“Each young foreign artist who came to Paris, after having acquired Parisian tastes (which required about a year), had his contract, his girlfriend and his car,” described Paris in the 1920s the Italian-born artist Gino Severini (Severini 1968).
Picasso had arrived in Paris in 1900, yet during and after the Grande Guerre he sought to reaffirm his social and artistic identity anew. As a Spanish citizen Picasso did not join the French army, but most of his close friends did so, including Braque, Derain, Apollinaire, Salmon and Cendrars. Isolated in Paris, Picasso was unable to escape criticism of his political inactivity. How, therefore, did he take a stand on the issue of French identity in comparison to native-born French painters? How did he respond through his art to the issue of Frenchness? He did so in two ways. On the one hand, he defined his own artistic individuality through engagement with the French tradition, thus inflecting his Cubist works with naturalist motifs. On the other hand, he reaffirmed his ties with French society by interacting and collaborating with people like the French dealer Léonce Rosenberg (Picasso was formerly represented by the German-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler) and Jean Cocteau, who introduced Picasso to the Parisian ‘beau monde’ and the ballets russes.
This paper focuses on Picasso’s portraiture as a genre crucial to addressing the question of Picasso and France during World War I. More specifically, this paper argues that the metamorphosis of Picasso’s practice during and after the war can be connected to his renewed interest in portraiture. While Picasso had already created portraits before the war to strengthen relationships with dealers with whom he wished to collaborate, from 1915 he intensified his engagement, depicting acquaintances as well as new and old friends, and rarely working on commission.
Furthermore, by the end of WWI Picasso had produced what could be called a gallery of military portraits in his new Ingresque style, which will be the focus of this paper. Subjects of these pencil drawings include his friend Apollinaire (1916), the dealer Léonce Rosenberg (1915), the polymath Ricciotto Canudo (1918) and Cocteau (1916). These peculiar portraits raise questions about Picasso’s figurative strategies, and this paper aims to address these portraits in terms of a double ‘masquerade’. In these portraits, Picasso openly plays with the rules of the traditional military portrait genre, with its iconographical and compositional topoi. Picasso’s engagement with portraiture in the Ingresque style took place during the early years of the pan-European movement of the ‘call to order’. This paper thus interrogates the relationship between avant-gardism and Picasso’s engagement with tradition, problematizing through a close analysis of the portraits in uniform the very notion of identity. While Picasso refused to introduce the war directly as a theme in his art, can his portraits in uniform be discussed as a form of personal statement about service to his adopted country?