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Eva Gouel

Page history last edited by Thomas Kutzli 10 years, 7 months ago

 9782702207840 - Picasso - Le Peintre et son Modèle

 

...The shift from the overt influences of tribal art to the more rarefied and abstracted world of the full-blown Cubist enterprise is striking. There is the same stripping back in the search for abstracted essentials as in the earlier work, but now it is as if the notional subject is turned inside out, a jigsaw puzzle to be played with and rearranged. Volume is jettisoned. These new works, such as the Guitars, make internal space manifest. As in the Glass of Absinthe, Picasso plays with a huge range of household objects: cardboard, bits of wire, chunks of wooden packaging, string—whatever is at hand. Ordinary objects, as in Bottle of Bass (1914) were, as James Joyce might have said of Picasso’s work, discombobulated, cut open and re-arranged, re-organized.

 

The element of play and the element of secrecy were interlinked. There is the same effect in the paintings of the period: all those inscriptions to Eva that can be searched for and decoded, all those notations for pubic hair and so forth (leading back to the relationship between the women and the work). Picasso is usually thought of as a genius, the women as appendages. But it is likely that many of his ideas came from the women themselves. We know that Françoise Gilot, a highly intelligent woman and a painter herself, helped him consistently (and this process is detailed in her book). We know that Dora Maar, a bluestocking and a serious artist who had work in the first Surrealist exhibition in London, as well as an experimental photographer well regarded by Man Ray, helped him with the iconography of Guernica. It is very likely that Eva Gouel helped him with problems relating to the sculpture of the period, in my view the most radical and interesting of the entire Picasso oeuvre. Think of the papiers collés, the Still Life with Chair-Caning, the various Guitars, the different versions of the Glass of Absinthe, all produced during the Eva period. Even Richardson, referring to one of the Guitar sculptures, comments, “Who but Eva would have shown him how to get the protruding sound hole he had contrived out of a cardboard tube to fit as snugly into his construction as a sleeve into a jacket?” (A Life of Picasso, volume 2, Cape 1996, p. 254.) Eva made her own dresses and used dressmakers’ patterns, which are after all about translating two dimensions into three. Dressmakers’ pins show up in 13 of Picasso’s constructions. So did Picasso simply see Eva at work and have a brainstorm, or did she suggest possibilities to him?

 

Richardson, as usual, starts from a base of denigration and character assassination in relation to Eva. We are informed that “except for Picasso, nobody in Montmartre seems to have been especially fond of Eva,” that “this seemingly sweet-natured woman could be two-faced and calculating,” that “she kept her past dark,” and that because of her “slyness, it is difficult to determine when Picasso’s affair with her began" (Ibid., p. 222). Richardson continues his negative characterization when he claims, while discussing Picasso’s secret affair with Eva while the artist was still living with Fernande, that Eva “was longing to prove what a perfect little wife…she would make”; that she “soon established a powerful sexual hold over the artist”; and that “she continued to manipulate this sexual triangle to her advantage” (Ibid., p. 228). Having been characterized as sexually rapacious and two-faced, the occasional positive comment will scarcely be noticed.

 

But is Richardson’s assessment true? “No one in Montmartre seems to have been especially fond of her.” What a sweeping statement. How does he know? There is no evidence provided. Yet we do know that Marcoussis, her previous husband, clearly liked her, that she had lots of friends, including many literary people and artists (including many of the Futurists), and that she got on well with Gertrude Stein. That she was “two-faced and calculating” is a somewhat strange assessment when we note that the most two-faced, calculating person of all was Picasso. Almost all of Richardson’s characterization is ruthlessly one-sided assertion, untainted by evidence. The job of a critic or biographer is to weigh the available evidence and to be fair. Eva was an intelligent woman who had already lived with an artist, and in an artist’s milieu. It was Eva who introduced Picasso to theater and ballet, who was at ease with literary people, and who became an excellent orchestrator of his career. She entertained dealers, collectors, and critics and set up two households for him. At the very least, the woman who lived with Picasso during the most exciting and revolutionary period of his sculpture deserves proper investigation rather than cheap, sexist denigration.

 

The discoveries of the Eva period do not vanish. They reappear over the years in a playful manner, as in Table and Guitar (1919), which uses a cardboard carton, cut out and painted, along with paper and crayon, and in the expansive and easy-going Glass and Packet of Tobacco (1921), made of cut, folded, and painted sheet metal and wire, and in the various Guitars of 1926, using cartons, string, tulle, nails, tissues, and so on. There is a remarkable interplay in these works among constructive possibilities, the urge to explore, and aesthetic interest. Sometimes the aesthetic interest is virtually nil (though some critics insist otherwise)—much of what is exhibited as Picasso’s sculpture is little more than notational exploration, the equivalent of sketchbook pages.

(Picasso, Sculpture, and Picasso’s Women by Brian McAvera)

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