What does 'masterpiece' mean to Pablo Picasso? The exhibition "Picasso. Masterpieces!" seeks to answer this question by assembling many of Picasso's great works from around the world, some of which are being exhibited in Paris for the very first time. Thanks to exceptional loans, masterpieces from all over the world dialogue with those from the collection of the Musée national Picasso-Paris
to offer a new interpretation of Picasso's creations, with particular attention to the critical reception of his works. Focusing on past exhibitions, reviews, and texts, this show explores how Picasso's works have become, thoughtout the years, iconic masterpieces. The archives of the Musée national Picasso-Paris play an essential role in recounting this story.
LE CHEF-D'OE UVRE INCONNU
Achieving perfect beauty, the absolute masterpiece: this is the dream that the painter Frenhofer, the hero of Honoré de Balzac's novel, Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu, pursued in vain. Published for the first time in 1831, the text was illustrated a century later by Pablo Picasso, at the request of art dealer Ambroise Vollard. The theme of the painter and his model which Picasso explores in his work represents the kind of ideal artistic vision which leads to Frenhorfer's death as he attempts to portray the expression of a soul, to reach perfection through a work of art.
The artist at work is a running theme in Picasso's oeuvre. His many self-portraits, alone or with a model, are also reflections on the creative process. One of the most prolific painters of the 20th century, relentlessly seeking new modes of expression, Picasso dedicated his life to a quest similar to that of Frenhofer. Through a selection of key works, milestones of Picasso's artistic career, the exhibition "Picasso: Masterpieces!" looks back at this journey. From the conditions in which the artwork was produced to the influence of its critical reception, the exhibition examines the events that helped make each piece an icon of art. Throughout the 20th century, from the academic tradition to modern revolutions, Picasso's pursuits radically redefined the concept of the masterpiece.
SCIENCE ET CHARITÉ
Science and Charité is one of the rare pieces from Picasso's youth which he kept for himself, before it was donated to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona in 1970. Thanks to the close relationship between this institution and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, this work is now being exhibited in Paris for the first time.
Picasso was only 16 when he painted Science et Charité. While studying at Llotja, the School of Art and Design of Barcelona, he chose to paint a theme popular at art shows and among the followers of social realism: visiting the ill. The artist combines images from his daily life with academic models. His father acts as the model for the doctor, and the subject echoes a personal drama, the death of his younger sister Conchita in 1895. Sent to the General Exhibition of Fine Arts in Madrid, the work received an honourable mention, before it was awarded a gold medal at the Provincial Exhibition of Malaga. It demonstrates the incredible technical skill shown by the young Picasso.
LES DEMOISELLES D'AVIGNON
When he discovered Les Demoiselles d'Avignon in 1907, Georges Braque said, "It is as though, with your painting, you wanted us to eat oakum or drink oil." From its creation until its exhibition at the Salon d'Antin in Paris in 1916, the work evoked reactions of indifference, incomprehension and rejection. An emblematic canvas of the pictorial revolutions of the 20th century, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was a foundational work in the bith of cubism. Jacques Doucet bought the piece in 1924 at the recommendation of poet André Breton, who was, at the time, one of the few able to recognize the significance of the acquisition. However, when the designer died, the work returned to the art market.
It joined the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1939. This institutional recognition conferred upon the painting the status of a modern masterpiece, more than thirty years after it was first created. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon no longer travels. The artist kept many studies for the painting throughout his life which today shed light on the genesis of the work. These studies have become icons of the Musée national Picasso-Paris.
The Harlequin figure, Picasso's nostalgic double, features throughout the artist's works. In 1923, amidst the Return to Order, it embodies the classic ideal which Picasso expresses in the genre of portraiture. The harlequin theme, particularly appreciated by the dealer Paul Rosenberg, quickly gained favour in the art world, even leading to a fund-raising campaign in 1967 to enable the city of Basel to acquire Arlequin assis.
Picasso borrowed characteristics from the Spanish painter Jacinto Salvadó (1892-1983) for these harlequins. From one piece to the next, the model maintains the same costume and his poses are imbued with the same melancholy. Picasso repeats and reworks these motifs throughout the series.
On 8 February 1937, Picasso's birthplace, Malaga, was seized by nationalist troops. In the space of just a few days - on the 10th, 12th and 18th of February - Picasso painted three troubling beach scenes featuring dominant, imposing bathers. He distorted their bodies and opted for a mineral palette. The landscapes are reduced to just a few lines. The viewer's gaze is focused on these monstrous figures, inspired by Picasso's conversations with surrealists Man Ray, Paul Éluard and Dora Maar, with whom he spent the summers of 1936 and 1937.
Long kept in private collections, these three works have rarely been exhibited. Representing a true series of masterpieces, they have been brought together for the first time in France for this exhibition, thanks to a partnership between the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice, the Lyon Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée national Picasso-Paris.
FEMMES À LEUR TOILETTE
Femmes à leur toilette, a monumental collage created in the winter of 1937-1938, is today presented for the first time since its restoration in 2018.
Choosing the traditional theme of hairstyling, Picasso stages three women grooming themselves, evoking a series of romantic partners with whom he had been close. The images of Olga Picasso, Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar haunt the composition of this tapestry cartoon, the only one designed by the artist, which he kept throughout his life. Completed at the Grands-Augustins studio in Paris, the work directly recalls Guernica, created a few months earlier. Picasso returns to the concept of a very large format and assembles on the canvas a multitude of paper cuttings with varied motifs. The artist, who had given up on the idea of including elements of painted paper in Guernica at the start of the year, here gives free rein to this procedure inspired by the cubist studies of papier collé. Femmes à leur toilette embodies the artistic revolutions that Picasso orchestrated throughout his life and is one of the masterpieces of the Musée national Picasso-Paris.
In spring 1925, Picasso and his wife Olga joined the Ballets russes in Monte Carlo. Picasso's interest in dance, never waning since his participation in the ballet Parade in 1917, is shown here in a troubling round dance, and recalls the death of his friend, painter Ramon Pichot. Although each figure is represented through its own visual vocabulary, the influence of surrealism can be seen through the distortion of the bodies and in the composition, which evokes a crucifixion, a favourite theme of the group.
Exhibited in 1939, alongside Guernica, at the New York Museum of Modern Art, La Danse remained in Picasso's ownership for forty years; the artist refused to part from it despite keen interest from collectors. It was eventually acquired by the Tate Gallery in London in 1965, five years after the museum's major retrospective dedicated to the artist. This masterpiece of British collections was presented at the Grand Palais in 1966, in the exhibition "Hommage à Pablo Picasso", and is today on temporary loan from the Tate.
In 1943, Picasso chose the technique of assemblage to sculpt the original plaster version of Le Faucheur, whose face is the imprint of a sand-cast mould. Beyond this play on everyday objects, André Malraux saw in the bronze cast a true masterpiece, the very incarnation of the "act of death". On 19 November 1966, at the opening of the exhibition "Hommage à Pablo Picasso" at the Grand and Petit Palais, Picasso expressed the desire, never realised, to create a huge, monumental version of the work dedicated to Charles Baudelaire.
In 1968, under Malraux's initiative, the law on the gifting of artworks as payment of death duties was established. Eleven years later, Le Faucheur joined the national collections after Picasso's heirs consented to gift it to the state. It is today exhibited in the very heart of the Hôtel Salé.
Paper cuttings, iron wires and tablets... the pieces presented in this room offer a new perspective on Picasso's artistic process. With just a few gestures, the artist transforms everyday objects into artworks, combining humour and poetry. In the majestic Vénus du gaz, the artist re-appropriates a wood stove burner by placing it vertically.
Most of these objects were kept by the surrealist photographer Dora Maar, who shared her life with Picasso from 1936. They were photographed by Brassaï at Picasso's request. Then, in 1949, the art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler included them in his work "Les Sculptures de Picasso." During the public sale of the Dora Maar collection in 1998, these objects attracted huge attention, Picasso's renown helping to forge their status as iconic works which re-examine the notion of the masterpiece under a new light.
JOSEP PALAU I FABRE
« Mirar la producción de Picasso, descubrir su obra, tiene que generar siempre, una euforia benefactora, porque él es, por encima de todo, vital » (Josep Palau i Fabre, Barcelone, 16 février 2003)
"Estimat Picasso" ("Dear Picasso"), this is the title of one publication by Josep Palau i Fabre (1917-2008), the Catalan poet and writer, who became friends with the artist in the 1960s. He dedicated more than twenty works to Picasso and gave him pride of place in his collection, today kept by the Fundació Palau in Caldes dEstrac, in the province of Barcelona. Within this collection, the many dedications Picasso wrote to Palau i Fabre attests to the close bond between the artist and the biographer. Through his publications and collection, they writer offers a dual reading of Picasso's work, authoring both literary and scientific studies that portray the Spanish artist as a genius of the 20th century, and providing a glimpse of the private and everyday creation of a masterpiece, as exemplified by the marionette theater made by Picasso for his daughter Maya in 1942, exhibited in this room.
In Cannes, Picasso enjoyed displaying his sculptures in the garden of the villa La Californie which he bought in 1955. Photographs by David Douglas Duncan provide an account of this installation which was only accessible to visitors of the studio. The sculptures are pretexts for much of his technical experiments as well as intimate works; as shown with Petit Cheval, created from the legs of table for the Spanish artist's grandson Bernard RuizPicasso.
It was only in 1966 that the general public was able to discover the full wealth of Picasso's sculpted work, during the exhibition "Hommage à Pablo Picasso", held at the Grand and Petit Palais, curated by Jean Leymarie. 196 sculptures were presented, revealing an immense variety of subjects, materials and techniques. The event was extremely popular, and Picasso's sculptures which had once dwelled in the shadows of studios, finally acquired the public status of a masterpiece.
LA CHÈVRE Between spring 2017 and spring 2019, the Musée national Picasso-Paris is launching an international cultural event bringing together over 60 institutions within the framework "Picasso-Méditerranée". This collaboration through the loan of masterpiece has facilitated dialogue between the Musée Picasso in Antibes and the Picasso museum of Paris.
During the summer of 1946, Picasso lived in Golfe-Juan, near Antibes. Romuald Dor de La Souchère invited him to set up his studio in the Grimaldi museum, where he was the director. The artist worked there from September to November and, upon his departure, left 23 paintings and 44 sketches to the city. Twenty years later, Château Grimaldi became the first museum dedicated to Picasso in France, contributing to the artist's renown. Of the works produced in Antibes, La Chèvre is a majestic representation of an important animal in Picasso's bestiary. As though incomplete, somewhere between a sketch and a painting, the animal's body combines realist drawing and cubist geometrization.
After the creation of this unique masterpiece, the goat as a motif, inhabiting the landscapes of Bacchanalia and a symbol of the years in the south of France, becomes one of the emblems of Picasso's work.
The collaboration between Picasso and lithographer Fernand Mourlot began in Paris in 1945, in a printing studio on Rue de Chabrol. Their conversations led to the creation of the famous Colombe which, after being spotted by the poet Aragon in 1949, became a symbol of peace printed in millions of copies found across the entire world. In the printer's studio, the collaborations continued. In 1948, Mourlot printed 215 of Picasso's plates for the book, Le Chant des morts by Pierre Reverdy, a masterpiece of book illustration. The two men pushed the boundaries of lithography and embarked on an unprecedented exploration of poster art. The lithographic stones on which the two men worked as well as the tools and souvenirs of these experiments, are today exhibited for the first time.
In 1970, Fernand Mourlot published the catalogue "Picasso Lithographe." The work reveals the abundance of Picasso's research on prints and his virtuosity in the art of duplication; his printed images rank among his masterpieces.
From May to October 1970, the Palais des Papes in Avignon dedicated a first exhibition to Picasso. Designed by the publisher Christian Zervos and his wife Yvonne, who died a few months before its opening, the project inventoried the artist's creations between the years 1969 and 1970. On 23 May 1973, Jacqueline Roque opened a second exhibition at the Palais des Papes, "Picasso 1970-1972", one month after the artist's death. The works exhibited received virulent criticism; some were referred to as 'scribbles.' In the 1980s, however, new interpretations of Picasso's last paintings emerged. As they became compared to the works of such artists as Francis Bacon and David Hockney, art historians began to reassess their value.