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March 18 2013

The Picassos Are Here! A Retrospective From Basel Collections at Kunstmuseum Basel

The exhibition The Picassos Are Here! at Kunstmuseum Basel is not just another Picasso retrospective. The show tells the story of a love affair between an artist and a whole city. In 1967, Basel residents approved a municipal loan of 6 million franks in a city-wide plebiscite and in a unique fundraising action collected an additional 2.4 million franks to secure two important paintings for the Kunstmuseum Basel: Les deux frères (1906) and Arlequin assis (1923). Picasso was so touched by this democratic expression of love that he gave the city three paintings and a famous drawing: Homme, femme et enfant (1906), Vénus et l’Amour (1967), Le couple (1967), and Esquisse pour “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907).

The retrospective The Picassos Are Here! highlights this special relationship between Picasso and Basel and brings together works by the famous artist that have been collected by Basel citizens and institutions. The show spans the whole career of Picasso, from the early works until the last. The exhibition is curated by Anita Haldemann and Nina Zimmer. This video provides you with a walk through the exhibition, and Anita Haldemann talks about the concept of the show and tells the story of how the Picassos came to Basel.

The Picassos Are Here! A Retrospective From Basel Collections at Kunstmuseum Basel. Press preview an interview with Anita Haldemann, curator Kupferstichkabinett (Department of Drawings and Prints) at Kunstmuseum Basel, March 15, 2013.

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August 18 2012

Guernica, the town that inspired Picasso, is having fun – 75 years after being bombed to hell

It's fiesta time in the Basque country as bitter memories of Hitler and Eta give way to rioja, battered cod and cross-dressing

A large cannon fires into the town square of the Basque town of Guernica, scattering small children. Fortunately, in a place tragically famous as Hitler's testing ground for the bombing of civilian targets, this is just part of the entertainment at the summer fiestas. The shiny weapon shoots watery bubbles at delighted children dressed in swimwear and goggles.

But clues to Guernica's tragic past abound in a market town levelled 75 years ago during an almost non-stop four-hour bombardment in which Luftwaffe units loaned to Spain's Nazi-backed future dictator General Franco practised aerial blitzkrieg.

Buildings across the town currently display two dozen peace posters painted by children from around the world on massive hoardings sized to match the world's most famous anti-war painting – Pablo Picasso's tortured, terrible depiction of the bombardment. His disturbing tableau of screaming women, dismembered bodies, crazed animals and dead children is pinned to walls in shops and bars.

As the Basque country slowly gets used to a peace denied it for almost four decades by the armed separatist group Eta, Guernica is preparing to return to the spotlight in a film starring Antonio Banderas and Gwyneth Paltrow that will depict the 33 days of furious creativity in which Picasso created one of his greatest works.

Banderas and Paltrow, playing the Spanish painter and his photographer muse Dora Maar, will be filming in the town in a specially built replica of Picasso's Paris studio. "Maar is the protagonist and not just because she was his lover and confidante, but because her photographs are the only proof of how the picture evolved," director Carlos Saura explains. "Guernica was an extraordinary synthesis of Picasso's creativity," agrees art historian Gijs van Hensbergen, author of a book on the painting. "Dora was both participant and witness to the creation of the 20th century's most iconic work of art."

Tourists come in search of the old quarter. "We have to tell them there isn't one, that it was bombed to the ground," explained Luis Iriondo, an 89-year-old artist who lived through the bombing as a child. Iriondo recalls how incendiary bombs sent fire sweeping through the town, killing those in bomb shelters and destroying four out of every five buildings. "Each explosion was followed by a blast of air," he said, recalling that it was a busy market day in a town already packed with refugees. "They were horridly warm, as if they tasted of death."

"I spent four hours staring up terrified at the sky," recalled Iriondo's friend Enrique Aranzábal. "After the Spanish civil war I went to sea and ended up working with a German who had flown in those planes. He told me they treated it as a training mission."

Three-quarters of a century later, Guernica is perhaps freer of tension than at any time in its modern history. As the town parties, Iriondo and Aranzábal are dressed in Basque peasant outfits, celebrating the patron saint of San Roque with midday gulps of rioja, slabs of battered cod and thin slices of ham. An accordionist and tambourine player, hired every year by this slowly dwindling circle of elderly friends, play as we sit at a long table under the arches of the postwar town centre.

This year's fiestas are peaceful, untroubled by tensions with Eta supporters or baton charges by twitchy police. "It hasn't always been like that," admitted mayor José María Gorroño. "On the opening day I stood on the town hall balcony and just saw thousands of happy people."

Guernica is naturally, comfortably euskera-speaking – typical of the country and fishing towns east of Bilbao. "Long live ETA," scribbled in marker-pen on a noticeboard, is a reminder that these sorts of places were traditional recruiting grounds for the all-but-defeated terrorist group that announced a definitive end to its 40 years of violence last October. Occasional banners on balconies calling for Eta prisoners to be moved to jails nearer to home show where some sympathies lie.

The historic roots of Basque exceptionalism are visible at one of the few spots to survive the bombardments – the provincial parliament. The ancient oak tree where Spanish monarchs once swore to respect local rights dried out a few years ago, though a younger one sprouts hopefully in its place.

The Basque country's special system that allows it to gather tax and send a portion to Madrid, rather than the other away around, is an inheritance – much envied in Catalonia – of those rights.

The town's peace museum displays a telegram sent the day after Hitler's Junkers 52s and Heinkel 111s joined with Savoia 79s sent by Mussolini to drop almost 40 tons of explosives and incendiary bombs. "Today Guernica is nothing more than burning coals and cinder ... It is still burning," it says.

Guernica's museum, like its hotels and restaurants, is enjoying a peace dividend this year. "There are noticeably more people visiting from other parts of Spain," says the museum's Idoia Orbe.

Fear of Eta violence, and prejudice, used to keep them away, says Gorroño. He represents a new separatist coalition called Bildu that includes some traditional Eta supporters who harbour a visceral hatred for what they call "the Spanish state".

At the town hall Gorroño brings out the Guernica Agreement, signed two years ago, in which leaders of Eta's banned front party finally called for the laying down of arms. "I am proud of that," he says, explaining that his own non-violent Eusko Alkartasuna party, formed 25 years ago, seeks an amicable break with Spain. "My party has always been peaceful."

For the past few decades Guernica has busily been putting the record straight about what really happened on 26 April 1937. "Franco claimed it was burned to the ground by 'separatist reds', but that was a lie," says Gorroño. "Part of what we had to do to begin with was allow historians to tell the true story," explains opposition leader Luis Ortúzar as we pass a bust of George Steer, the Times correspondent who alerted the world to the devastating bombardment. The call for the Guernica picture to be moved here from Madrid's Reina Sofía museum is unlikely to be answered – experts say the vast canvas is too delicate has already travelled too much. The painting has toured Europe twice and went to the US in 1939 to raise funds for civil war refugees. It did not come to Spain until 1981, following Picasso's wishes, when democracy had been restored.

The number of dead from the bombing has been put at 1,654. The town's registered population was just 5,630 inhabitants. The fact that the town's arms factories and main bridge were spared shows that civilians were targeted before more obvious military objectives.

William Smallwood, an American author who learned euskera from Basque shepherds in Idaho, has finally published a book of interviews he did secretly in 1970 – when memories were fresher than today but Franco's police ensured tongues were silenced in public. "There was a fear among the people of discussing politics," he writes in The Day Guernica Was Bombed. "Even a total stranger could experience the chilling effect of seeing sullen pairs of the Guardia Civil walking the street."

But while people in Guernica learned to talk about the bombing only after Franco's death in 1975, they soon found themselves battling another sort of silence, this time enforced by Eta, which killed seven people here. "Victims' families had to hide their grief," explains a board in the peace museum. "Society saw them as collateral damage, a lesser form of evil."

"It is great to live the fiestas without the added tension that the violence somehow created," agreed Ortúzar. "I was in a peace group that protested silently whenever someone was killed. Often there was a counter-demonstration. That sort of tension between neighbours in a small town like this can be unbearable."

But this weekend the town is in fancy dress. Glittery Abba suits, Scottish kilts and bearded women compete to raise a laugh. "I'd ask you out, darling, but I bet you are all booked up," a carefully coiffured señora quips to a cross-dressing middle-aged man, as her friends squawk in delight.

Guernica is having fun. As the wounds – both recent and past – begin to heal, Basques are relaxing. After so many years of bloodshed, it is an uplifting thing to see in the town that inspired Picasso. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 17 2012

Picasso's Child with a Dove barred from export

Government fixes restriction until December but chances of purchase look slim after recent string of similar campaigns

The government has barred the export of a tender early painting by Picasso, his 1901 Child with a Dove, in the hope that a museum or gallery may manage to raise the £50m price and keep it in the country. The painting has been in British collections since 1924 and on loan to public collections in Britain for decades.

However it will take a miracle, or an exceptionally benevolent millionaire donor, to keep it here: the pockets of major museums and grant-givers are almost empty after a string of recent high-profile campaigns for other artworks.

The charming painting, made when the artist was just 19 and owned by the aristocratic Aberconway family in north Wales since the 1940s, is a significant transition piece from Picasso's earliest work to his later blue period. I has also been an infallible crowdpleaser whenever it has been exhibited in UK galleries over recent decades. There are only five early Picasso oil paintings in UK permanent collections.

Its UK significance is underlined in its current exhibition, part of the Picasso and Modern British Art show at the National Gallery of Scotland, which traces the artist's influence on generations of British artists. It would fit happily in either the Tate or the Courtauld collections, which have both displayed it in the last 30 years. It was once owned by Samuel Courtauld, co-founder of the art school and the gallery with its superb impressionist and early 20th-century collection. However, the Tate still has some heroic fundraising to do to build its major extension at Tate Modern, and the Courtauld has no purchase fund, relying instead on gifts and bequests.

The National Gallery, where it was on long loan from 1974 to 2010, almost exhausted its reserves (and the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other grant sources) when it bought the Duke of Sutherland's great Titians with the National Gallery of Scotland, in 2009 and this year, for £50m and £45m respectively.

Last week, the charity Art Fund, which has bridged the funding gap for many acquisitions, gave just £100,000 to the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge towards buying a famous painting by Poussin, because its reserves are still low after the Titian campaign and the £850,000 it gave to the Ashmolean in Oxford to buy a Manet work.

The National Museum of Art of Wales, which also has an outstanding late 19th- and early 20th-century collection mainly purchased directly from the artists by the remarkable sisters Gwendoline and Margaret Davies, would love the painting but have little hope of raising the price.

Significantly, no UK museum was able to make a bid for the painting before it was sold at a Christie's auction earlier this year to an undisclosed overseas buyer.

The painting came to London in 1924 with Mrs RA Workman who was, along with her husband, a major collector of impressionist and post-impressionist art. She sold it a few years later to Samuel Courtauld, and on his death in 1947 he left it to his friend Lady Aberconway, and it had been in her family ever since.

The export has been barred by the government until December, but could be extended for another six months if there is a chance of any gallery finding the money.

Aidan Weston-Lewis, a member of the reviewing committee which advises the government on such export bars, said: "Child with a Dove is a much-loved painting, whose iconic status, together with its long history in British collections – latterly on loan to public galleries – make it of outstanding importance to our national heritage." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Leonardo's womb, gold postboxes and crazy golf – the week in art

Da Vinci's anatomy drawings make the must-see show of the year. Plus, guerrilla gold postbox painters and battling Hitler at crazy golf in Blackpool – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

These are the greatest drawings in the world and this is the most important exhibition of the year, so try to see it. They include Leonardo da Vinci's moving depiction of a foetus in the womb, among many awe-inspiring studies of the human interior. Leonardo's apparently scientifically rigorous study of the womb contains a bizarre mistake: it is modelled on a cow's womb. This is not just because at the time he made this drawing Leonardo had no access to human dissection; it is also because he believed so strongly that human anatomy must be similar to that of other animals. He recognised, like a true scientist, that we too are animals – an outrageous notion in the early 1500s. Leonardo did get to do a series of brilliant dissections of people who had died at a hospital in Florence. Today, that hospital – Santa Maria Nuova – is still a busy city infirmary. You can go and watch ambulances arriving and ponder the mystery of human life, so fragile and beautiful, that Leonardo captures in these drawings.
The Queen's Gallery, London SW1A 1AA until 7 October

Other exhibitions this week

Picasso's Vollard Suite
These sensuous prints burst with life and imagination and are among Picasso's greatest works.
British Museum, London WC1 until 2 September

Adventureland Golf
Jake and Dinos Chapman, David Shrigley and others reinvent the seaside pastime of crazy golf.
Grundy Art Gallery, Blackpool until 6 October

Olympic and Paralympic Posters
There are some fine posters here by , Chris Ofili and others.
Tate Britain, London SW1 until 23 September

Simon Patterson
Last chance for a memorable exploration of the strangeness of statues.
Haunch of Venison, London W1 until 31 August

Masterpiece of the week

Unknown artist, A Dead Soldier
This eerie painting of a man dead, his body lit by an oil lamp, has the realism of a Caravaggio but is not by him. No one knows who painted this disconcertingly modern work of art. In the 19th century, it fascinated Edouard Manet, who was inspired by it to paint a picture of a dead toreador. As Manet recognised, this is a raw, blunt and unredemptive portrayal of the cold fact of death. Not only is the artist anonymous: so is the unknown soldier whose passing is remembered here forever.
National Gallery, London WC2

Image of the week

What we learned this week

How John Minihan celebrated snapping Samuel Beckett

That psychics have taken over the live art space at London's Tate Tanks

What your timeline of top artworks looks like

That gold postboxes were the surprise illegal street art of the Olympics

What upcoming photography shows you should put straight in the diary

And finally...

There's still time to share your art about sport now. Reflect on the Olympics, or look forward to the Paralympics

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August 16 2012

Picasso piece rediscovered after 50 years in Indiana museum storage

Glasswork has been hidden from view after cataloguing error mistaking artist's name for the medium in which it was made

It had sat unnoticed in storage for almost half a century after being mistaken for a work by the little-known, and non-existent, artist Gemmaux.

But a closer inspection of the glasswork at Indiana's Evansville Museum revealed the telltale signs of a 20th century European master. The bold lines, the nod to an earlier cubist aesthetic, the simultaneous use of full face and profile – the clues were all there.

As was the signature, scrawled quite clearly in the top right corner and missed for 49 years following a cataloguing error.

Now correctly identified, museum chiefs look set to cash in on their find, with Picasso's Seated Woman with Red Hat set to go under the hammer in New York, it was announced this week.

Its hoped-for sale price has not been revealed. But it is expected to raise more excitement in the art world than it would have done under the less recognisable name of Gemmaux.

The fictitious artist was the result of a cataloguing error after the work was gifted to Evansville Museum in 1963 by industrial designer Raymond Loewy.

Described in documents as a "Gemmaux", the word refers not to any name, but to the plural of "gemmail" – a medium used to assemble pieces of glass, which when illuminated from behind show their true colours.

Picasso is thought to have been introduced to the form by his friend Jean Cocteau in the early 1950s. He produced around 50 gemmaux pieces during a two year period while studying in France, it is thought.

Unaware of the its true creator, museum staff placed the "Gemmaux" in storage.

And it stayed hidden to the public until New York auctioneer Guernsey's contacted the Evansville centre earlier this year as part of its research into Picasso's gemmaux works.

It was then that museum staff finally became aware of the gem they had in the midst.

"It sparkles like a jewel," said John Streetman, executive director of the Evansville Museum.

He added: "It was undoubtedly a unique set of circumstances that uncovered this treasure within our museum."

But due to the expense of having to display, preserve and protect the piece from thieves, the museum's trustees have opted to hand over Seated Woman with Red Hat to Guernsey's to sell on the open market.

"Now that we have a full understanding of the requirements and additional expenses to display, secure, preserve and insure the piece, it is clear those additional costs would place a prohibitive financial burden on the museum," said Steve Krohn, president of the museum's board of trustees. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 10 2012

From Shakespeare to Sunflowers: masters take over the week in art

From the birth of modern culture to Van Gogh's classic work. Plus a Picasso fiasco in Edinburgh airport and a child saves a Manet – all in today's weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Shakespeare: Staging the World

Popular theatre was Britain's most spectacular contribution to the cultural movement called the Renaissance. For Shakespeare and his rival Christopher Marlowe, the culture of Italy where the Renaissance was centred was the definition of modernity. Shakepeare for instance made the name of the dangerous Renaissance thinker Machiavelli famous in Britain. This exhibition is not just for theatre fans, but for anyone interested in the birth of modern culture.
British Museum, London WC1 until 25 November

Other exhibitions this week

Metamorphoses: Titian 2012
Modern artists help to celebrate the nation's purchase of two Venetian Renaissance masterpieces.
National Gallery, London WxC2, until 23 September

Picasso and Modern British Art
The British modernists are dwarfed by Picasso in this show which has some terrific works by him.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, until 4 November

Tino Sehgal
Interaction is the action in Tate Modern's Turbine Hall.
Tate Modern, London SE1, until 28 October

Turner, Monet, Twombly
Luscious survey of pure painting.
Tate Liverpool, Liverpool, until 28 October

Masterpiece of the week

Vincent van Gogh, Sunflowers, 1888
Summer blazes so hot in this painting it hurts. Van Gogh's north European eyes are aflame as he settles into a new home in Provence. When Van Gogh, after a difficult struggle to learn art as an adult, went to live in Arles he started to turn his home there into a community for artists and painted this heady work to decorate it. The yellows are invincible, joyous and unbearably intense.
• National Gallery, London WC2

Image of the week

What we learned this week

Why Robert Hughes was Australia's answer to Dante

The story of Edinburgh airport's Picasso-based prudishness

How artists are taking on the coal industry from a disused mine in Belgium

That an 11-year-old saved a £7.8m Manet this week

All about one artist's mission to Mars

And finally …

Share your art on the theme of sport now

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August 04 2012

Van Gogh to Kandinsky; Edvard Munch: Graphic Works; Picasso and Modern – review

Scottish National Gallery; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh

There is a painting in the Scottish National Gallery so ominous one cannot immediately shrug off the memory. It shows a grey stone colonnade in some nameless place stretching away into infinity. An esplanade on the right is depthless and deserted, more like dark water than land. The interior of the colonnade is an open tomb. The painting puts you on the spot, confronts you with its eerie perspective beneath a rain-laden sky that is not quite day and not quite night. But where exactly are you?

This startling watercolour is by the Belgian artist Léon Spilliaert. It was painted in 1908 in Ostend. You might wonder, as some have, whether it has something to do with those murderous times, when millions of Africans were slaughtered during Leopold I's reign in the Belgian Congo. And perhaps it carries deep overtones of horror and sorrow.

But it may also come from Spilliaert's own experience as a chronic insomniac who walked the streets of Ostend by night to distract himself from the pain of a stomach ulcer. His scenes are silent, monochromatic, empty of all human presence except his own wretched solitude; this is the art of a noctambulist.

Spilliaert's work is not often seen outside Belgium. Indeed many of the names in the tremendous Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 may be unfamiliar, since symbolist art of any sort has had mixed fortunes, and symbolist landscapes in particular. Indeed this is the first pan-European show, to my knowledge, and not the least thrill of it is the sight of the continent stretching out before you, from the Scandinavian fjords to la France profonde, from the ravines of Mallorca to the dark forests of Bavaria.

The facts of a landscape are never supposed to be the point for these artists – "don't paint the thing itself, paint the effect it produces" wrote the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé – but one cannot help relishing the sight, and not just the sense, of place; the lakes of Finland, bright as mirrors, and the blue snows of the Eiger even in high summer.

As for the effect produced, it is almost overwhelmingly intense. More than a hundred paintings have been borrowed from museums across Europe, including masterpieces by Van Gogh, Munch, Arnold Böcklin, August Strindberg and James Ensor, and the mood plunges and soars by the room. It rises to ecstasy with Ensor's great vision of Christ Calming the Storm, in which sea and sky appear to unite in radiant meltdown; and it sinks into the most plangent gloom with the German painter Franz von Stuck's Evening Landscape, in which dark trees glower against the fading twilight.

Light, to adapt Manet, appears to be the main protagonist of the symbolist landscape. Indeed it is hard to see what else connects the works in this show. Symbolism is such a vague term – especially when it is made to stretch all the way from the Victorian visions of GF Watts to Paul Signac's pointillist arcadias – that it may be worth ignoring altogether in Edinburgh. It is self-evident that these landscapes are more than descriptions; that you're not just meant to admire the view.

But while it may be very clear that Léon Bakst's aerial view of an Aegean archipelago struck by lightning while a Greek statue breaks into a sinister grin must have the decline and fall of ancient civilisations in mind, it is less obvious that Spilliaert's art can be understood in terms of colonial politics. German symbolism, for instance, is routinely diagnosed as a reaction to Bismarck's modernised materialist state, but that doesn't begin to explain the immense variety of these German landscapes, from von Stuck's opalescent puddles at dusk to the island graveyards of Böcklin.

There are some real surprises in this exhibition. The reclusive Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, master of the mysterious interior, steps out into the streets of Copenhagen to paint Amalienborg Square in the queerest of filtered brown shadows: out of time. There are passionately beautiful treescapes by Mondrian before he turned to abstraction. August Strindberg's harried surfaces seem to prefigure the art of Anselm Kiefer just as surely as many of the artists in the Silent Cities section get there before Giorgio de Chirico.

And there is a show within a show here, as well – a survey of landscape painting at its wildest. Vertical versus horizontal, near against far, the effects of close-up and cropping, of vantage points high above, or way below, with a disappearing horizon or a double focus or no focus at all; it is a masterclass in radical landscape painting.

These are pictures to send shivers down the spine, and even to fill one with dread, above all in the case of Edvard Munch. In Winter Night, the great shape-maker coins a bat-black tree with its branches out-flung like a cloaked figure before an immense frozen waste as night falls. The tree is as frightening as the dying light: will we get away before darkness overwhelms us?

The Scream counts, I suppose, as a symbolist landscape plus figure. It is also on view in Edinburgh in the form of a hand-coloured woodcut in Edvard Munch: Graphic Works From the Gundersen Collection at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Munch's prints are as articulate as his paintings – sometimes more so – and this show of 50 works goes as deep, in its incisive way, as the superb tribute to the exuberant old miserabilist currently on show at Tate Modern.

The big festival show at the SNGMA, Picasso and Modern British Art, originated at Tate Britain in February. It is more successful in Edinburgh than it was in London. This is not simply because the rooms in Edinburgh, with their natural light and human proportions, are a better place to look at paintings than the subterranean galleries at Millbank, but because this version is so well edited.

The idea is to look at three artists who paid sharp attention to Picasso without being overwhelmed – Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon, David Hockney – plus several more who fairly swooned. In London the comparison was often cruel, but some of the weaker painters (the Bloomsburys) have been cut back here and the main trio given much clearer representation. The show becomes a concise evolution of British modernism in which the influence of Picasso now looks more like learning and less like theft.

Picasso himself springs alive in zany photographs and drawings from the collection of the British surrealist Roland Penrose at the SNGMA, and, of course, in many stunning pictures, including the Tate's Three Dancers and his beautiful portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter in blue moonlight. It is also excellent to see those two Scottish mavericks, the Roberts Colquhoun and MacBryde in the cubist context. Look out for MacBryde's aggressive cucumber and apocalyptic, wild-eyed kipper. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

August 03 2012

Bouncy castles, bathers and Beyoncé – the week in art

Jeremy Deller's bouncy Stonehenge hits London, plus Thomas Houseago's eerie sculptures take over Norwich and the best of the Edinburgh art festival – all in today's weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Thomas Houseago

The images and textures this Leeds-born sculptor creates are curious, memorable and eerie. Houseago has an eye for the grotesque and uncanny that makes me think of the German surrealist Max Ernst. His fame in Britain is lessened by his choice to live in Los Angeles, about as far away as you can get from our overcrowded art scene. Yet Houseago is shaping up as one of the true originals of modern British art.
Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts, Norwich, until 27 January 2013

Other exhibitions this week

Andrew Miller
Miller has created the pavilion for this year's Edinburgh art festival, where information can be had and live events will take place.
St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, until 2 September

Philip Guston
This great American artist reached his most original and insightful heights, or depths, in the late works this exhibition celebrates.
Inverleith House, Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, until 7 October

Tania Kovats
One hundred specimens of water from one hundred British rivers constitute this new work for the Edinburgh art festival.
Jupiter Artland, near Edinburgh, new permanent work

Edvard Munch
Need a break from Olympic fever? Munch's chill of the soul will curb your enthusiasm.
Tate Modern, London SE1, until 14 October

Masterpiece of the week

Cezanne, Bathers, about 1894-1905
The pulsating fantasies and longings of a very lonely man are transfigured into crystalline symmetries in this strange work of profound beauty.
National Gallery, London WC2N

Image of the week

What we learned this week

What a shame it is that Jay-Z and Beyoncé's architecture of choice is so naff

How Jeremy Deller's bouncy castle made Stonehenge a bit of a joke

A Roy Lichtenstein has been rediscovered in a warehouse after 42 years

Exactly how Dieter Roth chronicled his own death on camera

How artists from David Hockney to Michael Rosen have been inspired by the Olympics

And finally …

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July 31 2012

Why Picasso's Joker trumps Van Gogh and Cézanne

While others were besotted with beauty, Picasso showed a radical appetite for ugliness in his painting of the bohemian, Bibi la Purée, which has just gone on display at the National Gallery

Pablo Picasso's portrait of Bibi la Purée stands out bizarrely in the post-impressionist room at London's National Gallery where it has just gone on view. The horrible complexion of this absinthe-drinking former actor, painted by the 20-year-old Picasso in Montmartre in 1901, is an uneasy interloper among Van Gogh's Sunflowers and Cézanne's Bathers. Even in this youthful work, the shocking radicalism and daring of Picasso glares from the wall like the awful flower in Bibi's jacket.

Grotesque, ugly and monstrous, this man could be an early design for The Joker or a junk-addled clown. Clearly the young Picasso was fascinated by the low life of Paris and drawn to the demi-monde where art met absinthe. If Bibi la Purée seems to belong to the world of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec that's because Toulouse-Lautrec was Picasso's hero when he first encountered the art and atmosphere of Paris. The 20-year-old Spanish visitor here tries his hand at painting like the chronicler of Montmartre's dancers and prostitutes. Being Picasso, his attempt at emulation turns into a work of uncomfortable originality.

Seeing Picasso in the National Gallery, which has got the portrait of Bibi la Purée on long-term loan from a private collection, is tremendous. He belongs here. His art exploded out of the European traditions of art this museum exhibits, and all his life he engaged with the masters of earlier centuries as rivals, enemies, models. It is in the context of such a collection that you see his audacity to the full.

This painting, in this collection, reveals Picasso's revolutionary appetite for ugliness. Next to Bibi la Purée, the nearby paintings of Van Gogh and Cézanne seem besotted with a cult of beauty invented by the Renaissance. Their colours harmonise and they exult in nature. Picasso instead delights in coarsely ill-matched colours and a face pale and diseased from modern city life. He is really on to something here, in 1901, as he sees discord as the art of modern life. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is just six years away. He will paint it in a studio in the same Montmartre where he met Bibi la Purée. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 24 2012

Monsieur Hollande's holiday looks set to pass normality test

Staycation at no-frills traditional summer residence would please austerity-hit French after Sarkozy's ostentatious jet-setting

Gone, it seems, are the heady summer days when a French president could spend his holidays on a billionaire friend's luxury yacht or jet off to New Hampshire for a couple of weeks; gone, too, the possibility of enjoying the five-star hospitality of a friendly dictator, generous African autocrat or wealthy industrialist.

The choice of holiday destination has become somewhat limited for the French president, François Hollande, having sold himself as Monsieur Normal, once declared "I don't like the rich", and draw up a "morality code" for his administration.

Add the constraints of security and the austerity required in an economic crisis, and even Hollande's second home, near Cannes, is too risky and too "showbiz".

With time and options running out, it has been revealed that Hollande's partner, Valérie Trierweiler, visited the traditional presidential summer residence of Fort de Brégançon, on the French Riviera.

Trierweiler made a trip down south to the 11th-century fortress with a security officer last week, claimed Le Parisien, to check it out as a suitable spot for the couple's two-week holiday at the beginning of August.

A magnificent edifice atop a rock in the Mediterranean may not be everyone's idea of a "normal" spot for a holiday. But the fort, connected by jetty to the mainland and the nearby village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, on the western edge of the Côte Varoise, has been the property of the French state and a presidential summer residence for over four decades.

In the past leaders have tended to love or hate Brégançon, with its cramped rooms, cold stone walls and austere interior. Charles de Gaulle was said to have been so uncomfortable during a sleepless night in a too-small bed at the fort in 1964 that he never set foot in the place again.

Some in Hollande's entourage have suggested that even Brégançon, with its private beach – albeit one on which it is impossible to avoid the prying lenses of the paparazzi – may be too grand for a French leader seeking to prove his normality. But, like the holidays of the British prime minister, David Cameron, in Cornwall, the choice shows a certain patriotism.

Marc Concas, the head of the regional council and a Socialist party member, thought it unlikely Hollande would spend many holidays at Brégançon, however.

"It's too ostentations," he said. "Personally, I can imagine that François Hollande will come and visit the place. I'm sure he will: not to stay there but to see if it would be useful to get rid of it so it at least so it's no longer a cost to the taxpayer."

Hollande will be mindful that it was Nicolas Sarkozy's penchant for expensive holidays that contributed to his damaging "bling-bling" image. Days after his election victory in 2007 Hollande's predecessor and his then wife, Cécilia, were in the Mediterranean, off Malta, on a yacht belonging to the billionaire French businessman Vincent Bolloré.

Despite the criticism, a few months later the Sarkozys flew to the United States to holiday in a €22,000 (£17,000) a week luxury villa at Wolfeboro, where the president had brunch with his US counterpart, George W Bush. Later, with his third wife, Carla Bruni, Sarkozy flew to Egypt in Bolloré's Falcon 900 private jet to stay in an apartment belonging to an Abu Dhabi sheikh. Holidays in Jordan, Mexico and Brazil followed.

After his defeat, in May, the Sarkozys were in Marrakech staying in a luxury apartment belonging to King Mohammed. Shortly afterwards, they were in Canada holidaying at the home of a wealthy media, insurance and investment tycoon.

Apart from a few days in 2007 near Tangiers, in Morocco, where he was photographed on a public beach with "no towels and no frills", according to journalists, Hollande has chosen to spend most of his holidays in France.

He is a familiar face at Mougins, near Cannes, where Picasso lived and where he has a second home. But he spent last summer with Trierweiler at Hossegor, in the Landes, on the south-western coast, where they were photographed cycling and enjoying the local oysters.

When approached by reporters Hollande told them he was on holiday "like everyone else". The local paper was quick to point out the contrast with Sarkozy: "Two men, two styles", it wrote. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

June 19 2012

Picasso painting vandalised in Houston – video

A patron at Houston's Menil Collection captures mobile phone footage of a man vandalising Picasso's Woman in a Red Armchair

May 29 2012

Picasso: the brains behind the brawn

We think of Picasso as a man's man, a sensualist; but his work is fiercely intellectual. And the British Museum's exhibition of his Vollard Suite prints proves that he is all about brain work

Pablo Picasso is a geek masquerading as a matador. Picasso's fame relishes his bullish persona. Photographed at bloody sporting events, or joking about in the studio, described by his biographers chasing and oppressing women, he comes across as a robust, to say the least, man's man.

Picasso. We all think we know him. His art, too, ought to be familiar, after all this time. But to seriously encounter it, even for a moment, is to realise with a shock that none of those pop-cultural props help at all, for it is endlessly challenging, unexpected, and above all intellectual.

To put it another way, we imagine Picasso as a sensualist, yet his art is all brain work. He combines an accessible reputation with an obscure reality. Where some artists of today might sell themselves as conceptualists and present precious little thought to chew on, Picasso is famous as a worldly character – but his art is a maze of intelligence.

I cannot think of any other artist who so ruthlessly forces his beholders to think with him. It is impossible to enjoy a Picasso without using your brain: just to recognise what he is doing, what he is depicting, is to make a whole series of cognitive leaps. To spend time with a series of his works is to gradually awaken your visual brain and acclimatise it to the level his genius demands.

This holds true at the British Museum's exhibition of his phenomenal Vollard Suite. The cerebral nature of this exhibition – the prints in the Vollard Suite are just black ink on white paper; the museum juxtaposes them with Etruscan mirrors and Greek vases to suggest classical sources for his mythological homages to the Mediterranean tradition – is a revelation of who Picasso really is, as an artist. He is not simple, that's for sure.

There is a unique thrill to looking at Picasso. First, there's a rite of passage: the dead wood of sloppy, everyday perception has to be cleared away. I select a familiar subject to get my bearings – a picture of a bullfight. But it is not familiar at all. The graceful lines that define a woman bullfighter as she slides between a tangle of horns and a horse's screaming head have nothing to do with any cosy image I might have in my head of what a Picasso "looks like". This is not an artist who has a simplistic "style". He has his methods, but what he does with them here is specific and original: he is wrestling with something.

Soon, I start seeing Picasso as he demands to be seen – with a mind open to his complex investigations of the visual world and the inner imagination. Myths and desires and dreads inhabit his powerful psyche. The effort to make sense of his teasing images is immensely rewarding.

The pleasures of Picasso are fiercely intellectual – a banquet for your brain. Leaving the British Museum I feel as if I have just played chess with a master who generously let me win a few pieces before checkmating me with a smile. As always, it is a joy to lose. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 27 2012

Art weekly

Art and science meet in Leonardo's inspiring vision, while etchings reveal Picasso's inner world – all in your favourite weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist

A human foetus nestles in a womb that is like the opened skin of a horsechestnut. Drawn with exquisite tenderness and humanity, this homunculus expresses the wonder and fragility of who we are. I find it more moving than a Rembrandt portrait. In a sense, Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings resemble the works of a benign alien, visiting earth and recording its dissected inhabitants with an eye godlike in its capacity to stand back and analyse, yet infinitely sensitive and loving. The delicacy with which he draws veins or nerves like webs of gossamer is just mind-boggling. To look at one of the drawings in this profound exhibition is to enter deep into the very fabric of being. To see them gathered like this is to run short of superlatives, to gawp in sheer amazement at a genius so inexplicable.

Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings are among the most poignant works of art in the history of humanity. I imagine a remote future, in a distant galaxy, where the hyperevolved descendants of our species clutch one of these drawings in their jellied tentacles to remember us by.

The Queen has opened her jewel case to reveal these incredible drawings. They are given a full, spacious, and illuminating display in this terrific exhibition. Curator Martin Clayton argues that Leonardo was a full-time scientist, and a painter second, by the time he made these. The captions and supporting materials – including modern anatomical models for comparison – show how precisely and originally Leonardo explored human anatomy through dissection, in a way that was totally unprecedented. Surgeons still refer to his drawings. He made superb observations, discovering, for instance, how a heart valve works.

The exhibition argues that Leonardo's discovery of the heart valve brought his research to a tragic end: he could not make the leap from understanding valves to recognising that blood circulates. That was impossible given his medieval starting point. It would take more than a century of medical research to get to the idea of circulation. By the time Leonardo's drawings became famous, long after his death, they had been left behind by science. Yet they are the greatest images that exist of the scientific urge itself: of human curiosity. See these, and take your children – if you have them – to see them. Art is science and science is art in Leonardo's inspiring vision.

Queen's Gallery, Buckhingham Palace, London SW1, until 7 October

Other exhibitions this week

Picasso: The Vollard Suite
A tremendous series of etchings that gives a glimpse of Picasso's innermost imagination.
British Museum, London WC1, from 3 May

Bauhaus: Art as Life
The utopian art and design movement of Weimar Germany still fascinates and still points to new ideas.
• Barbican, London EC2, from 3 May

Tomb Treasures from Han China
More than 350 ancient artefacts including works in gold and jade.
• Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, from 5 May

Mika Rottenberg
Surreal and comic performance videos from New York.
• Nottingham Contemporary, from 5 May

Masterpiece of the week

Giambologna's Samson Slaying a Philistine (1560-2) in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7.

When Leonardo da Vinci drew his anatomical studies the body was at the centre of art. The Renaissance cult of the nude in action gave rise to Leonardo's investigations beneath the skin. This great work by Giambologna is a powerful expression of that Renaissance art of the physical.

Image of the week

Five things we've learned this week

Spiders have pairs of penises

You could spend all day looking at the drawings of Paul Thek, the late artist whose work was our critic Adrian Searle's most surprising exhibition at the Glasgow festival of visual art

The Louvre may have overcleaned the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne

It's all about subversive DIY at the Milan furniture fair

Jeremy Hunt has a print by Grayson Perry on his wall


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April 26 2012

Louis le Brocquy obituary

Artist known for his portraits of Irish writers

When the National Gallery of Ireland acquired Louis le Brocquy's canvas A Family, in 2002, he became the first living Irish artist to have a painting in the collection. It is a modern parable. Le Brocquy, who has died aged 95, painted A Family in 1951, and Gimpel Fils, his London gallery from 1947 for the rest of his life, exhibited it that year. In 1952 a group of patrons offered to buy the painting for £400 and present it to the municipal gallery in Dublin, but the art advisory committee rejected it as incompetent.

Four years later, it won a prize at the Venice Biennale, was bought by the Nestlé Foundation and hung at its Milan headquarters until 2001. The Irish businessman Lochlann Quinn then bought it from Agnews in London for £1.7m, and with his wife, Brenda, presented it to the National Gallery of Ireland.

Le Brocquy's charm and modesty seemed insufficient defence against the vitriolic public abuse that accompanied his hometown rejection in 1952, but his inner strength was obvious early in life. Born in Dublin, he went to St Gerard's school in Wicklow and studied chemistry at Trinity College, Dublin, intending to forge a career alongside his father, Albert, in the family oil refinery. His mother, Sybil, was a lawyer and writer whose play Winning Ways was staged by the Abbey Theatre in 1932.

Louis took up painting as a hobby and myth has it that the two pieces accepted in 1937 for the admittedly crusty Royal Hibernian Academy's annual show were the first he had ever made. Whatever the truth, it became obvious to Le Brocquy that he was meant for a different kind of career with oils. He quit Trinity and embarked on a study tour through Europe in 1937-38.

Thus self-taught, he joined his younger sister, Melanie, a sculptor, and a group of rebels in helping to set up an avant-garde organisation, Irish Exhibition of Living Art, and exhibited at its launch in 1943. His career began to flourish in 1946 with the start of his so-called tinker period, a cubist-influenced series of paintings of groups of Irish travellers.

For many years he was treated by critics as a Celtic fringe follower of Picasso, but he was a true original, many of whose tinker-period paintings suggest late-period Picasso before the event. One highly suggestive work, Man Creating Bird (1948), is a lyrical and mildy disturbing allegory of a man with an upraised hand pulling at a thread attached to a squawking bird's throat held in his other hand. Everything in the picture seems on the point of flight, but what actually did take off was Le Brocquy's career as a tapestry designer, at which he was an unqualified success.

The best of the tapestries sprang from the work he did for Thomas Kinsella's poetic version of one story, The Táin (1969), about the gathering of people for a cattle raid from a body of medieval Ulster mythology. These were black and white blot illustrations of raw magnificence, incidentally including Medb Relieving Herself – another, presumably inadvertent, shadowing of Picasso (La Pisseuse of 1965).

A Family was a crucial point in Le Brocquy's work as a painter, not because of its history once it came off the easel, but because it introduced a new phase of activity involving painting in subdued colours: 1951-54, a grey period, then a white period following a sponsored visit to Spain. Passing through La Mancha in 1955, as he described it: "I stopped spellbound before a small group of women and children standing against a whitewashed wall. Here the intensity of the sunlight had interposed its own revelation, absorbing these human figures into its brilliance, giving substance only to shadow. From that moment I never perceived the human presence in quite the same way."

The paintings appeared now as a meditation on the state of being, of how it feels to be inside a body or a head, not how it looks, though the sequence of portraits of Irish writers from Oscar Wilde to his friends Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney are good likenesses – and fetched six and seven figures in the new Irish tiger economy.

Le Brocquy married Jean Stoney in 1938 but they divorced in 1948. In 1958 he married Ann Madden Simpson – Anne Madden the painter, as he always referred to her. They lived until the turn of the century in the south of France. She and their sons, Pierre and Alexis, survive him, as does Seyre, the daughter of his first marriage.

Louis le Brocquy, artist, born 10 November 1916; died 25 April 2012

Louis le Brocquy website © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 25 2012

Picasso's prints: exclusive look at the Vollard Suite – in pictures

For the first time in 50 years in Britain, a complete set of the Vollard Suite – 100 etchings produced by Pablo Picasso between 1930 and 1937 – is to go on display at the British Museum. Here, get an exclusive look at a selection of the etchings ahead of the exhibition's opening on 3 May 2012

The dark mind of Picasso

Picasso's phantasmagorical etchings from the 1930s, which go on display at the British Museum next week, delve into the deepest, darkest corners of the artist's psyche

Pablo Picasso's greatest achievement of the 1930s was his painting Guernica – right?

Wrong. Picasso's masterpiece of the 1930s is the Vollard Suite, a series of etchings that lay bare his imagination and his creative energy like nothing else he ever did. If every painting by Picasso were to vanish, and only this series of prints survived, his genius would still be obvious from this work alone. Guernica grows out of its imagery: in a sense (especially with its black and white palette) this famous painting is simply a translation to mural scale of the intense symbolism and mythic power of the etchings in the Vollard Suite.

A copy of this phenomenal work of art has been acquired by the British Museum and goes on display for free in its print gallery next week. This is truly one of the art events of the year, and offers more inspiration, stimulation and sheer excitement than almost any other art I can think of.

Ambroise Vollard was a gifted art dealer who had the foresight to back Cézanne in the 1890s and who also had a passion for creating artist's books (as they are now called). Renoir, one of the artists he represented, portrayed him in a painting now in the Courtauld Gallery. It shows him contemplating a statuette, an archetypal connoisseur with a fondness for fine things. Picasso started out as a rebel, but by the time he began a suite of etchings for Vollard in 1930 he was rich and famous and nearly 50 years old. It might have seemed that he was settling into a respectable mature period, making classy, conservative prints for the luxury art market.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the images he etched for Vollard to publish, Picasso explores the furthest reaches of his psyche. He delves into his darkest places. It is a phantasmagoria of sex and violence. In one of the images (above), four girls with innocent faces that might have been drawn by Rossetti gaze over a parapet at an immense monster with a bull's horned head, female breasts, wings and clawed feet. This incredible chimera is not just monstrous in outline but internally: its form is created by churning, spiralling, ornately involved black lines that seem to swarm and change before your eyes to create a truly spectral being. In fact, the previous picture shows the old master Rembrandt in a similarly grotesque style, facing a neatly drawn classical artist over a drink: Picasso is playing with, joking on, the extremes of artistic style.

That may sound a bit arty, but wait. Here is a bullfight. In a nightmare corrida, a horse raises its throat in a dying scream as it is gored by a bull in the arena. The bull, too, is injured, a spear in its side. At least, these are the details that start to emerge as you contemplate a tangled confusion of heads and limbs, a cubist chaos of flesh and death. At the heart of it all, her eyes closed, floats a woman bullfighter.

This is just one of the bullfight scenes in this amazing series. In the Vollard Suite, Picasso works out his imaginative and emotional response to bullfighting, finding in it surrealistic images of cruelty and ecstasy. This is what I mean by Guernica growing out of these prints: they are the laboratory in which his images of the horse and the bull, so powerfully used in his anti-war painting, are created and developed. This is also where he is most explicit about his sexuality and relationships with women: one section is called The Battle of Love. Yet he also creates lyrical, tranquil scenes of lovers at peace here.

Above all, the Vollard Suite is about metamorphosis – the ability to change one form, one idea, into another that is the essence of Picasso's genius. Here, in one compact set of images, you can watch the mind of Picasso at work.

And it is quite a show. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

April 12 2012

John Golding obituary

Artist, teacher and historian of modern art, he wrote a seminal work on cubism

John Golding, who has died aged 82, packed into his life separate but intertwined careers as artist and historian of modern art. Soon after he had completed his doctoral dissertation on cubism at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, it was published as Cubism, A History and an Analysis, 1907-1914 (1959), and has stood ever since as the clearest exposition of that extraordinary era in the history of the art of the 20th century.

In a field in which so many literate and knowledgable writers had known Pablo Picasso well – from the compiler of the Dictionnaire Picasso, Pierre Daix, to his first English biographer, the painter Roland Penrose, his most discriminating collector, Douglas Cooper, and the writer of what is likely to be the definitive biography, John Richardson, – this was a remarkable achievement. Golding added to it in 1988, when an exhibition in Paris and Barcelona, organised around Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907), overlapped with another show, Late Picasso, in Paris and London, of Picasso's late period (1953-73), and Golding wrote what remains one of the finest accounts of Picasso's achievement in an essay of nearly 11,000 words in the New York Review of Books.

Yet more than with any of his writings, he made his public mark with another Picasso scholar, Elizabeth Cowling, by curating two groundbreaking Tate exhibitions: Picasso: Sculptor/Painter, in 1994, and Matisse/Picasso, in 2002-03, which also travelled to the Grand Palais in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The first of these shows demonstrated what many people already suspected, that as a sculptor/painter, Picasso had more sculptural ideas than most specialists in that field. After its success, the Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, challenged his dream team to come up with something as good. Cowling suggested Matisse/Picasso to Golding, who concurred enthusiastically. Everybody knew about the creation of cubism by Picasso and Georges Braque, "like two mountaineers roped together", as Braque described it. The idea that the wary and slow-burning relationship between Picasso and Matisse should have been just as productive, though lasting more than half a century rather than the six or seven hectic Picasso-Braque years, had never been so boldly proposed as in this exhibition.

Golding attacked the project with determination, talking not just great galleries but reluctant private collectors into parting with masterpieces chosen not simply for their quality but to be placed in conjunction, Picasso with Matisse, Matisse with Picasso, to show how they fed off each other. Together with a catalogue essay by Golding, argued with characteristic calmness and lucidity, the exhibition was a triumph of enlightened scholarship and sheer pleasure.

Neither Picasso nor Matisse of course was ever an abstractionist. Golding was, and the clue to his practice as a painter lies in his Paths to the Absolute (2000). This effectively stood as his credo, that abstract art was not simply decorative but, as he put it in the preface, was "heavily imbued with meaning [and] with content", a case he argued with studies of seven abstract artists, beginning with the early 20th-century Europeans Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky and ending with the post-second-world-war Americans Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still. The book was essentially a transcript of his AW Mellon lectures of 1997, the famous series of talks that also produced such celebrated studies of art history as EH Gombrich's Art and Illusion and Kenneth Clark's The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form. Golding's rigorous but approachable work comfortably takes its place among them, and in the year of its publication it won the Mitchell prize, the principal annual US award for art history.

Although he was born in Hastings, East Sussex, Golding's parents brought him up from early childhood in Mexico. During the second world war, he came to know the maverick English surrealist Leonora Carrington, who had made her home in Mexico, and in her eclectic circle Golding met the film-maker Luis Buñuel and the poet Octavio Paz, as well as emigre surrealists such as the French poet Benjamin Péret and the Austrian artist Wolfgang Paalen. But it was the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, Juan O'Gorman and especially José Orozco who really interested him. He was especially impressed by the boldly schematic figures of Orozco that aimed at the grand simplicity of early Italian masters in the circle of Giotto, and it was these that he remembered after the war when he himself began to paint.

First though, Golding took a degree at Toronto University. He made frequent visits during this time to the Museum of Modern Art and worked for a period as a stage designer. He returned to London to take an MA at the Courtauld. In 1953 he saw the major show of cubism in Paris at the Musée d'Art Moderne and decided to write his doctoral thesis at the Courtauld on the formative years of the movement, from 1907, when Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, until the outbreak of war in 1914. The resulting book won the approval of both Braque and Picasso and became a keystone in Golding's life. Although he had decided while he was studying that he would work as an artist as well as a historian, inevitably the acclaim for his book drew Golding deeper into academic life.

He started to teach at the Courtauld in 1959. He was a reader in art history by 1981, at which point the Royal College of Art made him the siren offer of senior tutor in the painting school. Golding took it, in the knowledge that at the RCA he could immerse himself full time in the practice of painting, his own as well as his students'. "I am not interested in art as self-discovery or therapy," he said. He wanted to be a full-time professional, committed to pushing painting forward in the exploration of colour and light.

His painting was already gaining recognition, notably when he was included in the 1974 Hayward Annual, British Painting, selected by Andrew Forge. In the 1980s he had a run of one-man shows in top galleries, including Juda Rowan in London and the Oxford Museum of Modern Art, as well as in Tokyo, Sydney and at the Yale Centre for British Art in Connecticut, where the catalogue for his show was written by Forge, who, like Golding, was a painter and deeply sensitive critic.

Golding's knowledge of Renaissance painting, especially the great Venetians and particularly their rendering of the fall of light on to bodies, the way it breaks up outlines and dissolves form and mass, informed his own work as he moved out of figuration and into abstract canvases in which light was the subject. He painted vertical streaks of colour down his canvases like pleated light (as he put it) and occasionally on, say, a misty blue, he would scatter clusters of gold pigment to reflect the actual light. After the end of the 20th century, he started to structure his paintings so that they appeared to be based on photographs from thousands of feet above the Earth, with "roads" and "bridges" and "canals". He even called one of these canvases Mappa Mundi.

In retrospect, though, it seems to have been inevitable that Golding's own painting should be overshadowed by his reputation as a historian. As a teacher, he was popular with his students. In person he looked a little like Picasso, but his voice was soft and his delivery almost contemplative, as though he was thinking his way forward, trying his ideas out on his audience as he formulated them, even on subjects he knew well.

The historian James Joll, with whom he shared his life for many years, died in 1994. He is survived by two nephews, Michael and Richard.

• Harold John Golding, artist, art historian and curator, born 10 September 1929; died 9 April 2012

• This article was amended on 12 April 2012. The editing of the original located Hastings in Kent. This has been corrected. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

March 23 2012

John Richardson: a life in art

'I was able to grow up and be what I wanted to be – a writer about art with a career at the centre of the art world'

"How well do you know Kipling's poetry?" demands John Richardson, almost before the door to his Manhattan apartment has closed behind me. "I'm trying to remember the name of a poem … it's for something I'm writing." Richardson – the first volume of whose Picasso biography won him the Whitbread book of the year award in 1991 – is 88 years old and suffers from macular degeneration, severely hampering his ability to read. But he is still working furiously: writing, now with collaborators, volume four of the Picasso biography, and curating exhibitions. (His Picasso: the Mediterranean Years at the Gagosian Gallery London in 2010 was regarded as a museum-quality exhibition – or indeed, as surpassing museum quality, arising as it did out of an intimate personal knowledge of the artist and his circle.) When I visit, he is drafting an essay on Lucian Freud, whom he had known since he was 18 years old and Freud was 20.

Richardson – who occasionally pauses at length to excavate a name from the deep layers of his memory, but who is otherwise sufficiently youthful to clamber out of a sash window to perch on his tiny terrace at the behest of the photographer – leads me through a startlingly impressive array of rooms, busily decorated with sculptures, deeply upholstered divans, elaborate lamps, antique tables and, above all, pictures. He gestures in the direction of an 18th-century portrait. "That's a Reynolds of Frederick, Prince of Wales. One of Queen Mary's ladies-in-waiting was always trying to get it out of me. They didn't have one at the palace." We whisk past Picassos and Freuds, and I spot what I imagine to be a reproduction of a Braque perched on a side table. It is only later, when I look at the inscription – "Pour Richardson, avec mes amitiés, G Braque" that I realise it's the real thing, a delicate piece in ink and cardboard collage of a bird flying to its nest.

Richardson is one of the last links to a dazzling, lost world: aside from Picasso, Braque and Jean Cocteau, whom he met while living for 12 years with the art collector Douglas Cooper in the south of France after the war, he was on terms with an array of literary and artistic figures – Anthony Blunt, Cyril Connolly, WH Auden, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, Francis Bacon, Nancy Mitford, Graham Sutherland, James and John Pope-Hennessy – many of whom are vividly brought to life in his gripping, gossipy, score-settling memoir, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Above all, the memoir conveys the character of Cooper, one of the most important early collectors of cubist art, who seduced Richardson and then swept him away to France in 1950.

Cooper introduced him to many of the stellar figures who shine out of the memoir's pages, but he was also a domineering, controlling companion. As Richardson puts it: "There was a great deal to Douglas - he was brilliant, he was very funny, there was never a dull moment, but to live under the same roof way off in a rather deserted part of Provence was – well, I sometimes went stir crazy."

He eventually left and settled in New York, writing for the New York Review of Books (among other publications) and organising a successful Picasso exhibition in 1962 that spanned nine galleries. He then set up the New York branch of Christie's with fellow Briton Charlie Allsopp. "We complemented each other. I didn't know much about 17th-century Dutch painting, or Chinese porcelain or silver. He didn't know much about modern painting," he says of Allsopp, the father of TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp. Leaving Cooper, he says, "I was able to grow up and be what I wanted to be – a writer about art with a career at the centre of the art world."

It was going back to France to consult Picasso about the 1962 exhibition that brought forth the idea of the biography. "I'd say: 'Who is it a portrait of?' And he'd say that with works of the late 1930s there were sometimes as many as four people in one portrait – Dora Maar, Nusch Eluard, Inès the maid, Lee Miller, you'll see all of them. So the whole question of identity in these portraits was fascinating. I thought I'd do a big study looking at how one could trace Picasso's style through the portraits of the women who were inspirational to him. Then I realised it was much better to do a large-scale biography."

With its sharp, jargon-free prose, its persuasive art-historical arguments and its pungent insights into its subject's character, the first volume was a revelation. Art historian Richard Wollheim wrote in the London Review of Books: "There is no short way of conveying the wealth, precision and imaginativeness of this book." For critic Waldemar Januszczak, writing in the Guardian, it was "the finest biography of an artist I have read".

John Patrick Richardson was born in London in 1924, the eldest son of the 70-year-old Sir Wodehouse Richardson and his much younger wife, Patty. "My father was totally fascinating and rather impressive," says Richardson. "He was decorated by Queen Victoria and knighted by Edward VII. He was quartermaster general in the South African war, and the first to feed the troops refrigerated beef – he brought in refrigerated railroad cars." After the Boer war he co-founded the Army and Navy Stores, with its HQ in Victoria Street in London and outposts in Calcutta and Bombay. "One day, on a Thursday, which was board meeting day, when he'd always do a tour of inspection of the store, he saw this little woman retouching photos and got interested in her, and he waited outside with a bunch of roses, and one thing led to another." His father died when Richardson, the oldest of three children, was six. "I was enormously proud of my father and to some extent have missed him every day of my life. He was so bright, so funny and warm – heroic in his way."

At 13, Richardson was sent to Stowe, its Capability Brown grounds and elegant 18th-century follies providing the backdrop for some of his earliest sexual experiences. Here, his art teacher introduced him to the work of artists such as Picasso and Schwitters. Richardson shows me a little abstract work that he made at the time, impressively progressive for a 1930s schoolboy. As war broke out he enrolled at the Slade. Later, just as he was called up, he caught rheumatic fever: he was out of the army before he ever put on an Irish Guards uniform.

He lived in wartime London with his mother and siblings, working as an industrial designer by day and doing air-raid warden and firefighter shifts by night. And then there were the parties. "In those days being gay was somewhat dangerous; my best friend was had-up for some non-offence and jailed for a month – you had to be careful. But during the blitz London was kind of amazing. There were these great nightclubs in bombed basements in Soho. And there would be a feeling of tremendous excitement because quite a few of the men would be going off the following day to Egypt. And people were so great with each other during the war. People weren't petty or bitchy, they were out for basically whatever thrills they could get before they were bombed or packed off to the battlefield."

Soon after the war he began to write literary journalism for the New Statesman, mentored by Cuthbert Worsley, the magazine's theatre and deputy literary editor. "Postwar London," says Richardson, "was bohemian fun, but also one felt there was a creative spirit to it, which seems to have ceased." One day in 1949 Worsley took him to a party at the house of John Lehmann – brother of the novelist Rosamond – in honour of Paul Bowles's new novel, The Sheltering Sky. Also at the party was Cooper, who had spent a chunk of his fortune amassing an impressive modern art collection.

"In those days," says Richardson, "booze was always a problem. You had to scrounge around for a bottle of port, then there'd be a bottle of scotch, a couple of bottles of South African red wine, some liqueurs – and so you'd get drunk after three different drinks. I had met Douglas before and I longed to see the collection; it was difficult, impossible, to see great cubist works at the time. So I went up to him and introduced myself. 'I know perfectly well who you are,' said Douglas.

"I said: 'I would like very much to see your collection.' He said: 'There is no time like the present. Let's leave these ghastly people and this ghastly party.' And off we went in a 20-year-old Rolls-Royce, black with yellow wheels, resembling a wasp. We set off at an enormous speed and screeched to a halt two blocks away at Basil Amulree's, with whom Douglas shared a house."

Soon it would be Richardson's home, too: "I slept with Douglas out of curiosity, and also I wanted to get to know him better," he says. Amulree, a physician and a peer "who never did a mean or cruel thing", seemed not to mind. "He lived through Douglas," says Richardson. "In fact, the worse Douglas was, the more satisfaction Basil seemed to get. He wasn't so much masochistic as uptight. Somehow through Douglas he let go. He would hoot with laughter at Douglas's antics; occasionally he would give a slight sigh, but he would often egg him on. Basil was not in the least jealous of Douglas's relationships; Douglas, on the other hand, was extremely derogatory about Basil's occasional relationships."

Cooper took Richardson on something of a grand tour around Europe, which culminated in the discovery of a beautiful, neglected chateau called Castille, where they settled. It was here that they moved into the orbit of the magnetic, contradictory creature that was Pablo Picasso, who lived not far away.

Picasso was between mistresses, with various candidates swirling around. Richardson took a great shine to one of them: Jacqueline Roque. "She seemed perfect for him. She was the right shape – big pair of breasts and a big pair of buttocks and not much in between, and that's what he liked. I went up to Paris and got a present for her, a sort of bullfighter's cape from Dior, and that cemented our friendship, for Jacqueline soon ended up as the mistress."

Jacqueline was with him to the end, devoted to and exhausted by the artist. "The last eight years of Picasso's life there was no one around but her. She was secretary, housekeeper, she lugged around the canvases. She would have to do all the practical things – go to the bank, buy the stuff for the weekend, have a hassle with the lawyer – and be back at home by the time he rose at 10.30. Then she had to remain by his side without even leaving the room until sometimes two, three, four in the morning. And she started to drink. By the time he died she was in terrible shape."

After a dozen years, the relationship with Cooper ground painfully to a halt. A final episode of the endgame came when Cooper was stabbed by a young man whom he had picked up. Richardson, who had moved away by that point but was back to celebrate Picasso's birthday, rushed to the hospital, sleeping on a deckchair by his bedside. When Cooper eventually spoke, it was to enquire: "Where did you find that assassin?"

After all that, "New York was paradise for me," says Richardson. "I felt like a child let loose in a department store. There were white Russian chess players, interior decorators, old-fashioned English people, left-wing politicians." Friends included Andy Warhol, for whom he took part in a soap opera the artist had devised. ("Maxine de la Falaise played a once-famous actress who had fallen on evil days. And I was her brother from London.")

He says of Warhol: "Since he died I've seen all sorts of depths to Andy I hadn't spotted when he was alive. I'm a Catholic and I have realised the enormous importance of Roman Catholicism to him. He went every single day to mass. I think this explains the repetitions in his work – all the Ave Marias, like the 50 soup cans. To me he was like a character out of Russian fiction, the holy idiot. He could portray horrible and hideous things and be surrounded by horrible and hideous people taking drugs and killing themselves. But somehow he managed to retain his innocence and never get contaminated."

Today, Richardson is exasperated by the politics of the US. "Back in those days, most of my friends were to the left. Now the left doesn't exist any more. A woman – the wife of a well-known zillionaire – recently said to me: 'John, I had no idea you were such a liberal.' And I thought, do you know, this is what friends used to say when I was 18. Except they meant I should become a socialist. It seemed to me that history was repeating itself but upside down. I've stayed more or less where I am, politically. My father was a liberal, and I feel liberalism in my bones."

Volume four of the Picasso biography, with the collaboration of Spanish art historian Gijs van Hensbergen and curator Michael Cary, is near completion. It will cover the years from 1962 to the artist's death in 1973. "Finally one can set the whole Communist record straight," says Richardson. Though Picasso "became Communist because he was passionately pacifist and had very strong views about poverty", according to Richardson, he also did so in a fit of pique after "very temporarily becoming a passionate Gaullist" at the time of the liberation of Paris.

He explains: "The de Gaulle people got hold of this, Dora Maar told me, and they came round to dinner. But afterwards, he simply said 'bande de cons' [bunch of cunts] and joined the Communist party the next day." But, Richardson argues, "in private, he was critical of the Communists and very upset by the brutality of the Soviets, but he was stuck – he couldn't withdraw without looking like a turncoat. So up to the end of his life he realised he had no choice but to stay in the party."

And so work continues on a remarkable project; and this slayer, and celebrator, of sacred monsters, forges on towards his tenth decade. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Juan Gris: why the unsung cubist deserves his Google doodle

Google pays homage to the least famous, but most entertaining, of the three great masters of cubism, 125 years after Gris's birth

Google has done well in its latest Google doodle to pay homage to the least celebrated of the three great masters of cubism.

Juan Gris gets a Google doodle – and the word Google at the top of the famous search engine's welcome page has been written in hard-to-disentangle cubist kaleidoscopes of guitars, violins, eyes and music – because it's the 125th anniversary of his birth on 23 March 1887. But what is so great about Juan Gris that he should get this honour when (some might object) they have never done a Google doodle for Beryl Cook?

Cubism was, and is, the most revolutionary and profoundly beautiful modern art movement. It was discovered – for once, it makes sense to speak of an artistic idea being "discovered" like a scientific truth – by Picasso and Braque before the first world war. Their insight was complex. A painting does not have to show reality from a single point of view, as pictorial artists did from the 1400s to the late 19th century. Our eyes move about all the time, inside our restless bodies. So a cubist painting captures a series of perceptions all in one assaying of an object. Nor does the surface of a painting have to be like a window you look through: the planes of a cubist composition collide with the picture surface and even burst out from it when bits of chair cane and other objects are stuck to the canvas. And why should painting only be about looking? Cubist paintings try to somehow grasp the tactile, tangible reality of everything.

Picasso and Braque had imitators, but only one artist seriously took up their challenge to become a third great cubist painter and that was Gris. Like Picasso he was Spanish but worked in Paris, and his portrait of Picasso pays homage to a contemporary he was happy to see as a leader. Yet his interpretation of cubism is very personal. His paintings are more joyous, entertaining, and overtly ludic than those of the first cubists. He achieves this without reducing the new way of seeing to a sterile decorative style, which is why he is so important. In his 1912 painting Man in the Cafe, the 20th century explodes out of an elegant cafe-goer's smart suit: the fun of the painting is that he is totally recognisable, far more so than the people in Picasso's greatest cubist works, but also manifestly disintegrating and transforming before our eyes.

Juan Gris painted a world in revolution. A very good source for a Google doodle as reality melts with the heat of technological change. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 19 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art – review

Tate Britain, London

Soames Forsyte, of John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga, must be the most enterprising art collector in British fiction. At the end of the first world war, while others are still investing in John Singer Sargent, he takes a punt on a work by Pablo Picasso. It is true that Forsyte doesn't struggle to save it when his house catches fire –Dégas take priority – but his prescience has already been established. Forsyte was buying Picasso long before his real-life British counterparts.

How late we were to acquire (if not love) Picasso is one of two stories in Tate Britain's big spring show. It's a cracking tale of politics, class and cultural cringe, more or less pieced together through the captions and catalogue.

The other story is of Picasso's influence on British art. You might argue – the curators do – that Picasso is almost synonymous with modernism and therefore his influence is diffuse. But this show is very precisely focused. It looks at three artists who paid sharp attention without being overwhelmed – Wyndham Lewis, Francis Bacon, David Hockney – and five more who swooned. It is told in 150 works, almost half of them by Picasso; the comparison is frequently cruel.

Picasso's first British airing was in Roger Fry's momentous Manet and the Post-Impressionists in 1910. Putrescence, pornography, infection: the press blew up like bullfrogs and were still mocking the Spaniard in 1949 when the Tate finally acquired its first cubist Picasso. Only the Bloomsberries and a handful of Forsytes bought him. "I find him perfectly charming and quite easy and simple," wrote Vanessa Bell from Paris with telling complacency. If his admirers couldn't see the complexities, then what hope for a public who scarcely saw his work in museums before the second world war?

The attention from Bloomsbury may have been a curse. When Picasso stayed at the Savoy in 1919, designing ropey costumes for Diaghilev (exhaustively represented here, and not a patch on Bakst), the group monopolised him in Garsington and Gordon Square. Other British artists were suspicious, and as the excellent catalogue puts it: "his presence left scarcely any mark on British art".

The exception at this stage was Duncan Grant, whose weak pastiches are an embarrassment to this show. "Why, when I ask about modern artists in England, am I always told about Duncan Grant?" Picasso is said to have inquired. It doesn't get much better later on with Ben Nicholson's guitars and Gallicised still-lifes in the 1930s. "Au Chat Botté Dieppe" is neatly lettered across a tabletop viewed through a window, all done in quasi-fractured planes and chalky tones – cubism Cornish-style.

Nicholson, displaying the anxiety of influence, nicknamed the Spaniard "Piccy" and "Picz". Henry Moore shrewdly avoided all mention of his artistic forebear. To appreciate the necessity of this tactic you need only compare Picasso's The Source with Moore's Reclining Figure, two monumental figures placed conveniently adjacent at Tate Britain, and ask yourself whether the latter is likely to have come into being without the former.

It is one of a dozen instances in this show of something pretty near to plagiarism. Each artist has a different Picasso: cubist for Grant and Nicholson, neoclassicist for Moore, surrealist for Francis Bacon. The Bacon room is the least impressive because it insists upon the similarities between the open-mouthed figures in Picasso's Dinard period and those in Bacon's Crucifixion paintings as if they had a shared idiom, meaning or impact. Bacon acknowledged Picasso very readily, but whatever he absorbed feels quite inconsequential to the exuberant agony and grandeur of his art.

If Bacon looks diminished, imagine the effect on everyone else. Graham Sutherland comes over as a second-rate copyist, David Hockney as a lightweight comedian pulling cubist effects with his camera. Hockney can take care of himself, of course, but what is the lasting value of a show where so much of the art is effectively downgraded?

There are masterpieces: several Picassos, including his beautiful portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, her face two kissing forms like the new moon holding the old in its arms, silky flesh bathed in moonlight, and Wyndham Lewis's Workshop, that marvellous concatenation of geometric planes in coruscating pinks and mustards that almost resolve into windows, ladders and shelves, by day and also, as it seems, by night.

If this relates to Picasso, it is via futurism, and speaking not of pictorial languages so much as the dynamism of modern life. And that is how it goes at Tate Britain: surely Grant got more from Matisse? If Lewis, then why not William Roberts? Did they really mean to make the British look so puny? Extraneous questions are raised from one room to the next; it is no way to experience art.

How Picasso finally arrived in Britain, how his communism affected Anglo-Saxon attitudes, who saw his work when and how they responded: Picasso and Modern British Art is tremendously enlightening – as a catalogue. The show is another matter. It needs to fit the pictures to the text and ends up shrinking the art. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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