Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is notorious for various forms of excess - excess in his love life, an excessive output, an excessively inconsistent style. In this groundbreaking book Elizabeth Cowling draws on her exceptional knowledge as an authority on Picasso to argue that he came to equate stylistic consistency with sterility. Abandoning the traditional use of subject matter to achieve variety and meaning, Picasso gradually reduced his to a handful of standardized motifs and used a vast array of different styles as the principal means of communicating ideas and feelings. In short, style is meaning in Picasso's art; his notoriously mercurial nature found expression in stylistic variety and experimentation. With rare intelligence and clarity, the author has woven biography and analysis into a compelling narrative. The 600 illustrations include all of Picasso's major works up to the beginning of World War II, and these are juxtaposed with their sources - Old Masters, contemporary artists, found objects and Picasso's own drawings and sketches - to make a visually telling counterpoint to the arguments of the text. Scholars familiar with Picasso's work will find Cowling's fresh insights a revelation and readers new to Picasso will come away with a profound understanding of both Picasso and his art.
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'... This prize-winning volume offers tremendous value in two respects. It is a visual feast, containing all Picasso's major works up to 1940, and Cowling's text is a constant delight, always readable, revelatory and knowledgable.' (The Independent Arts and Books Review) 'If you thought you knew Picasso, read this authoritative book and think again. Cowling's magisterial study emphasises the artist's belief that consistency led only to sterility.' (The Times) 'One of the many triumphs of this book - not the least of which is to discuss twentieth-century art in crystal-clear jargon-free English - is the fact that it offers a genuinely nuanced approach to the intimidating enormity of Picasso's achievement ... page-turningly gripping ... it achieves a wonderfully balanced and illuminating consideration of the most inexhaustibly compelling artists of modern times. The passages on Picasso's symbiotic relationship with Braque are predictably authoritative, but there are also marvellous analyses of his contacts with creators in other fields, such as Leonid Massine and Stravinsky ... Cowling triumphantly combines an unerring sense of Picasso in his own time with an understanding of the longue duree of art history not always achieved by modernists, and it is her consequent ability to square the circle that makes Picasso: Style and Meaning an entirely worthy Book of the Year 2002.' (Apollo magazine (Book of the Year)) 'I have read no book on Picasso that is a greater aid to understanding him - but it must be read, not treated as a picture book, though it has 700 pages and almost as many illustrations. It deals primarily with his formative periods, is written with the pace and thrill of great detective fiction, and must convince even the most sceptical that here was an artist bound hand and foot by the ancestral traditions of western art, no matter what other influences came into play. It is, quite simply, wonderful.' (Brian Sewell, Evening Standard) '... Surely one of the most laudable volumes ever written on its subject ... in the opinion of this reviewer, the greatest service a writer on art can do to a subject like Picasso is to bring to her subject a fine blend of sobriety and sensitivity, and that is exactly what Ms Cowling has managed to do ... This is a splendid book ... Ms Cowling's virtue is a well judged combination of detail and synthesis. She provides beautifully clear and close analyses of almost every aspect of Picasso's output up until the German occupation of Paris in 1940...' (Sebastien Smee, The Art Newspaper)
About Elizabeth Cowling
Elizabeth Cowling teaches Art History at the University of Edinburgh. A specialist in Picasso since the mid 1980s, she has been involved in research on this book for nearly 10 years. A curator of the exhibition 'Picasso: Sculptor/Painter' (Tate Gallery, London, 1994), she was also co-curator of the 'Matisse/Picasso' exhibition (Tate Modern, London; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; MoMA, New York, 2002-3).
Table of Contents
Introduction - a painter without style. The art student 1892-1898; the Symbolist 1899-1904; ancestral voices 1904-1908; the styles of Cubism 1908-1914; times of change 1914-1918; Cubism after the War 1918-1924; in dialogue with the past 1918-1924; in Surrealist company 1924-1934; offensive and defensive weapons 1935-1940; epilogue - la comedie humaine.
Picasso: Style and Meaning by Elizabeth Cowling
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