This portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto painted in 1903 by Pablo Picasso strikes me differently as I look at other works by the Spanish painter. As part of his Blue Period, it reflected on Picasso’s failings, struggles and bouts of depression at that time. The gaze of the person makes me feel uncomfortable but at the same time, you feel drawn to the painting. It came to me when reading about the story of this bohemian dandy who partied and drank with Picasso, Carlos Casegemas (later to commit suicide over love quarrels) and Guillaume Apolinaire, the famous poet. Fernandez de Soto, a painter himself was a good buddy of Picasso and once shared a studio in Barcelona. Fernandez later was killed in battle during the Spanish Civil War.
The strokes were done in such a haste that he followed the techniques of Van Gogh, that the paint is coming of. The artwork shows a glass of absinthe, an intoxicating drink that makes one see the green fairy because of the luminescent green color. People drinking this were experiencing heavy anxiety, trauma and using it to get away from the sufferings of this world. It speaks to my former self when alcohol and smoking became a real problem for me. But this wasn’t the only reason why the painting made it different than the other Picassos I’ve seen. The blue period masterpiece was the subject of a controversy that led to a stunning auction two years ago.
This painting came to my attention around 2006, when it was to be auctioned of with priceless paintings by Gustav Klimt after a landmark court ruling in Austria returning to the paintings to their original owners after it was confiscated from them during the Third Reich. The owner of the de Soto was Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer of Broadwa musicals such as the Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar and my favourite, Evita. Webber through his foundation, the Andrew Lloyd Webber Art Foundation bought de Soto in 1993 from a Sotheby’s New York auction. When Webber decided to sell the portrait for charity, a Nazi claim of restitution was brought in a U.S. court. The court stopped the sale of the painting while the two sides discussed legal matters. Eventually, the claimants stopped the claims in an undisclosed out-of-court settlement. With legal hurdles stopped, he painting went to the auction block on June 24, 2010 was sold at Christie’s for £34.7 million to an anonymous bidder.
This goes to shows, that art speaks two things: one, the artist who made it and who or what is it trying portray and second, the depth of emotions when one looks at a painting and you were part of the painting. So, when you walk to an art gallery and say you cannot understand artworks, then express your own opinions about it and read on why it was made to understand it more.