Tribute to a Friend
I’m going to make a canvas out of that—that is, out of nothing.1
Sometimes a work of art “percolates” within an artist for many years. The relationship between Picasso and Guillaume Apollinaire (1880–1918), a poet, writer, and supporter of Cubism, provides such an example. Early in the twentieth century, Picasso, one of the inventors of Cubism, and Apollinaire, who wrote Les peintres cubistes and coined the term Surrealism, met, forged a close friendship, and between them laid the foundations of modernism in twentieth-century art and literature. Apollinaire’s death in the 1918 flu epidemic did not diminish his importance to Picasso, who continued to draw on the poet for inspiration.
On the ten-year anniversary of Apollinaire’s death, Picasso was invited to design a monument to the poet. He composed a series of simple line drawings on white paper, inspired by his interest in astronomical charts.2 His friend, the sculptor Julio González (1876–1942), transposed these drawings into four welded metal sculptures, using iron rods to replicate the drawings’ black lines.3 However, Picasso’s design for his monument to Apollinaire was rejected because it was deemed too abstract to be the basis for a suitable memorial.
Picasso painted The Kitchen in November 1948, on the thirty-year anniversary of the death of Apollinaire and just seven days after Apollinaire’s widow asked Picasso to revisit this earlier memorial project. The Kitchen’s wiry linearity evokes Picasso’s drawings for the monument to Apollinaire. Picasso used his kitchen, a large, white, empty room as a subject in order to make a painting, he reported, “out of nothing.” Looking at the lines set against a flat gray background, we can imagine a variety of utensils and furniture. Spanish tiles, bird cages, plates, and stove hotplates have all been identified in the painting.4
The Kitchen completes a path begun much earlier. Over a period of many years, Picasso had worked with extraordinary dedication to explore, in various mediums, the full potential of the dot-and-line graphic style that reached a high point in this large, predominantly monochromatic work.
- [Educators: Show this work to your class, but do not divulge the title.] What do you notice about this large composition? If you were to choose a title for this work, what would it be? What do you see in the work that supports your idea for a title.
- [Educators: Tell students that Picasso titled this work The Kitchen.] What connections can you make between this abstract work and the artist’s title for it? In looking at the work, can you find forms that might be associated with a kitchen?
- Some of Picasso’s dot-and-line works have been realized as sculpture. You can view Picasso’s Project for a Monument to Guillaume Apollinaire (1962, after a 1928 original) on the website of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (www.moma.org). What similarities are there between The Kitchen and this maquette? What are the differences?
- The Kitchen uses a dot-and-line style that Picasso likened to astronomical charts. Find images of astronomical charts in books or on the Internet. What do you think Picasso might have found appealing or interesting about them? In what ways are they similar to or different from Picasso’s painting?
- Guillaume Apollinaire, one of the foremost poets of the early twentieth century, formed a close friendship with Picasso. Research Apollinaire’s contributions and biography. What character traits did he share with Picasso? What common interests and philosophies might have led them to become good friends?
years after the death of Apollinaire, Picasso was invited by a
committee of friends of the poet to design a monument to be erected at
his gravesite. Although Picasso prepared and presented several ideas,
the committee rejected them all as unsuitable.1
Discuss the different types of memorials and commemorations that help us to remember those who have died. A memorial can range from the offering of a single flower to erecting a large-scale permanent monument. It can honor an event, a person, a group of people, or even a beloved pet. Think about something or someone you would like to pay tribute to. Sketch the design and consider:
—What material(s) will it be made from?
—How large or small will it be?
—Will it be permanent or last for only a short time?
—Where is the best site for it?
—What inscription would you add?
When you are done, share your plan with your classmates and compare the various possibilities.
- Create your own work of art titled The Kitchen. Choose a style and materials that support your unique and personal feelings about the subject.