Visitors in New York must have often made this particular mistake, and occasionally a native, too. Strolling across town in the middle forties between Sixth Avenue and Eighth Avenue in the daylight hours (visitors), or hasten across town on business (natives), they will stop suddenly in front of a large poster on the doors or walls of a theater announcing one of the hits of the season. The visitor in town will see the placard for the first time. The native whose business lies in the neighborhood may have passed that bill fifty times. On this occasion visitor or native stops, looks and decides to go in and buy a couple of seats.
He tries for the nearest door and finds it locked. This does not surprise him because of a familiar practice in all theaters. Out of hours they lock all but one of their many front doors and put in a small sign saying "Please Use Other Door"; which sign the customer usually overlooks, and is much tossed about from pillar to post before he finds an open door near the box office.
This time our potential customer finds all the doors locked. The hour is not too early for box-office trade and he is puzzled. Finally he looks at the poster again, and after some time he has the answer. He finds that he is standing in front of the Saratoga Theater but the smash hit advertised on the poster is running at the Pequot Theater three blocks away. The Saratoga Theater itself is closed twenty-four hours a day; and if the frustrated customer is one who has passed by that way often he may recall that the theater has been closed for months and even for years.
It is to be regretted that more American painters have not chosen the subject matter of their pictures from the contemporary movement of life especially in New York. In this respect, John Sloan is rather a solitary figure," Albert E. Gallatin wrote in 1925, in a monograph on John Sloan. "The infinitely varied life of New York offers as wide a field of exploration as did the Paris of Gavarni, who in his Physionomie de la Population de Paris gave us... a judgment of the entire epoch, the conventions, the fashions and all the types that go to make up the population."
In the relatively short time that has elapsed since 1925 America has come into the possession of a voluminous native subject art. We have an exhaustive summation of our own epoch in terms not only of New York City's teeming life, but of the life of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and the rural regions of the Midwest, the Dust Bowl and the flood and tornado areas, the agricultural far South, Alaska, and the Virgin Islands. This could not have come about without the unprecedented art activities in America from the beginning of the century to 1925. But the scope and the character of the painting itself are to be accounted for to a large extent by extraordinary conditions in the national life.
Fabulous all-time spending records were being piled up in the United States, including public expenditures for art. In the year 1928 alone, for instance, American art investments totaled a billion dollars. This meant, among other things, unheard-of opportunities for American painters, mature, immature, and uneducated.
An impulse had arisen attracting artists to fresh, native American sources and to a spontaneous painting style in the tradition of the untaught realists of earlier days. Outpourings of lighthearted pictures, amusing or pathetic, followed; literary and sentimental pictures or mere illustrations, many of them presented with artistically correct detail, all of them made to sell. Most of this subject art was offered to the public as a gesture of revolt against imported French art and modern conceptions of plastic construction. After 1929, when an atmosphere of social catastrophe descended over public life and when the artist, in common with other workers, had little continuing market except as it was provided presently by the government under emergency conditions, the mood and the character of the subject can be seen to have changed.
The spectator must, accordingly, find his way about among contemporary paintings amid confusions not only of precedent and tradition, but also of social values and inspirations so complex that they constantly threaten to dissolve into a state of chaos. "American Scene" art at its inception represented the frank intention of its makers to produce a fresh, spontaneous illustrational expression. Their concern was not primarily plastic, but was rather the concern of individual romantic realists, unsympathetic towards official art as well as modern art. Almost simultaneously with it there arose painting representing the workers' struggle for power. It was at first a small effort, essentially communistic and revolutionary. The two movements went far beyond the initial intentions of their sponsors when they reached, together, a sort of climax of popular appeal around 1935, representing opposing and antagonistic ideas of American life. Since that time the gap between popular art of everyday life and art with a social purpose has tended to become smaller.
Cubism, the first of the three great innovating movements in twentieth-century art, begins in 1907 with Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and ends, some say, about 1921. Actually cubist principles and devices continue down to the present in the art of such masters as Picasso and Braque. Under the above heading, The Cubist Generation in Paris, are grouped their works early and late, cubist and non-cubist, together with those of their major colleagues, Gris, Léger, Lipchitz and others, lesser or more marginal. A few -- Duchamp, Malevich, Mondrian, Rivera -- who left the movement to help generate other revolutions.
Moscow is far richer in Picasso's Blue, Rose, and "Negro" periods (though long hidden. from public view as subversively "formalist"); Basel probably surpasses us in analytical cubism, Philadelphia in cubist collages, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum here in New York, in paintings by Delaunay, Gleizes and Metzinger; and the Paris Musée d'Art Moderne in the work of the past decade in which the Museum is deficient. Nevertheless the cubist generation, by and large, is more comprehensively represented in the Museum of Modern Art than in any other public collection in the world.
Of these riches, because of limitations of space and color plates, can offer only a sampling: for instance, two of eight oils by Braque, two of ten by Léger, eight of sixteen by Picasso, two of eight by Gris, three of eight sculptures by Lipchitz.
In 1904 Picasso was living in an ancient wooden tenement on Montmartre among poverty-stricken poets, actors, clerks and laundresses. A little earlier, he himself had known starvation so that the Frugal Repast is based on firsthand experience.
Avoiding sentimentality which had softened some of his "Blue" canvases he draws the woman and her blind companion with their wine and crust of bread. Their emaciation seems appropriate but it is largely a matter of mannered style, and so is the elaborately studied composition of the hands (which may be compared to Kokoschka's, opposite).
Picasso was twenty-two at the time and the Frugal Repast, technically a tour de force, was his first major etching. It remained perhaps his greatest, certainly his most ambitious, print until the Minotauromachy of 1935.
Possibly the mannered attenuations of Picasso Frugal Repast were inspired by El Greco. In any case, two years later on a summer's trip to Spain in 1906 Picasso renewed an early enthusiasm for the great sixteenth-century Mannerist. During the same year Picasso had been stirred by Spanish art of a much earlier period, pre-Christian "Iberian" sculpture; and he had been deeply impressed by the memorial exhibition of Cézanne's work.
Picasso and Matisse had already met at Leo and Gertrude Stein's apartment and were beginning to feel that rivalry, alternately friendly and jealous but always implicitly flattering, which they were to maintain for decades. Matisse had shown his very large and controversial Joy of Life at the Salon des Indépendants in the spring of 1906, an event which may well have excited Picasso to emulation. In any event, Leo Stein (who was the first to see that they were the two foremost painters of our time) remembers visiting Picasso's studio that fall and finding there a huge canvas which, before he had painted a stroke, the artist had had expensively lined as if it were already a classic work. Picasso was marshaling his creative energies for a great effort.
For months that winter Picasso worked on dozens of figure and composition studies. In the spring of 1907 he began to paint. The picture was probably finished by autumn but it was given no name for a dozen years thereafter. About 1920 a literary friend of Picasso christened it with the romantic title Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, an ironic reference to the "damsels" of a house on Avignon Street in Barcelona.