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30.5.05

Picasso's Girls from Arles

An article (Arlésiennes de Picasso en Arles, May 27) from France 2 Cultural News announced that the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles will open a special exhibit this summer—Pablo Picasso, portraits d'Arlésiennes (1912-1958) (.PDF), from July 7 to October 17—bringing together 12 of the arlésienne portraits made by Pablo Picasso (six paintings, three drawings, and three lithographs), between 1912 and 1958, now scattered around the world (my translation and links added):

Upon arriving in Provence in 1912, Picasso painted his first Arlésienne in Sorgues (Vaucluse), in the middle of the Cubist period. He then began a series of portraits of this emblatic figure of Provence, work that was interrupted during the war years. The artist returned to the Arlésienne in 1958, painting her in the person of Jacqueline, his companion at the time.
The exhibition will feature Picasso alongside works by other artists, including Gauguin and Monticelli, and photographs by Picasso's friends Man Ray, Lee Miller, Dora Maar, Lucien Clergue, and André Villers. I have briefly mentioned the theme of the arlésienne, or girl from Arles, before, in a post a long time ago about an archeological discovery in Arles:
The Arlesian woman mentioned at the beginning of the article is a reference to a famous story by Alfred Daudet (1840–1897) called L'Arlésienne, in the collection Lettres de mon moulin (.PDF, 1866), in which a young man from the countryside pines after a beautiful but ultimately unfaithful woman from Arles. Unable to marry her and desperately unhappy, the young man throws himself from the top window of his house and dies. The Arlesian woman herself never appears in the story, although she is constantly discussed. Daudet adapted the story as a play in 1872, for which composer Georges Bizet (1838–1875) wrote some charming incidental music (collected into two suites). The story was also set as an opera (L'Arlesiana) by Francesco Cilea with a libretto by Leopoldo Marenco, premiered in Milan in 1897 with a young tenor named Enrico Caruso as Federico.
The arlésienne is in some ways a metaphor for the beautiful woman who cannot remain faithful to one man. Why that was fascinating to Picasso is anyone's guess. A search of Enrique Mellen's incredible On-Line Picasso Project also revealed another work with that word in the title, a 1969 ink drawing. Van Gogh's famous portrait of Madame Joseph-Michel Ginoux, in the Met, shows the basic characteristics of the traditional Arles dress that Picasso also depicts, surreally, especially the headdress, which Picasso typically renders like an axe planted firmly in the woman's skull.

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