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Perspectives

Perspectives: Michael Portillo on Picasso
  • Episode: 

    4 of 7

  • Title: 

    Perspectives: Michael Portillo on Picasso
  • Transmission: 

    Sun 07 Apr 2013
  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 15 2013 : Sat 06 Apr - Fri 12 Apr
  • Channel: 

    ITV

 

Perspectives: Michael Portillo on Picasso
 
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Episode short synopsis:
 
Broadcaster, journalist and former government minister Michael Portillo shares his love for art as he travels to Spain and France to discover the genius of Picasso in this fourth programme of the Perspectives arts strand on ITV.
 
Michael talks of how his love of art has been influenced by his father, an exiled Spanish republican, as he explores the life and work of Pablo Picasso.
 
He travels to Malaga, birthplace of the celebrated artist, and where he came to love the bullfight. Michael stands in the bullring which inspired his famous paintings.
 
He meets Picasso’s granddaughter Diana in the Paris studio where he painted Guernica, his most iconic work, and Salvador Farelo, one of Malaga’s greatest bullfighters, who says bullfighting appears so much in Spanish art because bullfighting is itself pure art.
 
Series synopsis:
 
The return of the Perspectives documentary strand for its third run brings together powerful stories and a unique insight into the arts from a range of well-known figures.
 
It encompasses seven single films from a rich variety of distinctive individuals offering their take on subjects for which they have a personal enthusiasm and fascination.  
              
Perspectives’ diverse range takes in Jonathan Ross on Alfred Hitchcock, while Warwick Davis explores the miraculous survival of a family of Jewish dwarfs during the Second World War, and Sheila Hancock reveals her passion for the Brontë sisters. Paul O’Grady heads to the US to tell the story of the life of Gypsy Rose Lee, the world's most famous burlesque dancer, and Hugh Laurie makes a musical pilgrimage to immerse himself in the Blues.  
 
Production notes:
 
Broadcaster, journalist and former government minister Michael Portillo shares his love for art as he travels to Spain and France to discover the genius of Picasso in this fourth programme of the Perspectives arts strand on ITV.
 
Michael travels to Malaga, birthplace of the celebrated artist Pablo Picasso, where he came to love the bullfight, and stands in the bullring which so inspired his famous paintings.
 
He meets Picasso’s granddaughter Diana in the Paris studio where he painted Guernica, his most iconic work, and Salvador Farelo, one of Malaga’s greatest bullfighters, who says bullfighting appears so much in Spanish art because bullfighting is itself pure art.
 
Michael talks of how his love of art has been influenced by his father, an exiled Spanish republican, as he explores the life and work of Picasso. He visits the home where Picasso was born: an apartment in a mansion block which is now a museum of the great artist’s life and work.
 
Michael’s father Luis fled the terror of the Spanish Civil War- a conflict which tore his family apart- and found sanctuary in Britain.
 
The horrific aerial bombardment of the small Basque town of Guernica in 1937 by German and Italian forces in support of General Franco claimed the lives of more than 1600 people. Picasso was so outraged by the massacre he used it as the subject for his most famous artwork ‘Guernica’, in which he depicted the terror featuring a bull and a disemboweled horse dying in agony.
 
Michael says: “Picasso's most famous and powerful painting depicts the aerial bombardment of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. If it hadn't been for that atrocity of that war I would not exist. 
 
“It led the British government to allow in refugee children from Spain. My British mother and Spanish father met while looking after those children after he had left Spain for exile. 
 
“My father often talked to me of Spanish artists like El Greco, Velazquez and Goya. Picasso was hugely influenced by those masters and obsessively painted 50 versions of Velazquez's Las Meninas. My perspective on Picasso is shaped by my father.
 
“For this film I journeyed through Spain examining the Spanish symbols that occur in "Guernica": the horse dying in agony  and the brutish bull. The suffering throughout the canvas is like the drawn-out lament of the flamenco singer. 
 
“In the city of Picasso's birth, Malaga, I met the celebrity couple Estrella Morente, a flamenco singer, and her husband Javier Conde, a matador. ‘Guernica’ is like the laments that I sing’, she told me. Javier says the painter and matador could exchange their brush and sword, so spiritually linked are the two arts. 
 
“My father was a very gentle man. During the Spanish Civil War, although he served at the front he refused to carry arms in case he would kill a Spanish brother and of course that could be literally because he had brothers fighting on the other side.
 
“At home we weren’t even able to kill flies: he had such a respect for life. But he was so angry all the time about what happened in Spain. He hated General Franco and talked about it obsessively. I think almost my earliest memories are of my father talking about General Franco.
 
“Despite his love of life, his respect of life, one of my enduring memories is his whoop of triumph when one of Franco’s greatest aides was blown up. It was most untypical but that’s how much he hated the men who’d done that to Spain.
 
“I am immensely influenced by my father and I think influenced by his Spanishness. I was very aware when I was growing up in England that my father was something different; he spoke with a foreign accent and talked about different things.
 
“My father was quite eccentric; when he was crossing a street in Britain he would sometimes bullfight the cars. He would pretend the car was a bull and he would have the cape, the imaginary cape. So I was terribly aware that I was half Spanish and that I was hearing the Spanish language all the time.”
 
With more than 13,000 paintings to his name Picasso was one of the most prolific and influential artists of all time. Three of the twelve most expensive paintings in the world are Picasso's. The total value of his art today runs into billions of dollars.
 
Picasso was one of the 20th century’s greatest icons – an inventor of cubism. He gave new meaning to the colour blue, and more than a century before Damien Hirst he shocked the world with his painting of naked prostitutes in his Demoiselles d’Avignon. But Picasso was also the gigolo, famed for almost innumerable relationships with women that began in his teens and lasted into old age. 
 
Michael’s journey takes him onto Madrid where Picasso attended art school at the age of 16. He visits the Prado museum to see some of the greatest paintings in world history, created by Spanish geniuses, El Greco, Rivera, Velazquez, Murillo, Zurbaran, Goya.
 
Michael says: “All this exposure to the great names of Spanish art remind me I have a rather surprising childhood connection to the world of Picasso myself.
 
“I first heard about Picasso from my mother because my eyes are not the same level as each other and my right ear is a bit bigger than my left and this showed up particularly in childhood photographs. My mother used to say to me ‘you are my little Picasso’.
 
“Barcelona was the last Spanish city Picasso ever set foot in, although he did not know it at the time. Barcelona was also the last city on my father’s escape route out of the country before turning up as a refugee in England. By 1939 General Franco had won the war and for those like Picasso and my father who had backed the losing side, to be in Spain was to invite imprisonment or death.”
 
Michael travels on to Barcelona to visit the Picasso museum, where five adjoining medieval palaces house one of the most extensive collections of Picasso artworks in the world. Amongst the treasures is a self portrait, painted when Picasso was 15 years old, shortly after the family first arrived in Barcelona. 
 
Michael follows in Picasso’s footsteps into the famous cafe El Quatre Gats, The Four Cats, where the artist as a teenager was admitted into the inner circle of intellectuals who used to meet there. 
 
“I’d like to think how much the young unsophisticated Picasso had to learn when he first came here to the Four Cats Cafe and yet he became the dominant member of that intellectual circle and of course really the only one who is remembered today and now this
place attracts not intellectuals but tourists - drawn from the four corners of the globe by the magnetism of brand Picasso.”
 
Michael travels to Paris to see where Picasso’s Guernica was first revealed to a stunned world more than 70 years ago. Picasso had taken up residence in Paris in the early years of the twentieth century, Spain had changed beyond recognition and from 1936 it was plunged into civil war. 
 
Picasso was now famous and known to hate Franco. So the great Spanish painter was asked to create an artwork to represent the beleaguered Spanish Republic at the forthcoming World Fair held in Paris. Michael visits the studio where Picasso created Guernica.
 
“Although he lived most of his life in France I feel you can understand Picasso only as a Spaniard. In France he surrounded himself with Spanish friends including matadors and often went to bullfights. In exile (like my father) his mind went back to Spanish paintings that he had not seen face to face for decades.
 
“Two of Picasso's mistresses appear in ‘Guernica’: Marie Therese Walter holding a lamp, and Dora Maar, the weeping woman. I met Diana, the granddaughter of Marie Therese and Picasso, in the Paris studio where he painted it, where supposedly the women fought each other for his love.”
 
Diana tells Michael of how her grandfather’s ‘heart and work were torn between those two major muses”.
 
After its unveiling in Paris Guernica travelled the globe: to Europe first, then North America, South America, all the time raising funds for Spanish refugees. But it never went to Spain while Franco was alive. It came only six years after the dictator’s death, eight years after Picasso’s. It now rests permanently in Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum. 
 
Picasso never returned to Spain after he painted Guernica, he spent the last forty years of his life in exile. After the second world war he moved to the south of France where the climate and the customs recalled his native Spain. In 1957 he embarked on a series of lithographs to illustrate a famous book on the art of bullfighting.
 
“For me this is Picasso’s greatest work. Not because it represents the bombing of a small town in 1937. But because it has a universality. Its depiction of blood, horror, death, fire, and grief are in no way limited to one place and one date. And in a single canvas there is more eloquence than in a thousand volumes of words.”
 
Back in England Michael visits the vast store rooms of the Tate Gallery with Antony Penrose who knew Picasso when he was a little boy. Antony’s father Roland Penrose was Picasso’s friend and biographer. Together they see Picasso’s famous Weeping Woman, which was owned by the Penrose family for years before it passed to the Tate.
 
The Weeping Woman was completed just four months after Guernica. Antony’s father saw it before the paint was dry and Picasso accepted a cheque for £250.
 
Michael finally meets an old friend of his family, Herminio Martinez who was one of the children evacuated from war torn Spain in 1937 to hear about what it was like to arrive in England without his parents. 
 
“However horrific Herminio’s separation from his family must have been, he was one of the lucky ones because without the widespread condemnation that followed the bombing of Guernica, the British Government would not have allowed the children to enter the UK.
When my father, an academic and University lecturer, arrived in England he helped to teach displaced Spanish children like Herminio.”
 
“The unlikely meeting of my Scottish mother and my Spanish father and the subsequent creation of my brothers and me was one of the few happy consequences of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso’s painting reminds us that their happy meeting followed the horror of mothers rendered childless and children orphaned.”
 
Michael Portillo was born in North London in 1953. His father, Luis, met his mother, Cora, who was brought up in Fife, while she was an undergraduate at Oxford.
 
In December 1984 Michael won the by-election in Enfield Southgate, caused by the murder of Sir Anthony Berry MP in the Brighton bombing. Michael represented the seat for thirteen years but was defeated in the 1997 Election.
 
He joined the Government in 1986, and remained a member until defeat in the 1997 election. Michael was re-elected to Parliament in a by-election in Kensington and Chelsea in November 1999 and was Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer February 2000 - September 2001. Following the Conservatives’ election defeat in 2001, Michael unsuccessfully contested the leadership of the party. He left the House of Commons in 2005.
 
He has since made a number of television documentaries, and written regularly for national newspapers.
 
The Producer/Director is Christopher Bruce. The Executive Producer is Stuart Cabb
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