There has been so much written about Pablo Picasso – the art, the man and wherever biographers decide the two cross-fertilise – that these days each new documentary or biography comes with a sole hint of intrigue: what could it possibly add? Picasso: the Beauty and the Beast (BBC Two), a new three-part documentary by Alice Perman on the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death, began with the caption “we need to talk about Picasso.” Do we though? The world hasn’t stopped talking about Picasso since his death.
The Beauty and the Beast’s putative new angle, as the title suggested, was that Picasso was indisputably a genius who was also indisputably what art historians would term “a bit of a s--t.” He fell head over heels in love with this or that woman, declared them his muse, then became weird and controlling and finally discarded them.
Some of the awful things he did were new to me (such as adopt a 13-year old daughter, then paint her in poses so explicit that his wife Fernande Olivier suggested the safest place for the poor girl was back in the orphanage), but broadly speaking, in what was a serious and thorough analysis, Picasso was roughly as awful as I was expecting.
His art was roughly as sensational. Here it was given due prominence and some fine analysis, which is as it should be because it is the art that makes the artist interesting, not vice versa. In so doing, however, we were reminded that Picasso was a genius who was also a product of the culture and mores of his time.
His view of women was deplorable but contemporary. In fact the most notable thing about this study was how “the beast” in Picasso was enabled or ignored by those around him. When, for example, he summarily dumped Olivier, their beau monde friends dumped her too and stuck by the celebrity artist.
You can’t help but think that 50 years later, with MeToo scenarios emerging in almost every aspect of modern life, a revered male potentate would get away with it all over again.