Pablo Picasso saw prehistoric art for the first time when a French government official led him into the famous cave at Chauvet. On the way out, he was purportedy heard to exclaim, “We have invented nothing!” He would have seen virtually all of modern art’s principles illustrated on cave walls dating back 30,000 years.
That is exactly what is so striking about all the art we have seen on cave walls these last few days. How fresh is the best of it! How modern, and how alive!
Today we started in the charming town of Montignac, where one must go (for reasons not clear) to purchase ticket for the cave of Lascaux II. The real cave, Lascaux I, has been closed to the public since 1963, when it became clear what kind of damage one million visitors a year were causing the paintings of this amazing cave, discovered in 1940 by four teenagers and a dog chasing a rabbit. (Picasso, Dali and Chagall were also among those millions.)
So an exact facsimile was built to show the two major rooms of the original which have a major concentration of the paintings, which were carefully reproduced. The effect is beyond spectacular, and it takes only a minute to forget that you are touring a replica of the real thing. Temperature, humidity – everything is duplicated from the actual cave. The most famous section of the cave is The Great Hall of the Bulls where bulls, horses and stags are depicted. The four black bulls are the dominant figures. One of the bulls is 17 feet long, the largest animal discovered so far in cave art.
It is all too wonderful – a blink in time, and we are here today admiring the work of a Cro-Magnon master.