If someone set out to copy Las Meninas . . . I would try to do it in my way, forgetting Velázquez. . . . So, little by little, I would paint my Meninas which would appear detestable to the professional copyist; they wouldn’t be the ones he would believe he had seen in Velázquez’s canvas, but they would be “my” Meninas.1
Some of Picasso’s most brilliant work of the 1950s came as a result of interpreting masterpieces by other painters, carefully studying and dissecting them, and then coming up with his own totally original works. In 1957 Picasso began a series of paintings based on Diego Velázquez’s 1656 masterpiece Las Meninas, a work he had admired since his first visit to the Museo del Prado in Madrid when he was just fourteen years old. In order to fully focus on Velázquez’s composition and subjects, he moved his studio to an unused third-floor room in his home, where he could lock the door for greater privacy.2 He worked there for nearly four months, examining every aspect of Velázquez’s painting and producing more than forty works, in an “exhaustive study of form, rhythm, color and movement.”3 The version in this exhibition is the first, largest, and most complete of the variations.
When asked about his interest in Velázquez’s masterpiece, Picasso emphasized the paradoxes in it, noting that it is both a self-portrait of the artist at work, standing next to the canvas in his studio, and a portrait of Spain’s royal family, King Philip IV (1605–1665), Queen Mariana, and their five-year-old daughter Margarita.4 Velázquez’s prominent depiction of himself, paused in the act of painting, suggests that the creation of art requires not only great skill, but also thoughtfulness.5
In Picasso’s The Maids of Honor, new characters take the place of those in Velázquez’s canvas. The original dog, a Spanish Mastiff, is replaced by a Basset Hound, similar to the one that was part of the Picasso household. Picasso has opened the windows, allowing light to flood in, and has included the shadows of pigeons that lived on the terrace just outside his studio. Picasso has made himself at home in the Velázquez painting, refurnishing the place to make it cozier and more congenial to his own tastes, hanging up family mementos, rearranging things, and most of all exerting his own unique approach and style.6
- This is a complicated painting, with lots going on. What things can you decipher? What parts are puzzling?
Show: Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656: http://www.museodelprado.es/coleccion/galeria-on-line/galeria-on- line/zoom/2/obra/la-familia-de- felipe-iv-o-las-meninas/oimg/0/
- Picasso based his The Maids of Honor on this 1656 masterwork by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). Compare these two works and create a list of all the similarities you find. Then create another list that elaborates on the differences. Read the quote that begins this section. How has Picasso made this work his?
- What about Velázquez’s painting might have appealed to Picasso as a basis for new work?
- How do you think Velázquez would have felt about Picasso’s interpretation of his work? Imagine a conversation between the two great artists and create a dialogue between them.
- In The Maids of Honor,
Picasso used a full range of values, from bright white to the darkest
black. How many grays can you find? Go through discarded newspapers,
magazines, junk mail, and wrappers, harvesting a collection of “found”
grays, and create a collage assembled from the materials you have
amassed. On a separate piece of paper, draw your collage using only
pencils, trying to replicate the full range of grays in your collage.
Although the choice of painting in only black, white, and gray may at first seem limiting, the options are actually infinite. Gray can be produced by mixing various proportions of black and white paint, but there are also blue-grays, green-grays, brown-grays, and even grays tinged with yellow or red. Rich grays can also be obtained by mixing complementary colors (those that oppose each other on the color wheel, such as green and red) and then creating shades (by adding black) or tints (by adding white).
Explore how many different grays you can produce. On a sheet of 18 x 24 inch paper, create grays by mixing only black and white paint. On a second sheet, try adding a small amount of a color to your grays and notice the variations you can create. On a third sheet, create grays by mixing complementary colors. Notice the similarities and differences between all your experiments.
Now that you have explored how many grays you can produce, try creating an abstract work, or like Picasso, an interior—perhaps your own room—but limit yourself to using only grays.
is not the only artist to have inspired Picasso. Picasso also used
works by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780–1867), Eugène
Delacroix (1798–1863), and Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665), among many
others, as springboards for his own work. Choose a work of art that you
admire. What drew you to it? What more would you like to know? First
research your selection, then create your own responses in any art form.
English Language Arts