Degas Grand Arabesque, Second Time
Picasso, Running Woman
Long ago when I planned my trip to Barcelona it was the Museu Picasso's exhibition of Degas' influence on Picasso which solaced my solitary booking. The exhibition moved through the developments of Picasso suggesting connections through juxtaposition and reflection in Degas. Sometimes the echoes were subtle, at others they became potent homage as with Picasso's own sculptural arabesques. The images above show the skill of curatorial suggestion; Picasso applies the lyrical figures of Degas' dancers to his own sculptural work where material is heavier. Tactility rather than visual form is important within the creative process and yet a lyricism of form still exists, persists. Where humour was evident and Picasso's playful manipulation became tangible, this is when the exhibition was at its strongest for me.
In the 1870's Degas produced a number of monotypes; intimate studies of courtesans in their private rooms. The monotypes present Degas as voyeur, a private and unknown interest of the artist which fascinated Picasso. Between 1958 and 1960 Picasso acquired nine of the brothel monotypes for his private collection. He was curious about Degas's motivations for his secret prints and in March 1971 he began a series of 39 ecthings in which Degas appears as a client visiting a brothel.
Picasso's prostitute etchings are chaotic, gaudily decorated with whorls for nipples, patterned clothes and jewellery which reflect the patterning of their intimacy. There is an openness about these women who wear their nudity as a theatrical garment, and this contrasts with the marginal figure of Degas. He stands stiffly at the door looking in, at times approaching the women but their jouissant corpulence is always a threat. Picasso saw Degas as an alter-ego in his art, so there is a curious blurring of distinctions in these prints, is Picasso laughing at the reserved figure of Degas-verging-on-voyeur or is he questioning his own position within this brothel narrative?