Page 45 Review by Stephen
"I need a goddess for 10:30."
You won't get a line like that in most prose biographies!
You'll get hardly any of this delirious dialogue.
Drawn with infectious animation by AYA: LIFE IN YOP CITY's and LOVE IN YOP CITY's Clément Oubrerie then coloured in predominantly sombre, sandy hues, unlike the other recent entertainment VINCENT (Van Gogh), this cover is the only visual element imitating Picasso's own.
It's also rather misleading in that the period covered here stretches from Picasso's arrival in Paris from Spain in 1900, through his Blue Period, Rose Period then finally his African-influenced Period which ended in 1909. The completion of 'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' (1907) is a key moment kicking off that African-influenced period but otherwise you're rarely given a glimpse of what Picasso's painting, Cubism barely gets a mention bar a staggered Picasso receiving news that Georges Braque had invented it, and the cover's much later Surrealist style of the late 1930s is obviously nowhere in sight.
Still, that's marketing for you.
The climax / culmination is in fact Le Banquet Rousseau with Picasso threw with much mirth and excitement in 1908 for the elderly Henri Rousseau whose brilliance he recognised even those Rousseau had been the laughing stock of the Salon des Indépendants for two decades.
Still, that's the art establishment for you. Picasso wouldn't exhibit there, even though his friends did.
And that's what this graphic novel is actually about: Picasso's life, love and friendships. It boasts quite the stellar cast! Henri Matisse, much lauded as The Master, is the most establishment figure, André Derain pops by long enough to tantalise Pablo with an African mask, but other than that it's the more boisterous or non-conformist likes of Gertrude Stein (so entertainingly scripted here!), Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob who apparently had the most almighty crush on Picasso and with whom Picasso moved in briefly. The apartment was so small that they even shared a bed, just not at the same time of day.
No, unlike the rest of the cast who seem to have been promiscuous bed-hoppers, Pablo had eyes only for artists' model Fernande Olivier otherwise known as Madame De la Baume, née Amélie Lang. And it is an elderly, long-forgotten Fernande who is the narrator.
That Fernande ever escaped to Paris from her loveless marriage to a seedy, abusive reprobate who'd even steal away with her shoes to keep her at home is a minor miracle. Meanwhile Picasso's wealthier, pretty-boy childhood friend Carlos Casagemar whose family funded their move to Paris falls too far in love with a woman with whom he has a tempestuous relationship exacerbated by drink and, after being rejected, attempts to shoot her before putting a bullet in his own brain at a public dinner.
This is a key moment in Picasso's life and development as an artist because (I know I said he was relatively monogamous) he cheats on his own girlfriend with dead Carlos' femme fatale and one big bust-up and a bucket of booze later one guilt catalyses an earlier, more deep-seated one also rooted in death. Et voila: the Blue Period which rendered him a commercial leper.
The other main character (!) and focal point of the narrative is the legendary dingy, dank and dirty Bateau-Lavoir mini-mansion in Montmatre where Pablo and Fernande spent most of their lives living during this period along with fifteen other tenants. There are moments of bed-bug-ridden squalor but Clément Oubrerie pulls out all the colourful stops when Picasso finally succeeds in courting a reluctant Fernande and first introduces her to his studio there. Oubrerie's occasional half-page interiors and Parisian exteriors are a space-filled marvel. Same goes for the Catalan landscapes which provide a thrilling contrast to the city they spend most of their time in.
I learned loads and enjoyed myself thoroughly while doing so: I had no idea that they'd briefly (so briefly!) adopted a young girl.
It is, however, not what I was expecting so, to avoid the possibility of disappointment, I would remind you that this doesn't do what it says on the tin - or in this case the cover. It does, however, leave you desperate for more as Max Jacob - in his role as part-time astrologer and tarot-card reader (an invention?) - warns Fernande of what lies ahead for them all post-1908.