by mid-day holiday revelers will have spilled into the grand parks and gardens of Paris, Parc du Champ de Mars, Jardin du Luxembourg, Jardin des Tulieres, among others. On this or any other fine spring day, Parisians love to bask in the sun in these metropolitan oases or sip espresso in the ubiquitous cafés so deeply embedded in French culture.

Downtown in Montmartre

Nowhere is the festivity more evident than in Montmartre, Picasso’s first home in Paris. In 1900 he was 19, and spoke hardly a word of French, having just arrived from Barcelona. In 1901 he began the Blue Period of his art, by 1904 the Rose Period of his genius, marvelous work in tints of ochre and faint pink that describe the quotidian life of acrobats and harlequins and evoke feelings of tenderness and vulnerability.

Musée du Louvre

In those early days in Paris, Picasso haunted the museums of Paris, among them the Musée du Luxembourg and the Louvre, where he studied the impressionist and post-impressionists painters Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, and the Spanish masters Velazquez and Goya.

Near Picasso Museum in Barcelona

On this trip, I was not privileged to view the work of Picasso in the Musée Picasso in Paris, as it is closed for renovation until next year. But my wife and I did relish our re-visits to the Museo Picasso in Barcelona and Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, which showcases several of his paintings, including the magnum opus Guernica.

Montmartre Neighborhood

Had you been in Montmartre at the beginning of the 20th century, you might have passed Picasso near the Bateau-Lavoir (Laundry Boat) where he lived, a bohemian sanctuary for artists of a motley kind: painters, sculptors, poets, playwrights.

To the good wine in Montmartre

Had you frequented the cafés and cabarets of Montmartre—the Chat Noir and Le Zut—you would have found Picasso and his friends, the poets Max Jacob, Arthur Rimbaud, Paul Verlaine, and Charles Baudelaire, feverishly reading poetry aloud or engaged in heated discussion of the issues of the day.

Glimpse of downtown Paris

Later on Picasso met Paul Éluard, a surrealist poet with whom he collaborated to illustrate the poem “La Barre d’Appui.”

Éluard wrote this moving poem in homage to his lifelong friend Picasso:

To Pablo Picasso

Some have invented boredom others laughter
Certain ones fit life with a cloak of storm
They swat butterflies spit birds before the fire
And go off to die in the dark

You have opened their eyes that go their way
Amid natural things in every age
You have made harvest of natural things
And you sow for all times

They preached at your body and soul
You have put the head back on the body
You have pierced the tongue of the satiate man
You have burned the blessed bread of beauty
A single heart quickens the idol and its slaves
And amid your victims you continue to work

There’s an end of joys engrafted on sorrow.[…]

An end of going astray anything can be
Since the table is straight as an oak
Color of monk’s cloth color of hope
Since in our field small as a diamond
Is held the reflection of all the stars

Anything can be we of friends of man and beast
After the fashion of the rainbow

By turns fiery and frigid
Our will is of mother-of-pearl
It changes buds and blossoms
Not according to the hour but according
To the hand and the eye that we knew not ourselves
We shall touch everything we see
As well as the sky as woman
We join our hands to our eyes
The holiday’s new.

The bull’s ear at the window
Of the wild house where the wounded sun
An inner sun takes to earth

Tapestries of awakening the walls of the room
Have conquered sleep.

Is there a clay more sterile than all these torn newspapers
With which you set forth to conquer the dawn
The dawn of a humble object
You design lovingly that which awaits its being
You design in the void
As folk do not design
Generously you cut out the form of a chicken
Your hands played with your tobacco pouch
With a glass a bottle that gained

The infant world came out of a dream
Good wind for guitar and for bird
A single passion for the bed and the barque
For fresh pastures and for wine that’s new

The legs of the bathers bare the waves and strand
Morning your blue shutters close upon the night
In the furrows the quail smells of hazelnuts
Of olden Augusts and Thursdays gone
Pied harvests full-voiced peasant women
Shells of the marshlands dryness of the nests

Countenance of bitter swallows in the raucous sunset

The morning kindles a green fruit
Gilds the grain fields cheeks hearts
You hold the flame between your fingers
And paint like a conflagration
At length the flame unites
At length the flame brings salvation

I recognize the changing image of the woman
Double star moving mirror
Negatress of the desert and of forgetfulness
Source with breasts of heather spark trust
Giving daylight to the day
And her blood to blood
O hear you sing her song
Her thousand fancied forms
Her colors that make the bed of the countryside
Then go off to hue mirages of night

And when the caress takes flight
Immense violence remains

Insult remains with weary wings
Gloom metamorphosis gloomy people
Whom ill-luck devours

Drama of seeing where there is nothing to see
Save oneself and what is like oneself

You cannot wipe yourself away
All is reborn between your even eyes

And on the basis of present memories
Without order nor disorder with simplicity
Rises the prestige of giving sight.

Paul Éluard 1947
(translator: Joseph T. Shipley)

As he wanted and believed, Picasso lives forever. In his art lies immortality.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier