Great Britain

From the archive: a voyage of discovery with Picasso in 1971

The art historian and critic Basil Taylor evaluated Picasso’s ‘voyage of discovery’ and the scale of his achievement on the occasion of his 90th birthday for the Observer Magazine (24 October 1971, ‘A Vision For The Twentieth Century’). For 50 years, said Taylor, he had been ‘the absolute latter-day successor to such artists as Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt and Cézanne’.

Picasso had outlived the major painters of his generation and Taylor marvelled at how he stood ‘miraculously intact, like St Paul’s after the Blitz… Looking back, it is his traditionalism that seems obvious in a man who earlier appeared so constantly rebellious and radical.’

Rather than fires or the Luftwaffe, Picasso had survived the brickbats of photography, film and television. ‘His work as the most inventive visual artist of the time proceeded independently of this visual revolution,’ Taylor wrote.

Cubism had been Picasso’s answer to ‘the problem of style’, said Taylor. ‘His solution was not an impossible styleless art, but the most comprehensive eclecticism.’ Or, as Picasso himself famously said: ‘I do not seek, I find.’

Nonetheless there was a continuity with the past. ‘The novelties of his style,’ wrote Taylor, ‘should not blind us to the fact that his work has been based upon the same habits of perception in himself and in the public that were experienced by, say, Delacroix.’

Picasso rarely gave interviews – and Taylor is no exception in writing a profile instead – but he was far more amenable to photographers. Perhaps (like Frank Zappa, who was fond of saying, ‘writing about music is like dancing about architecture’) he simply thought a visual record was most appropriate for a visual artist. And there he was on the final page striking a flamboyant pose at his studio at Mougins near Cannes, where he died three years later.