T. J. Clark comes to London to shed new light on Picasso and ‘truth’

Published in Trebuchet Magazine

This autumn, acclaimed art historian T. J. Clark has been travelling round London giving talks about his latest book ‘Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica’. In this book Clark concentrates on the artwork Picasso produced during the 1920s, which has been considered not to be the artist’s best period. Indeed, Greenberg calls the results of this artistic epoch a failure of nerve. Other scholars have criticised Picasso’s art at this time in terms of its ‘brightness’, condemning it as overdone. Clark conveyed that he wanted to re-address the 1920s because it is neglected and misunderstood – a motive that fits well with his well-known desires to re-address the methodologies and focuses of the history of art in a new type of Social Art History.

Clark concentrates on three particular paintings in his central chapters. The first, ‘Guitar and Mandolin on a Table’ 1924, which he renames ‘Still Life in Front of a Window’, is the largest still life Picasso ever did. Next to be considered is ‘The Three Dancers’ made in 1925 – a painting Picasso said was his best, or better than ‘Guernica’. This is renamed as ‘Young Girls Dancing in Front of a Window’ in Clark’s book. The last central painting addressed is ‘The Painter and His Model’ 1927, which is by far the least well-known work of the three. The renaming of the paintings to locate the subject matter within rooms and to include window references is important for Clark’s argument, as I hope to illustrate later.  Continue reading

Meeting Dr Richard Cork

Meeting Dr Richard Cork was something I was very curious to do after reading his biography provided by The Courtauld website. I was looking through The Courtauld’s art history summer school courses at the time. His is also a name that pops up everywhere in the art history section of the library at university and in the introductions to many books such as those found in the Tate shop. He is indeed an eminent man at the top of his field; Brian Sewell has called him an exogete recently. So although I was drawn to the period of art explored in Richard’s course (early 20th century art across Europe) I was equally keen to go on The Courtauld summer course in order to meet him and see what he was really like.

Despite Richard’s very impressive and formidable biography, he is a very approachable and friendly man; he is always laughing and making jokes. A girl from France on the course said he has a very English sense of humour. His laugh is just as distinctive.

He told me several stories about meeting or interviewing prominent artists, such as Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Duncan Grant. He remembers anticipating his interview with Francis Bacon would be one of the most challenging he would have to do. He remembers arriving with lots of prepared questions and being faced with the artist who promptly whisked him off to a bar to drink champagne. He was surprised they were not travelling to the place in private transport, but Bacon exclaimed he loved the tube. Bacon admitted that he only painted from 7.30am – 9.30am each day, after which he was no longer in a working state. Indeed, this gave him time to go and drink champagne, something that he would normally do as soon as his ‘working day’ was over. Richard remembers looking back on his shorthand notes the day after doing the interview and realizing that the material he had collected during the second half of the session was useless as it was just drunken scrawls. This was in the early 1970s, just before Bacon’s big show. Richard noted that the artist’s friend killed himself when on the toilet at the same time the show opened, and this was why Bacon went on to do a series of figures crouching or sitting (as though they could have been on the toilet) after this. Tragic. Continue reading