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Pablo Picasso

The Later Years

The Spanish Civil War and World War II

Study & Essay

Much of Picasso's work in his old age used earlier art as its subject matter, as he had earlier used Grünewald's "Crucifixion." The present vanishes to make room for the past. Perhaps this let him work through his own development as an artist and his place in art history, which, it was clear, he had secured. He was, himself, the Old Master of his day; the work of his predecessors provided him with apt material. After making paraphrases and variations of the seventeenth century French painter Poussin's "Bacchanale" in 1944, he used this method almost continuously through the latter decades of his life. Sometimes he turned to the works that first inspired him when he was very young; he made some 44 paintings derived from Velázquez's "Las Meninas," which had impressed him so much when he visited the Prado as a young student in Madrid.

After the upset of Françoise's departure, Picasso settled into his last and most harmonious liaison, with a young divorcée named Jacqueline Roque. In 1955, Olga died, leaving him free of matrimonial ties; he quietly married Jacqueline in 1961.

Seeking peace and quiet, the two bought a lovely castle in the countryside, the Château de Vauvenargues. Here, in his final years, Picasso had a tremendous last burst of productivity; he was almost compulsively creative, as if trying to paint his way out of death, or at least to make the most of life before it was too late. He again painted with the phenomenal speed that he had had as a teenager in Barcelona; and simplifying his forms, he used repetition as a creative device, creating whole series around a theme or compositional idea, varying it throughout the set as a motif is transformed in music, instead of making single masterpieces. He continued with his favorite themes, using his art-making about love-making (he saw the terms as reversible) to fight death; he continued painting scenes of the male artist with his female muse, the configuration around which he had composed his life. Picasso had long equated painting with sexual potency. Perhaps it was not so much death as impotence that he fought against in his last work.

Continuing this burst of prodigious creativity to the end, Picasso died at a very ripe old age in 1973.

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