Picasso! Every student of art, or collector of art knows his name, the periods of his work, from the grim, depressed Blue Period, to Cubism and beyond.
His need to work, to create daily was like punching the clock. He once said, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it.”
Get up and paint and when the painting is done, eat, drink, enjoy your lover and your friends, and of course, party til dawn at the local hang.
During the time of Picasso’s sojourn in Montmartre, one of the local hangs was Au Lapin Agile (22 rue des Saules), where he exchanged his canvases for meals during his impoverished, but happy days spent, making art.
Between the years of 1904 and 1909, Picasso lived in a ramshackle several-stories high tenement called Bateau-Lavoir (washing boat), so called because it resembled the rickety boats tied up on the Seine, where women washed clothing for a living. This former piano factory, clinging to a hillside in the seedy, village-like outpost of Montmartre, was attracting young artists looking for space to create.
The artist Juan Gris took a studio there, as did Amedeo Modigliani. The neighborhood was swarming with writers, philosophers and painters, and the term “la vie boheme” was used to describe the way of life these artists embraced. But although we think of this period as having been romantic, the bare necessities of life were hard to come by. Dress was rag-tag and eclectic. Picasso, identifying with his day-laboring neighbors, took to wearing overalls. His mistress at the time, Fernande Olivier found herself one winter, without a suitable pair of shoes, and spent most of that season, in bed, trying to keep warm.
Without gas or electricity, the only source of heat was an old iron stove, and later Fernande confessed that if a bit of tea was left at the bottom of the cup in the evening, by morning, it had frozen.
Despite the fact that Picasso refused to clean his studio and could only work amongst the clutter of old rags, discarded paint tubes, and general accumulated debris, his genius attracted a growing number of friends in the arts, including Guillaume Apollinaire and the visionary art collector Gertrude Stein, who sat amidst the squalor, while Picasso painted her portrait.
It was here that Picasso invented Cubism, alongside his comrade, Georges Braque, with the painting of his Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
“Art washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.” Thus Picasso spent, what he was later to describe as the happiest days of his life, scraping together enough money to eat while creating a body of work for generations of art-lovers to appreciate.
Le Bateau-Lavoir burned down in 1970, just after having been declared an historic monument, and today a new studio building stands in its place at 13, place Emile-Goudeau.
To view the personal collection of Picasso’s art in Paris:
Musee National Picasso
5, rue de Thorigny
Metro: Line 1, Saint-Paul
To view the most extensive collection of Picasso’s earliest work, before he came to Paris:
Montcada Street #15-23