Picasso’s Legacy to Indian Art

Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart on the occasion of Picasso’s 40th death anniversary reflects on the artist’s legacy to the world, foremost among them the female nude.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Pablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso. Image Credit: http://www.moma.org/explore/conservation/demoiselles/

New York:  For Picasso aficionados June 2013 presents Picasso: Nudity Set Free, an exhibition of 120 of the artist’s works, hosted in Picasso’s Cannes villa now renamed Pavilion de Flore. Curated by his grand-daughter Marina Picasso, who has furnished the exhibition with 90 works from her own collection, the show brings to fore the artist’s preoccupation with the nude. His redefinition of the female nude is one of his greatest legacy- its influence permeating borders, artistic practices and most importantly time.

Picasso’s seminal work Les Demoiselles d ‘Avignon painted in 1907, not only challenged the long existing traditions of depicting the female nude, but also thrust forth an alternative way of looking that is jarring  and negates most aspects of the then existing parameters that defined the female body. His re-imagined nude instigated a new way of looking, one that prompted artists to follow a similar process of questioning and reimagining. This seismic wave of redressal surely reached the Indian shores, even if decades later. The works of George Keyt, M.F. Husain and Tyeb Mehta provide testament to Picasso’s legacy and his influence, in varying degrees, on the practice of these three artists.

The turn of the 20th century ushered a period of concerted artistic efforts to revisualize the female nude in a new light, shunning the former idioms that seemed increasingly restrictive or obsolete. The historical nude, its ideality, was closely related to the envisioned form imagined by its male creators. Their projection was infused with their sexual longings, fears and desires. Edgar Degas dismissed the earlier notions and replaced it with his contorted bodies displaying their hardness and ugliness, in which lay their beauty. Picasso followed suit and went on to create what is deemed one of the first modernist female nude- shattering the earlier conventions with a brute force.  His Les Demoiselles d ‘Avignon celebrated the female body through flattened perspective and grotesque distortions. His secular treatment of the body freed it from its long held idealized stature. As pointed by art historians, it is interesting to note that Picasso was a lover of beauty and women, nonetheless his female nudes could not escape his critical eye which deconstructed everything it saw- animate and inanimate.

Picasso’s contribution to the nude is not just restricted to his own creations. His influence on those around him and those after him is a subject worthy of deep investigation. On the Indian Subcontinent this legacy manifested in the early paintings of George Keyt, whose works were often exhibited alongside Picasso and Braque in galleries around the world during his lifetime. Keyt was clearly influenced by cubist practice, but his application of the cubist principle was distinctly his own. The impact of Indian artistic traditions co-exist in a manner that does not compromise either of the two influences.

In M.F. Husain’s works the cubist strand evolved in a new way. His commitment to innovation resulted in an adaptation of the cubist principles in a less-direct and more discreet way. His de-construction of the nude with its rough edges and aggressive texture presented a form that challenged the ideal notion of the Indian female nude, just as Picasso’s nudes has done in their time.

Untitled, M.F. Husain

Untitled, M.F. Husain. Image Credit: http://www.saffronart.com/auctions/PostWork.aspx?l=4739

Tyeb Mehta took Picasso’s fundamental principles when treating the body to another level. His jagged lines and aggressive movement on the canvas bring to mind Picasso’s great anti-war paintings. Their works are imbued with angst and suffering in a manner that is very similar. They both seem to create meaning out of chaos.

You can find more information on the Picasso’s exhibition here.

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