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Telegraph Magazine 1979

Raymond Foulk and Jenny Lewis of Decorative Interiors, London's largest Art Deco Shop. This Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann bed, with a geometric fur cover, costs £6,800.

Telegraph mag, Ruhlmann bed, 4-6-78_edit
 Foulk and  Lewis, Fine Arts and Antiques Fair, Olympia, 1978. Sunday Telegraph Magazine, 4 June 1978, Text by Bevis Hillier.

Civilisation Series - The Cult of Progress

Written and presented by DAVID OULUSOGA 

“Pablo Picasso deeply admired Gaugin’s explorations of non-European art. But unlike Gaugin, Picasso was never interested in escaping from the modern world. For him, primitive art would be a catalyst, inspiring him to shatter the conventions of the past. In 1907 Picasso visited the Trocadero in Paris, where he came face to face with a display of objects and masks from the Pacific islands and Africa. The exact dates of that visit to the Trocadero is unknown, but then the whole affair has become shrouded in mythology – most of it of Picasso’s own making – but it is thought that this mask might have been one of the ones that Picasso saw. It was made by the Fang people of Gabon, but it seems that Picasso had no real deep interest in its cultural meaning or its ritual function. What he was interested in was their potential for his art, and that visit to the Trocadero has become one of the most famous moments in the story of modern art, because it was at that moment that Picasso found, and from outside Europe, the inspiration and the expressive power that would transform his paintings and revolutionise modern art.

BBC & The Open University 2018

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“Picasso described the masks he’d seen as weapons. They had the power, whether supernatural or psychological, to exorcise unwanted spirits. Picasso tried to incorporate this new power into his work, and created one of art’s masterpieces. The curtain is drawn back on a brothel scene. We see five naked prostitutes waiting for clients. And though there was a long tradition of female nudes in western art, these are unlike any nudes ever seen before. What made this picture particularly shocking and revolutionary were the images Picasso combined within it. The faces of the three women to the left are believed to be derived from archaic Iberian sculpture, but the two women on the right, their fractured, irregular, distorted faces, are based on the art of Africa, on tribal African masks that Picasso had encountered in Paris.

“Now there’s a long debate about the extent to which Picasso was influenced by African art, and he muddied the waters considerably by making a series of completely contradictory statements. But you can see that Picasso, consciously and sub-consciously, by using African art, was bringing into his paintings ideas about Africa that were current in Europe at the time. He was a product of his time, like anybody else, and he lived in an age when Africa was the focus of huge amounts of speculation and debate about the meaning of savagery and civilisation, of us and them – ideas about race, ideas about exoticism, ideas about eroticism. So by placing the faces of African masks onto prostitutes, Picasso was detonating two powerful sets of ideas, about race and savagery, civilisation, empire, with older ideas about female sexuality and prostitution.

“In one painting Picasso had turned western ideas about art on their head. He thought to express not simply aesthetic beauty, but frightening, primal feelings about sex, violence and even death. And that worked, partly because of the masks’ associations in the mind of those who first saw this painting with civilisations they considered primitive. It was the apparent threat of these objects that made them so shocking, and the perceived barbarism of the cultures that produced them, which reinforced the assured superiority of European culture.”   


4:33 mins       

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