The Musée D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris is situated on a height in Paris and the outdoor café which straddles the museum and the western wing of the Palais de Tokyo has an amazing view across the Seine to the Eiffel Tower. I wasn’t long living in Paris when I paid my first visit to the museum. It was a beautiful day in September and I can still remember drinking my coffee, taking in the view and feeling like I was living ‘the dream’! I have returned often to the museum but amazing and all as the view from the cafe is, it has been primarily to see Pablo Picasso’s ‘The Burial of Casagemas’, 1901 otherwise known as ‘Evocation’.
The story of Casagemas is a sad one. Casagemas was a poet and an artist who was born in Barcelona in 1880 to a bourgeois family. Casagemas seems always to have suffered with problems and by the time he met Picasso in the spring of 1899, aged 18, he was already addicted to drugs and alcohol. The two became inseparable and in October 1899 they headed off together to Paris where they settled in Montmartre. Here Casagemas met Germaine Gargallo and he fell passionately in love eventhough Germaine did not reciprocate his feelings.After two months in Paris, Picasso and Casagemas returned to Spain with Casagemas’s mental health in decline. Once in Spain, Picasso headed off alone to Madrid having had enough of Casagemas’s drinking and dependence on him. After awhile Casagemas returned to Paris where Germaine told him that she would never marry him (in fact Germaine already had a husband but this did not stop Casagemas begging her to marry him). Then, on the 17th February 1901 at dinner with a group of friends at L’Hippodrome restaurant on Boulevard de Clichy, Casagemas pulled out a gun and tried to shoot Germaine. Germaine managed to escape the bullet but fell to the ground with the force of the explosion. Casagemas, believing he had killed her, then shot himself.
Picasso was devasated at the death of Casagemas and he also felt guiltly that he had abandoned him. Picasso painted The Burial of Casagemas about six months after Casagemas’s death and it is a peculiar painting executed primarily in blue and divided into two scenes. The lower scene shows the body of Casagemas with a blank face laid out on the ground covered in a white shroud and surrounded by a group of mourners dressed in blue. The second scene is on top and this shows the ascension of Casagemas in to heaven with Casagemas on a horse and being kissed by a nude woman. This scene includes a number of other nude prostitues some wearing stockings. There is also a woman wearing a blue cloak drawn around her standing beside two children. This cloaked woman goes onto feature in many of Picasso’s blue period paintings. Casagemas’ suicide is considered to be the start of Picasso’s famous Blue Period (1901-1904) and Picasso is supposed to have said ´It was thinking of Casagemas’s death that started me painting in blue’. Not only is this period dominated by the colour blue but the themes of Picasso’s paintings are usually despair, poverty and loneliness .The masterpiece of this period is La Vie and the images of it look hauntingly beautiful. It is now one of the highlights of the Cleveland Museum of Art and one day I hope to be fortunate enough to see it. But for now I have to content myself with The Burial of Casagemas and as entry to the Musée d’Art Moderne is free, there is no bar to me dropping in as often as I like!
Note: The section of the museum housing The Burial of Casegemas is currently closed for renovations and the museum website does not state when it will reopen.