Painting: Picasso's Theater Period

Spring, 1917. World War I ground grimly on. All the same, the famed impresario of the Ballet Russe, Sergei Diaghilev, commissioned a young poet, Jean Cocteau, to conceive a new ballet. At the time Cocteau was obsessed by visual images, especially the Harlequins, Pierrots and musical instruments in Picasso's paintings. As Cocteau recalled later, "My dream was to hear the music of Picasso's guitars," and he set about building his ballet around them, hoping to cajole the Spanish painter into designing sets and costumes. Picasso, a friend of Cocteau's, was cajoled.

A few months later an audience of war-strained Parisians,...

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