Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Black Influence on Picasso

The Spanish painter, ceramist, sculptor, printmaker and state designer, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), is considered to be one of the greatest artists of all time. But what many people may not know is that Picasso was inspired to greatness by the 'inferior negro,' whose artistic skills, instead of vitiating his works actually enhanced it and made him famous. In June of 1907, Picasso visited the Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadero in Paris and came across the African and Oceanic Collection. (Due to European colonial conquests thousands of African artworks were stolen and deposited in places like the above-mentioned Museum). According to Picasso, the "virus" of the African artworks left an everlasting imprint on him. African works were of seminal importance to new movements in European art like Cubism and Surrealism. One of Picasso's most famous paintings is known as 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.' He started working on this piece before visiting the Museum in Paris. However, the African works he set eyes on provided the 'missing link' he was looking for. 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' was his first work to depict African influence. As already mentioned, it became of of his most famous pieces.Two of the faces of the women in the painting are portrayed with African masks. Picasso and other Europeans were also influenced by African abstraction of the human figure, an aspect of sculpture Africans had mastered centuries before the colonial conquests. The African influence on Picasso and others finally led to artistic styles known as Cubism and Surrealism. Picasso is known to have collected over a hundred African masks and statutes. It must also be pointed out that Picasso was not the only famous artist to be influenced by the 'lowly Negro.' Other artists like Georges Braque, Maurice de Vlaminck, Henry Matisse and Andre Derain did not consider it impolitic to imbibe African artistic skills. German Expressionist painters like Ludwig Kirchner of Die Brucke (The Bridge) group were also influenced by African art. Much can be written about this topic, of the contribution of marquee African artists to modern art forms like Cubism and Surrealism.

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