February 10th, 2013

There is no doubt that Pablo Picasso is one of the most influential artists of all time. New and astounding auction prices continue to rise for his works, and a new discovery about the materials that the Spanish artist used keep Picasso in the forefront of arts news. Below, I have inserted two arts stories with the latest on the founder of Cubism. What do you think? Is Picasso the supreme creative figure of art history?

Scientists and art experts have teamed up to help solve a longstanding debate about Picasso’s methods and materials. The team, nicknamed “Picasso CSI,” developed a special, high-energy X-ray nanoprobe for the project, according to an Argonne National Laboratory press release.

“The nanoprobe is designed to advance the development of high-performance materials and sustainable energies by giving scientists a close-up view of the type and arrangement of chemical elements in material,” the release reads, in part.

The X-ray was used to analyze tiny samples of Picasso’s paint, down to the scale of 30 nanometers, according to LiveScience. For comparison, the site wrote that a sheet of copier paper is 100,000 nanometers thick. Analysis of his 1931 painting, “The Red Armchair,” showed that the legendary cubist painter was one of the earliest artists to use the first commercial house paint made by the Ripolin company.

Picasso’s “The Red Armchair,” 1931.

PopSci notes that, while paint types may seem like a small detail, Picasso’s transition from oil to house paint was potentially groundbreaking within the art world. The change in medium also signifies a shift in the painter’s style, as works created with house paint tend to feature a smooth surface without visible brushstrokes.

“That switch in painting material gave birth to a new style of art marked by canvasses covered in glossy images with marbling, muted edges, and occasional errant paint drips, but devoid of brush marks,” according to the Argonne National Laboratory press release. “Fast-drying enamel house paint enabled this dramatic departure from the slow-drying, heavily blended oil paintings that dominated the art world up until Picasso’s time.

The results have brought together “two historically distant worlds of cultural heritage experts and scientists,” according to The Tribune.

And from the Jonathan Jones art blog… “Picasso is the apex of art.”

Picasso is the greatest modern artist. The market says so, and the British Museum agrees.

This week a Picasso was sold at Sotheby’s for £28.5m. In the same week, an exhibition opens at the British Museum in which an ice age carving is sanctified by the simple fact that Picasso admired it – a photograph showing replicas that he owned is shown next to it, as proof this must be art. Picasso has become for us an almost religious icon of imagination, originality, genius.

Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back: we’ve got good taste. Picasso completely deserves his divine status as the god of art. Recently I looked again, in Tate Modern, at his luxuriantly erotic Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, painted in 1932. It swept me away. The baroque curves and nocturnal colours of this painting tear open the curtains of desire. When it was first shown at Tate Modern, after setting a record as the world’s most expensive painting, the price got in my eyes. Now that seems irrelevant. It’s just a marvellous work of art.

The price gets in the way right now when we look at Woman Seated at a Window, the latest Picasso to fetch a stratospheric sum. But setting the madness of the art market aside, it is another magnificent work from the same period, indeed the same year: 1932, when Picasso was in love and when, as an artist, he was exploring surrealism in his own unique way.

Near to Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust at Tate Modern is a nude by Matisse. The Matisse is a solid bronze sculpture, while Picasso’s work is a flat picture on canvas. Yet it is the Matisse that seems two-dimensional next to the Picasso: there are simply more perceptual and imaginative layers, contradictions, tensions in the art of Picasso. Any comparison between them, for me, leaves Matisse looking like the world’s greatest wallpaper designer.

I am glad to say the world has caught up with that opinion. The exhibition Matisse Picasso in 2002 was, it turns out, the last time they would be seen by our culture as equals (with Matisse’s name first). In our fast-moving, contested and dangerous century, we look to Picasso’s fast-moving, contested and dangerous genius.

Matisse fans live in Hampstead and have read everything Hilary Mantel has ever written. Picasso fans pay bonkers sums for provocatively sensual paintings. Matisse is a delicate choice, Picasso an addiction.

As for the other touted modern genius, Duchamp … don’t get me started. Just compare that overrated loo with Picasso’s bicycle-seat bull. When he created Bull’s Head in 1942 by adding a bike’s handlebars to its seat so they became horns, Picasso put Duchamp in his place. This is the 20th century’s greatest readymade, Picasso its supreme creative figure.