'De la magie blanche la magie noire': 'primitivism', magic, mysticism and the occult in Picasso.
People speak with justice of the "magic" of art and compare artists to magicians. But the comparison is perhaps more significant than it claims to be. There can be no doubt that art did not begin for art's sake. It worked originally in the service of impulses which are for the most part extinct today. And among them we may suspect the presence of many magical purposes. (1)
Freud's attraction to magic in Totem and Taboo was restricted solely to a fascination with animism and the 'omnipotence of thoughts' in what he called 'primitive' or 'savage' societies. Freud equated so-called 'primitive mentality" with the mental life of children and with narcissistic, neurotic and paranoiac states within modern civilisation. (2) His ideas on the origins of the magical arts in tribal cultures undoubtedly relied heavily upon the work of James Frazer; in particular, The Golden Bough (1890-1915), which was generally accepted by French sociologists as a seminal text on magical and religious practices. (3)
Frazer's and Freud's theories did much to popularize and define primitivising concepts regarding the principles of religion and magic in avant-garde circles at the beginning of the twentieth century. The involvement of modernists groups such as the Fauvists, Cubists and German Expressionists with art negre helped establish the later 'cult of the primitive' in the context of the Surrealist movement. At this time, artists, writers and poets were using ideas of the 'savage man', the 'mad man or woman' and the 'child' to criticize contemporary man's philosophical viewpoint within the disconcerting perplexity of the twentieth century.
The challenge to traditional forms of painting and sculpture, especially through the invention of Cubist collage and construction techniques, was therefore a crucial step forward in bringing art into alignment with Freudian ideas on taboo, and Marcel Mauss's notions of magic (both conflated with ritualistic or fetishistic art works) and with concepts of 'primitive mentality' as equivalent to various forms of magical thinking. (4)
Picasso's involvement with art negre was a key factor in defining both himself and his work within the context of being a modern 'primitive' magician, and indeed the connection between Picasso's art and magic is well documented. (5) In La Jeune Peinture Francaise (1912), Andre Salmon made a direct link between Picasso the magician and Les demoiselles d'Avignon of 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), claiming that 'L'apprenti sorcier interrogeait toujours les enchanteurs oceaniens et africains. (6) As historians of Picasso's work have argued, his knowledge of art negre clearly changed the formal structure of his Cubist work. However, the shock and force of experiencing tribal artefacts amassed from Oceania and Africa in the Musee d'Ethnographie du Trocadero had an effect akin to a supernatural encounter. Picasso later described this momentous discovery to Andre Malraux in 1937, acknowledging the debt paid by Les demoiselles d'Avignon to such objects, and recalling the impact these 'magical masks', 'intercessors' and 'spirits' had on him and his painting: 'Les demoiselles d'Avignon ont du arriver ce jour-la mais pas du tout a cause des formes: parce que c'etait ma premiere toile d'exorcisme, oui!'(8)
In summoning imagined negre spirits hidden within the magic-making masks, carvings and fetishes, Picasso was evoking sorcery and revealing his perennially superstitious nature:
Les masques, ils n'etaient pas des sculptures comme les autres. Pas du tout. Ils etaient des choses magiques... Les Negres, ils etaient des intercesseurs, je sais le mot en francais depuis ce temps-la. Contre tout; comme des esprits inconnus, menacants. Je regardais toujours les fetiches. J'ai compris: moi aussi, je suis centre tout. Moi aussi, je pense que tout, c'est inconnu, c'est ennemi! Tout!...Mais tousles f6tiches, ils servaient la meme chose, Ils 6talent des armes. Pour aider les gens a ne plus &re les sujets des esprits, a devenir independants... (9)
The influence of primitivism was therefore integral to the formation of Picasso's constructed sheet-metal Guitar of 1914 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). Here, a magical tribal object invades the Cubist idiom: a ghostly spectre hides within the syntax of an African mask from the Ivory Coast (Fig.1). (10)
Magic and superstition also came into play in two of Picasso's large collage-assemblage Guitars created in the spring of 1926 (Figs. 2 and 3). (11) In these works, Picasso seems to be evoking the principles of sympathetic magic as defined by Frazer in The Golden Bough: 'private magical rites and incantations practiced for the benefit or injury of individuals...the magical virtue of these sharp things enters [the] body and causes those acute pains which the ignorant European puts down to rheumatism.'(12)
Frazer's ideas regarding "private magic' are highly significant when applied to the related miniature Guitar (Fig. 4). The geometric design of this work, 'drawn' with pieces of string, and sewn through the cardboard support and tightened, suggests a figure wearing a dress. Picasso uses a button for the head and some torn and filthy-looking scraps of tulle, which were probably discarded fragments of tutus appropriated from Olga Koklova's sewing box. The head, comprising a diamond-shaped button, suggests a primitive mask or face, and is set against Picasso's brutal and fetishistic act of hammering nails through the backing so as to menace the spectator (like the nails in the large Guitar).
Picasso's guitar miniatures (Fig. 5) can further be interpreted as life-size close-up imitations of female genitalia, and the penetration of the strings or nails into the overtly vaginal design of these works celebrates a disturbing and sadistic attack on an object of desire or hate. (13) Their execution with needles and strings, buttons, nails and tulle, also intimates a particular type of black magic--voodoo. The cannibalization of Olga's ballerina finery again shows an acute awareness of the laws of sympathetic magic, in which 'the magician...infers that whatever he does to a material object will affect equally the person with whom the object was once in contact [and where] the garment by itself is enough to give the sorcerer a hold upon his victim.'(14)
Picasso's friendship and involvement with the Surrealists, who were themselves fascinated by 'primitive' magic and the occult, must have further stimulated the artist's imagination and fuelled his highly superstitious nature. In return, the Surrealists eulogised the magical potential of Picasso's collage Guitars. For Surrealists like Louis Aragon and Andre Breton, collage had a dark side and they immediately saw its conception within the context of black magic.
Both the large Guitars were discussed in an important preface by Louis Aragon, written for the 'Exposition des collages' held at the Galerie Goemans in March 1930, and entitled La peinture au defi. (15) In the context of his discussion of collage, Aragon claimed that 'Le principe du collage admis, les peintres avaient passe sans en rien savoir de la magie blanche a la magie noire. II etait trop tard pour reculer...Les nouveaux magiciens ont reinvente l'incantation.'(16) Aragon even went so far as to imply Picasso's involvement with contagious magic and voodoo:
Vers le meme temps, il arriva que Picasso fit une chose tres grave. Il prit une chemise sale et la fixa sur une toile avec du filet une aiguille. Et comme avec lui tout tourne en guitare, ce fut une guitare par exemple. Il fit un collage avec des clous qui sortaient du tableau. Il eut une crise, il y a deux arts, une veritable crise de collages: je l'ai entendu alors se plaindre, parce que tous les gens qui venaient le voir et qui le voyaient animer de vieux bouts de tulle et de carton, des ficelles et de la tole ondulee, des chiffons ramass6s dans la poubelle, croyaient bien faire en lui apportant des coupons d'6toffes magnifiques pour en faire des tableaux. II n'en voulait pas, il voulait les vrais d6chets de la vie humaine, quelque chose de pauvre, de sali, de meprise. (17)
As a regular and privileged visitor to Picasso's studio, Andre Breton was aware of Picasso's belief in sympathetic magic; he would go on to discuss this phenomenon in his text, L'Art magique, of 1957. (18) Since the summer of 1923, Breton had courted Picasso,(19) and was so fascinated by the delirious and sadistic character of the shirt-tail Guitar that it became an emblem of his publication La Revolution surrealiste, and the work was given the accolade of being illustrated on the centre page of its seventh issue on 15 June 1926. In light of the Surrealists' interest in the fetishistic qualifies of Picasso's collages, the 1926 guitars must surely have been seen as incantatory objects associated with primitive sorcery and magical rites. (20)
Of course, Picasso's fascination with magic and the occult began long before his involvement with the Surrealists. His interest probably took hold in the winter of 1902, when Picasso moved in with the poet Max Jacob on the Boulevard Voltaire. Jacob was eccentric to say the least, and--according to Fernande Olivier--he was addicted to ether and henbane, which apparently stimulated his powers as a 'pythia' (soothsayer). (21) Jacob was deeply involved with the mysticism of palmistry, the tarot and the magical arts, and Fernande also recollected:
Ce fut l'epoque ou Max Jacob se vit menace d'acquerir une celebrite speciale. Cartomancien, astrologue, chiromancien, voyant. Nouvelle fantaisie! Se prenait-il au serieux? Etait-il sincere? Pour ma part je n'ai jamais pu evaluer la part de sincerite de Max. Enfin cela fut un nouvel amusement. La superstition s'en mela. On le consultait sur tout. lnlassablement il repondait a tout. Choix des pierres, des couleurs, des metaux qu'il fallait garder sur sol pour &re heureux. (22)
Picasso's stay with Max Jacob must surely have exacerbated the artist's already superstitious nature, and in all likelihood he would have attached great significance to Jacob's predictions. (23) Indeed, Picasso's painting La vie of 1903 (Cleveland Museum of Art) may have been influenced by Jacob's knowledge of the Tarot, in particular the magician card, which has been associated with the mythological character Hermes Trismegistus. (24)
The poet Gulliaume Apollinaire also identified Picasso with this mythological character in two poems he sent to Picasso in 1905, entitled 'Spectacle' and 'Les Saltimbanques', both eulogising 'Arlequin Trismegiste', the Hermes-like character and guardian of the underworld. (25) Apollinaire's evocation of Arlequin trismegiste' not only conjures up themes of magic, illusion and transformation,(26) but is also a scholarly reference to Hermes Trismegistus, the creator of alchemy and cabbalistic texts on magic and astrology. More importantly, Apollinaire was another disciple of the Tarot and the occult, and had a similar fascination with magic and mysticism. He had in his possession a number of books on occultism and demonology, which he may have shown to Picasso. (27) Andre Breton also recalls Apollinaire's interest in 'forbidden' texts: 'Il avait choisi pour devise "J'emerveille"...muni de connaissances etendues qu'il etait presque seul a avoir dans des domaines speciaux (les mythes, tout ce qui ressortit a la grande curiosit6, aussi bien que tout ce qui git dans l'enfer des bibliotheques)...'(28)
In 1914, in a poem entitled 'Sur les Proph6ties', Apollinaire would meditate on the subjects of the Tarot and occultisme, which he defended as alternate means of interpreting nature:
J'ai connu quelque prophetesses Madame Salmajour avait appris en Oceanie a tirer les cartes C'est 1a-bas qu'elle avait eu encore l'occasion de participer A une scEne savoureuse d'anthropophagie Elle n'en parlait pas a tout le monde En ce qui concerne l'avenir elle ne se trompait jamais(29)
Unlike Apollinaire, however, Max Jacob would use superstition and occult practices to win friends and charm others. 'Il tirait nos horoscopes, il lisait dans nos mains, moites d'apprehension ou d'espoir', wrote Fernande Olivier. (30) As two sketches from 1902 in the Museu Picasso Barcelona reveal, it was Jacob who probably initiated Picasso into palmistry and the Tarot. Both sketches bear the outline of Picasso's left hand, and suggest that Jacob clearly intended to teach Picasso the rudiments of the science of palmistry. The first sketch (Fig. 6) juxtaposes a self-portrait of Jacob with Picasso's hand, and leaves no doubt about who is reading Picasso's palm. (31)
In all likelihood, Picasso would have attached a superstitious significance to these studies,(32) and Jacob himself claimed that Picasso kept a 'talisman' in his pockets that the poet had made especially for him: 'un quart de kilo en cuivre ramasse par moi pres d'un echafaudage et sur lequel j'avais burine mes formules. Pensez-y! a cet inseparable talisman combien de poches de smoking a-t-il dechirees depuis trente annees?'(33)
Interestingly, Fernande Olivier also remembers Jacob making her and others in the Picasso circle similar magical 'talismans' to bring good fortune:
Il nous faisait des porte-bonheur. Fetiches plus ou moins lourds suivant qu'il les gravait sur parchemin, argent, cuivre ou fer, suivant les astres qui avaient preside h notre destinee, d'apres notre date de naissance. Tout cela orne d'arabesques ou grave des signes cabalistiques, de figures geometriques, de caracteres bizarres--a la Max Jacob. Car il les puisait, j'en suis certaine, dans sa seule imagination, malgre sa science (disait-il) de l'hebreu. Et nous gardions jalousement, pre cieusement notre fetiche, craignant de perdre ou de manquer notre bonheur en l'egarant ou en le montrant. J'ai longtemps promene dans mon sac une lourde plaque de cuivre rouge, brut, que Max m'avait donnee. (34)
Jacob's talismans are all lost, and we can only guess at what the designs on these objects may have looked like. Given Fernande's description, however, they most probably depicted some form of cabbalistic writing. Evidence for this may actually come from an unlikely source--Picasso's large painting La cuisine of 1948 (Fig. 7). (35)
The design of this work is striking when compared to a number of cabbalistic diagrams used in the rituals of white and black magic (Fig. 8). The rhythmic patterns, shapes and symbols, in particular Picasso's use of lines, dots, circles and arrow-like formations, strongly evoke the strange calligraphy employed to cast spells or conjure up demons in texts on ceremonial magic such as Arthur Waite's Book of Spells (1911). (36) Picasso may have seen diagrams and texts describing the rituals of ceremonial magic, since they are taken from 'the four specific and undisguised handbooks of black magic, all in the French language, and translated from Hebrew'. (37)
There remains the question of why Picasso would have evoked such imagery. The testimony of Francoise Gilot concerning the creation of La cuisine is especially revealing. As she recollected:
It was based on the kitchen in the Grands Augustins, where sometimes we ate our evening meal. The kitchen was painted white, and in addition to the usual equipment there were birdcages. Aside from the birds the only touches of colour were the three Spanish plates on the wall. So, essentially, the kitchen was an empty white cube, with only the birds and the three Spanish plates to stand out from the whiteness. One night Pablo said, 'I'm going to make a canvas out of that--that is out of nothing'. And that is exactly what he did. He put into it all the lines of force that build the space, and a few concentric circles that look like targets--the Spanish plates. In the background, vaguely, are the owl and the turtle doves. (38)
La cuisine's schematisation, a mass of lines and symbols (which make it probably the most abstract painting Picasso ever created), combines suitably with his statement concerning the conjuring of an image 'out of nothing', and which implies some kind of sorcery. Picasso's inclusion of his pet birds (the owl and doves), which are often associated with pagan and Christian 'magic', are coupled with the kitchen theme, and thus suggest that it is a place of alchemy. As Picasso told Andre Warnod, 'Un atelier de peintre doit etre un laboratoire.'(39)
Furthermore, as Peter Read has observed, the basic design of La cuisine is taken from Picasso's 1928 wire sculptures, which were intended to be enlarged and placed on Apollinaire's tomb:
Peignant La Cuisine, avec a l'esprit la configuration des maquettes en fil de fer de 1928, Picasso cherche a donner une forme a l'idee du vide. Il tient toujours au principe qui soustend les sculptures m6talliques realisees entre 1928 et 1932, celui du monument en rien du Poete assassine qui, a ses yeux, convient le mieux a la memoire d' Apollinaire. (40)
The date of Picasso's picture is not without significance. Painted on 9 November 1948, the work is important in marking the thirtieth anniversary of the death of the poet. (41) If, therefore, the design for Picasso's La cuisine is based on magical symbols--perhaps remembered from Apollinaire's texts on the occult or from Jacob's designs--then its sombre colour scheme of black, white and grey, is a fitting tribute and monument to the memory of his poet friend who had died thirty years to the day of its execution.
La cuisine was also an appropriate memento mori to Max Jacob, who had died a few years earlier in a German concentration camp at Drancy on 5 March 1944. (42) It can be no coincidence that the two friends so immediate to Picasso, and those who wielded the maximum power over the artist and his early work and development, should have dabbled in mysticism, magic and the occult. Appropriately--and within the context of La cuisine and magical practices--Picasso, like Apollinaire and Jacob, had assumed the magician's role.
I would like to thank the following people for there assistance with the present article: Victoria Bliss, Elizabeth Cowling, Peter Read and Paul Rumsey.
(1) Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo: Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, authorized translation by James Strachey, London and New York, Chapter III 'Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts', p. 90.
(2) Ibid., p. 90, 'Spirits and demons are only projections of man's own emotional impulses. He turns his emotional cathexes into persons, he peoples the world with them and meets his internal mental processes again outside himself in just the same way as that intelligent paranoiac, Schreber, found a reflection of the attachments and detachments of his libido in the vicissitudes of his confabulated rays of God.' According to Freud, Schreber believed himself to be attached by 'rays' to the sun, the moon and to God himself, and fantasized whilst in a dream like state that he was 'a woman...submitting to the act of copulation'. Daniel Paul Schreber, Denkwurdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken, Leipzig, 1903, translated as Memoirs of my nervous illness, is discussed in Sigmund Freud's text Psychoanalytical notes upon an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoids, Schreber), 1911, in Sigmund Freud, Case Histories 11, James Strachey (trans. and ed.), London, 1979, pp. 131 223.
(3) James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 1,2 vols., London, 1949.
(4) For discussions on psychoanalysis in relation to the so called 'primitive mentality', see Freud, op. cit. in n. 1 above; Civilization and its Discontents, in Angola Richards and Albert Dickson (eds.), Civilization, Society and Religion, vol. XII, London, 1985, and ibid., Three Essays on The Theory of Sexuality and Other Works, in On Sexuality, translated from the German by James Strachey, vol. vii, London, 1991. For further discussion of the links between the mental life of children and so-called 'primitive' psychology, see Lucien Levi-Bruhl Los Fonctions mentales dans les societes inferieures, Paris, 1910, translated as How Natives Think, Princeton, NJ, 1985, and Jean Piaget The Child's Conception of the World (1929), translated by Joan and Andrew Tomlinson, New" York, 1951. See also J.H. Flavell, The Developmental Psychology of Jean Piaget, Princeton, NJ, 1963.
(5) Magic in its various forms always heightened the drama and mystery of Picasso's work. The most thorough text on this subject is Lydia Gasman's fascinating doctoral thesis, Mystery, Magic and Love in Picasso, ]912-193& Picasso and the Surrealists Poets, PhD dissertation, Columbia University, New York, 1.981.
(6) Andre Solmon, La jeune peinture francaise, Paris, 1912, p. 44, 'The apprentice sorcerer was still seeking answers to his questions among the enchantments of Oceania and Africa.' Translated in Elizabeth Cowling, Picasso: Style and Meaning, London, 2002, Chapter 3, "Ancestral Voices, 1904-1.908', p. 176.
(7) Picasso's Guitar and Cubism in general have been the subject of "linguistic', abstract theories, inspired by Saussurian analysis by scholars such as Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois. See Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, Cambridge, MA, 1986, and Yve-Alain Bois, 'Kahnweiler's Lesson', in Painting as Model, Cam bridge, M& 1993, pp. 65-97.
(8) Les demoiselles d'Avignon must have come to me that day; not because of the forms but because it was my first exorcizing picture, yes.' Andre Malraux, La tete d'obsidienne, Paris, 1974, cited in Pablo Picasso, Propos sur l'art Paris, 1998, p. 138. Translated in Cowling, op. cit., p. 1,76.
(9) The masks weren't sculptures like other sculptures. Not at all. They were magical objects...The Negroes Negres) were intercessors; I learnt the French word for that then. They were against everything; against the unknown, dangerous spirits. I looked at the fetishes, and I realized that I too was against everything. I too believe that everything is unknown and hostile! Everything!...All those fetishes had the same purpose. They were weapons to help people escape the power of the spirits and become free...', Picasso, op. cit., pp. 138-40. Translated in Cowling, op. tit, pp. 175-76.
(10) Here also a 'magical' metamorphosis of gender is taking place within the shadowy parts of Picasso's sculpture. Guitar encodes the erotic shapes of the female form (woman as guitar) and simultaneously evokes Picasso's own masculine and overtly phallic presence within the resilient and forceful structure of Guitar and its projecting sound hole.
(11) Gasman argues that Picasso's two large Guitars were intended as a 'death wish' directed at his wife Olga Koklova, who is apparently symbolized by a filthy looking floor cloth. Gasman, op. tit., Chapter XII, 'The Nails and Rags in Picasso's Guitars of 1926', p. 872, 'It is readily apparent that he unleashed his rage against [Olga] in the collage and against the evil he thought she stood for by the rapid, abrupt and numerous stab binds of the nails hammered into the coarse cloth from the rear of the canvas'; ibid., p. 908. Picasso's magical use of nails can be found in many other of his paintings and sculptures. Nails are innumerable components in his sculptural oeuvre and often become fingernails or teeth, driven into his sculptures like effigies or as a type of Crucifixion.
(12) Frazer, op. cit., Chapter III, 'Sympathetic Magic', pp. 11 48, especially p. 45.
(13) John Finlay, Picasso's Constructions and Assemblages: 1912-1935, unpublished PhD thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, 1998, Chapter v, 'Une Crise de Collage: Creation through Destruction, the 1926 Guitars', pp. 180 211, especially pp 204-208.
(14) Frazer, op. cit., pp. 43-44.
(15) Louis Aragon, La peinture au defi, reprinted in idem, Los Collages, Paris, 1965.
(16) Ibid., pp. 47 and 49. 'The principle of collage admits that painters had passed unaware from white to black magic. It was too late to go back ...The new magicians have reinvented incantation ' Cited and translated in Rosalind Krauss, 'Life with Picasso: Sketchbook, No. 92, 1926', in Arnold and Marc Glimcher (eds.), Je suis le cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso, exh. cat., Pace Gallery, New York, 1,986, p. 1,14.
(17) Ibid, p. 67. 'Around this time, it happened that Picasso did a very grave thing. He took a dirty shirt and attached it to the canvas with needle and thread. And, since everything with him turns into a guitar, this too became a guitar. He made a collage with nails pro jeering from the painting. He had a crisis, two years ago, a real collage crisis, l heard him complain then because all the people who came to visit him and saw him bring alive old bits of tulle and cardboard, threads and corrugated iron, rags gathered from the rubbish, thought they were doing him a favour by bringing him remnants of magnificent materials to make into paintings. He didn't want them, he wanted the real waste of human life, something poor, dirty', despised.' (Author's translation).
(18) Gasman observes mid quotes from Louis Chochod's Histoire de la magic et de ses dogmes, Paris, 1949, which is also cited in Andre Breton and Gerard Legrand, L'art magique, Paris, 1957, p. 20. Chochod suggests casting contagious, magical spells in the following way: "Take some fragments of the person's body meant to be bewitched or some object impregnated by him.' Gasman, op. tit., p. 901.
(19) For Breton's attempt to annex Picasso within the context of Surrealism, see Elizabeth Cowling, 'Proudly we claim him as one of us: Breton, Picasso and the Surrealist Movement', Art History, vol. viii, no. 1, March 7985, pp. 82-104.
(20) The accompanying text by the poet Louis Aragon climaxes in a surreal dream about a fetishistic and sacrificial act: 'Ou donc ai-je teve d'un patin tranchant comme une epee? Par pitie, enfoncez ce patin dans mon coeur.' 'Where then did l dream of a skate as sharp as a sword? Have pity. Thrust this sword into my heart' Cited and translated in Cowling, op. cit. in n. 6 above, Chapter Vl, p. 356.
(21) Fernande Olivier, Picasso et ses amis, Paris, 2001, p. 161. Eadem, Loving Picasso: The Private Journals of Fernande Olivier, translated from the French by Christine Baker and Michael Raeburn, New York, 2001, pp. 267 68, 'I don't know how [Max] managed to withstand the harmful effects of all the drugs he took, which he claimed sharpened his powers as a "soothsayer"...Henbane, which he considered necessary for his "journeys", as its effects, according to him, unleashed his psychic powers, is quite a virulent poison.'
(22) Olivier, op. cit in n. 21 above (Paris), p. 161. Translated in eadem, op. cit. in n. 21, above (New York), p. 220, 'This was the time when Max Jacob threatened to achieve notoriety in a rather unusual way. He was no longer just reading the cards for his neighbours but became an astrologer, a fortune teller and a clairvoyant. It was a new whim. 1 was never able to decide how seriously Max took himself or how sincere be was, but it was, at any rate, a new entertainment that appealed to our superstitions, and we often emerged from a session with him far more impressed than we were prepared to admit. He was consulted about everything and would always reply, telling us which stones or colours to choose and which metals we needed to carry about with us for luck.'
(23) John Richardson, with the collaboration of Marilyn McCully, A Life o/ Picasso: Volume I: 1881-1906, London, 1992, Chapter XVII, 'La Vie', p. 270, 'Here we would do well to remember that Picasso had recently spent several weeks cooped up with a man who was a part-time fortune-teller; and that this fortune teller had taught him the rudiments of astrology, chiromancy and the Tarot.'
(24) Ibid., p. 274, 'Anyone familiar with occult iconography will recognize this upward and downward gesture. It symbolizes the most famous of all mystical axioms, contained in the Tabula Smaragdina ("The Emerald Tablet"), attributed to the legendary Hermes Trismegistus: "Whoever is below is like that which is above as all things are made from one." The uplifted right hand symbolists power from above, while the down-pointing left hand symbolizes the passage of power to the plane below. (Further confirmation of this gesture's meaning is to be found in a sheet of five studies done two years later of a cloaked harlequin with his hands in a sequence of similar positions.) Carromancers identify this gesture with the first card in the Tarot pack, the Magician: the card that stands for willpower, skill, originality, creativity and guile. The Magician also relates to Hermes Trismegistus, with whom, I suspect, Jacob had already identified Picasso--hence Picasso's adoption of the above/below gesture... In La Vie Picasso shuffles his pack of images and lays out a hand, just as, night after night on the Boulevard Voltaire, Jacob shuffled the Tarot and laid out a hand to see what was in store for the two of them."
(25) Ibid., Chapter XXI, 'The Apollinaire Period', pp. 327-349, especially p. 335, 'After a year or so of friendship, Apollinaire, who claimed to have learnt about magic from the elves of the Fagne, held a mirror, in the form of a poem, up to Picasso and showed him his reflection as Harlequin Trismegistus, a demonic magician. The poet knew the old Walloon legends about "her lequin" a soul escaped from hell.' Sur les treteaux, l'arlequin bleme Salue d'abord les spectateurs: Des sorciers venus de Boheme, Avec des fees, des enchanteurs Apollinalre later revised 'Spectacle' under the title of 'Crepuscule' (published in 1909), reworking the last stanza of the poem that he originally gave to Picasso in 1905 in order to include a reference to 'Arlequin trismegiste'. See Deborah Menaker Rothschild, Picasso's Parade: From Street to Stage, London, 1991, Chapter x, 'Inspiration for the Parade Curtain in the Poetry of Apollinaire and Verlaine and in the Painting of Rousseau', pp. 252 58, especially p. 254.
(26) Marilyn McCully, 'Magic and Illusion in the Saltimbanques of Picasso and Apollinaire', Art History, vol. III, no. 4, December 1980, pp. 425-34.
(27) For details of books on the occult and demonology in Apollinaire's library, see G. Boudar with the collaboration of Michel Decaudib, La Bibliotheque de Guillaume Apollinaire, Paris, 1983. The catalogues of Apollinaire's library demonstrate that he collected almanacs and occult treaties by latter-day experts such as Dr. Papus and the Rosicrucian magus, Stir Peladan. Apollinaire also had copies of Papus's periodical, L'Initiation. For a discussion of modern art and the occult, see Adrian Hicken, Apollinaire, Cubism and Orphism, Aldershot, 2002. Hicken has explored Apollinaire's library in detail, and in examining 'hermeticism and occult tendencies within Parisian avant-gardes', has made a case for occult interests and influence in works by Apollinaire, Picasso and Chagall inter alia. Hicken has made many valid hypotheses, but overstates the case for occult interests in the work of Apollinaire. Hicken's text covers the period approximately from 1905 to 1917, and thus makes no mention of the occult influences upon Plcasso's painting La cuisine, which I examine later in this article.
(28) Andre Breton and Andre Parinaud, Entretiens: 1913-1952, Paris, 1952, p. 24, '... [a] wide knowledge which hardly anyone else had of specialist subjects, such as mythology, everything connected with the esoteric, forbidden books that libraries keep under lock and key...' I am grateful to Peter Read for this information, and for his translation of the above quotation.
(29) Guillaume Apollinaire, Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War, 1913-1916, translated by Anne Hyde Greet with commentary by S.I. Lockerbie, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1960, p. 66, Ni dans les superstitions ni dans Ies propheties Ni dans tout ce que l'on nomme occultisme II y a avant tout une facon d'observer la nature Et d'interpreter la nature Qui est tres legitime According to Lockerbie, in ibid., p. 383, 'Under cover of an apparently levelheaded and rational analysis of superstition, Apollinaire is conducting an astute defense of an imaginative outlook on life. If superstitious beliefs are but a legitimate way of observing nature, then there is no real conflict between an empirical and a magical understanding of reality. Rather than demystifying superstition, the argument tends to favour a sympathetic exploration of all wider forms of knowledge of the world.'
(30) Olivier, op. cit. in n. 21 above (Paris), p. 162, and eadem, op. cir. in n. 21 above (New York), p. 220, "He cast our horoscopes and read our hands, which would be clammy with apprehension or hope'.
(31) For these two sketches by Jacob from 1902, see Helene Seckel, Max Jacob et Picasso, Paris, "1994, pp. 12-13, especially p. 12. The first sheet also indicates the importance of various lines on the hand, which make up the basics of a reading; lines of the heart, life, the head, chance, etc. On the other sheet Jacob analyses Picasso's own hand in detail, and claims that all the lines on the artist's hand originate from the base of the fate line: 'C'est comme la premiere etin celle d'un feu d'artifice. Cette sorte d'etoile vivante ne se rencontre que rarement et chez les individus predestines.' ('Like the first spark of a firework a most unusual phenomenon seen only in the hands of predestined individuals'). Translated in Richardson, op. cit., p. 276. In 1928, Jacob collaborated on an astrological handbook, in which he analyzed each of the astral signs, and made a number of revealing comments about Picasso's own birth sign, Scorpio. See Max Jacob and Claude Valence, Miroir de l'Astrologie, Paris, 1949, p. 141.
(32) Picasso was particularly superstitious when it came to certain works of art. He preserved both sketches by Jacob in his own portfolio until he donated them to the Museu Picasso Barcelona in 1970.
(33) Max Jacob, Chronique des temps heroiques, Pads, 1956, pp. 161-62. Cited in Seckel, op. cit., p. 13.
(34) Olivier, op. cit. in n. 21 above (Paris), p. 162, and eadem, op. cit. in n. 21 above (New York), p. 220, 'He used to make us lucky charms, talismans whose weight would depend on whether they were made of parchment, silver, copper or iron, a decision based on the date of our birth and the stars that presided over our fate. They were always decorated with hieroglyphics, cabalistic signs, geometric shapes and weird figures, which Max engraved in his own absurd fantastic style using a hatpin I had given him. I am quite certain they were entirely drawn from his own imagination, despite his claim to know Hebrew. We jealously guarded our precious talismans, for fear of spoiling or missing out on our luck by losing them or displaying them. For a long time 1 carried around in my bag a heavy plaque of rough, red copper, two inches long, decorated with cabalistic figurations and my birth sign of Gemini.'
(35) Francoise Gilot recalled Picasso was just as superstitious in 1948. He was always prey to superstitions regarding contagious magic, and Gilot made a special point of mentioning Picasso's 'primitive belief that one person can assume power over another through the possession of his finger nails or hair trimmings, hence they should never be allowed to fall into the hands of someone else.' Francoise Gilot and Carlton Lake, Lift" with Picasso, with an introduction by Timothy Hilton, London, 1997 (first edition, 1964), p. 218. We know that Picasso was particularly superstitious regarding his or others' clothing, and believed that his personal items should never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands, lest they should be used to harm or transform him in some way. 'I had unwittingly given the gardener an old imitation-suede jacket of Pablo's, mixed in with a bundle of my sweaters. When Pablo came back from his atelier and saw the gardener wearing his old jacket, he flew into a rage. That's too much he shouted. This time I'm the one who'll be transformed into that ugly old man (the gardener was twenty years younger than Pablo). 1 was reduced to burning Picas so's worn out, moth eaten old clothes. I felt like [I was] burning the corpses of his successive wives. I had to poke around in the ashes afterwards to pick up any odd buttons that might have survived and given me away" (ibid., p. 216).
(36) Arthur Edward Waite, The Wordsworth Book of Spells, Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Hertfordshire, 1995, originally published as The Book of Ceremonial Magic, William Ryder & Sons Ltd, London, 1911.
(37) Wordsworth Book of Spells, op. cir., Chapter IV, 'The Rituals of Black Magic', p. 96.
(38) Gilot and Lake, op. cir., p. 210.
(39) Andr4 Warnod, 'En peinture tout n'est que signe, nous dit Picasso', Arts, Paris, no. 22, 29 June 1945, reprinted in Picasso, op. cit., p. 56.
(40) Peter Read, Picasso et Apollinaire: Les metamorphoses de la memoire, 1905 1973, Paris, 1995, Chapter XXV, 1948-1951, 'La Cuisine et le P.C.F.', pp. 253-56, especially p. 255.
(41) Ibid., p. 255, note 3. 'II existe deux versions de La cuisine (Zervos, vol. xv, p. 60, nos. 106 and 107). L'une se trouve au Musee Picasso (M.P. 200), l'autre au MOMA de New York. Francoise Gilot rappelle que Picasso lui avait demande de faire une cople de la premiere vet slon de la toile. La date du 9 novembre "1948 est atttibuee 5. La cuisine par Zervos dans le volume xv de son Pablo Picasso." For a further discussion of Picasso's painting, see idem, 'Dans La Cuisine du peintre: connotations litt6raires et politiques d'unc oeuvre de Picasso', Revue du Louvre, forthcoming, October 2003.
(42) Nor was the presence of Jacob excluded from the discussions of the proposed Apollinaire memorial. Picasso, whose radical project designs had consistently been rejected by the board, had refused to preside over the Apollinaire committee. Under these circumstances, Jacqueline Apollinaire wrote to Andre on 7 April 1951: 'Je suis etonnee comme vous que Picasso preside les amis Max Jacob sans avoir voulu pr6sider le Comite G. A. Je lui poserai la question.' Quoted in Read, op. cit. in n. 40 above, p. 256.
John Finlay is an independent art historian and painter. He recieved his doctorate on 'Picasso's Con stuctions and Assemblages, 1912 35', from the Courtauld Institute in 1998. He is currently working on a book which examines the origins, making and manifestations of modern sculpture in Paris, 1912-19.
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|Date:||Oct 1, 2003|
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