My favourite painting: Debbie Wiseman

The composer and conductor picks Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso.

Debbie Wiseman on her choice of Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso

‘Picasso’s Cubist style is so clear in this painting. Although I love the bright colours and abstract shapes, you can also clearly see the clarinettist on the left, the guitarist in the middle and the singer on the right holding the manuscript paper.

‘The shapes overlap and it speaks to me as a musician — the way one idea often overlaps another in a composition and you form musical shapes that naturally flow from one instrument to another. It’s so lively and inspiring and I find something new in the painting every time I see it.’

Debbie Wiseman is a composer and conductor, who has been commissioned to create two new pieces for The King’s coronation on May 6. Her compositions for Viking Cruises are available to view online, on Viking TV.

Charlotte Mullins comments on Three Musicians

This painting was completed in the summer of 1921 at a house rented by Pablo Picasso in Fontainebleau, south-east of Paris. It is one of two versions—the other hangs in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (A. E. Gallatin Collection)—and is a nostalgic nod to Picasso’s pre-war synthetic Cubist style. Three musicians sit behind a shallow table dressed in carnival costumes: a masked Pierrot playing a clarinet, a Harlequin with a guitar and a singing monk. The large canvas has all the hallmarks of a Picasso collage, but the carefully arranged facets of colour and form are all painted on.

By 1921, Picasso was depicting monumental classical women, so Three Musicians at first seems out of step with the forward thrust of his career. The year before, he had completed costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, dressing the dancers in Pulcinella as commedia dell’arte figures. However, this painting is more clearly inspired by a poem dedicated to Picasso by his friend Max Jacob, who had recently entered a monastery.

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Honneur de la sardane et de la tenora centres on the sardana dance and cobla (band) that Jacob and Picasso witnessed in Catalonia, northern Spain, in 1913. Picasso paints himself (as he often did) as the Harlequin, patterned in patriotic Catalonian red and yellow. The melancholy Pierrot is a tribute to his friend Guillaume Apollinaire, who had died of Spanish flu in 1918. Jacob is the masked Benedictine monk on the right.

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