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Picasso and the Comic Strip

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Exhibition poster.

Picasso and the Comic Strip was the theme of one of the two not-to-be-missed exhibitions at the Musée Picasso in Paris at the end of 2020. The second one entitled Picasso Poet was to have run at the same time. They shared a common theme, the link between text and image in the work of Pablo Picasso. Unfortunately, government directives due to the Covid-19 pandemic in France have meant that museums have been obliged to stay closed over this period. So we have decided to look at the subject here.

Picasso drew his inspiration anywhere and everywhere: African art, Greek mythology, the circus arts… But not many people know the great Spanish master had a passion for comic strips, and especially American comics, from an early age. They played an important role in his work, in particular in his quest for simplified lines and forms. It was poet and collector Gertrude Stein who introduced Picasso to the best of American comics, like Rudolph Dirks’ The Katzenjammer Kidsor Little Jimmy. For him, liking comics reinforced the idea that all the arts are equal. And the artist even had a go himself. One of his major works, The Dream and Lie of Franco (1937) is a series of drawings arranged in boxes in a grid like a page in a comic book.

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Pablo Picasso, Sueño y mentira de Franco (sheet I), 8 January 1937, Paris (origin), aquatint, etching – Musée National Picasso-Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso- Paris)/Adrien Didierjean, © Picasso estate 2020

Here are some examples that demonstrate this creative genius’s taste for illustration and caricature:

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Pablo Picasso, “Caricature of Jaime Sabartès” – 27 June 1959, Indian ink applied with a brush and red and black felt pens on fine vellum writing paper, with the drawing on the back showing through. 21 x 27 cm. – Musée National Picasso-Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso-Paris)/Mathieu Rabeau, © Picasso estate 2020

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Pablo Picasso, Histoire claire et simple de Max Jacob (The clear and simple story of Max Jacob) – 13 January 1903, pen drawing in brown ink, vellum paper, Paris (origin), Musée National Picasso-Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso-Paris)/Mathieu Rabeau, © Picasso estate 2020

Picasso’s work largely stands for modern art in the popular imagination. So it is only natural that certain authors and cartoonists such as Hergé, Gotlib, Geluck, Manara or Spiegelman pay tribute to the master and his works in their own drawings.

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Philippe Geluck, “Picasso se rendant compte qu’il est le seul peintre au monde à ne pas pouvoir faire un faux Picasso”
(Picasso realising he is the only painter in the world who can’t paint a fake Picasso) © Philippe Geluck

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French magazine Le Point recently published a 100-page special issue on the subject.

A teaching pack on the exhibition can be downloaded here:

Picasso and the Comic Strip | Musée Picasso Paris (museepicassoparis.fr)

Picasso and poetry

Poetry is another overlooked aspect of Pablo Picasso’s work. The artist himself said he was “a poet gone wrong”. In fact, he was friends with a lot of poets and writers such as Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Paul Éluard and Michel Leiris. Between 1935 and 1959 Picasso wrote over three hundred poems in French and Spanish.  Some are accompanied by illustrations, others are written in coloured pencils.

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Pablo Picasso, Studies: Woman’s head and poems in French, 9 and 11 October 1936 – pen drawing with Indian ink, wash, vellum paper, Le Tremblay-sur-Mauldre (origin), Musée National Picasso-Paris, Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso-Paris)/Mathieu Rabeau, © Picasso estate 2020

“Writing is seen as calligraphy and drawing describes, each completing the other. The sheets of ARCHES® paper folded in two presented here show the inextricable link between drawing and writing in his creative process.” 

© toutelaculture.com

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Pablo Picasso, Il neige au soleil (Snowing in the Sun), 10 January 1934. Pen drawing with Indian ink, laid paper, Paris (origin), Musée National Picasso-Paris, Photo (C) RMN-Grand Palais (Musée National Picasso-Paris)/Daniel Arnaudet, © Picasso estate 2020