Waugh and Modernism: Picasso

Duncan McLaren has now added the second part of his posting relating to Waugh and Modernism. The first was posted several days ago and related to Waugh and Gertrude Stein. The new one deals with Waugh and Pablo Picasso. This is more of a challenge since Waugh for a period closed his letters with the catch phrase: “Death to Picasso !”

McLaren starts his essay with a discussion of Waugh’s visit to the 1945 exhibition of Picasso’s works at the V&A museum. He has found a catalogue of the exhibit and tracked down copies of several of the paintings exhibited. These were all from Picasso’s own collection and were painted during the war years–so this was something like an update of his career. To start his discussion, McLaren posts one of the paintings on show and then imagines how Waugh might have reacted to it. He then goes on to the next, and so on. It’s a bit like attending the exhibit with Waugh as your guide. In the second part he goes through Waugh’s several letters to his friends discussing his reaction to the exhibit. It should surprise no one that these are mostly negative. Among the letters included are those to Diana Cooper, Nancy Mitford, Robin Campbell, Penelope Betjeman, and Mary Lygon. The essay concludes:

So far in this piece I’ve managed to use over half of the 25 paintings that Waugh would have seen in the Picasso show at the V&A at the end of 1945. Let me finish with an extract from Brideshead Revisited, and with two pictures I’ve already reproduced above.

As I implied earlier, [one of the portraits] puts me in mind of Teresa, Evelyn and Laura’s seemingly prim daughter, who was destined for a career in the church as far as her facetious father was concerned. As seemed Cordelia Flyte in Brideshead. At one point, Cordelia earnestly consults Charles Ryder about something:

“Charles,” said Cordelia, “Modern Art is all bosh, isn’t it?”

“Great bosh.”

“Oh, I’m so glad. I had an argument with one of our nuns and she said we shouldn’t try and criticise what we didn’t understand. Now I shall tell her I have had it straight from a real artist, and snubs to her.”

UPDATE (7 July 2018):I am pleased to report that this is not Duncan McLaren’s last posting on Waugh and Modernsm. He is already working on an additional entry on Picasso which will involve another exhibition Waugh visited.

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