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The Mirror & the Mask - Portraiture in the Age of Picasso
Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait, c. 1887. Oil on canvas, 41 x 33.5 cm, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. (Gift of Philip I Goodwin in memory of his mother, Josephine S. Goodwin).

MADRID, SPAIN.-The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Fundación Caja Madrid present their series of joint exhibitions, entitled The Mirror & the Mask. Portraiture in the Age of Picasso, which offers the first overview of this subject in 20th-century art. Considered one of the principal classical “genres”, the portrait nonetheless occupies a significant position in the work of many of the most important and influential artists of the early 20th-century avant-garde and the various subsequent modern art movements. The exhibition is jointly organised with the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (Texas), where it will be shown between 17 June and 16 September 2007.

Private collectors, museums and foundations around the world have loaned paintings and a number of sculptures for this important project, which brings together 145 portraits by around 60 different artists. They include some of the leading names in modern art: Cézanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Freud, Warhol, Miró, Dalí, Giacometti, Modigliani, Kirchner, Munch, Nolde, Kokoschka, Balthus, De Chirico, Bacon, Grosz, Hockney, Malevich, Rousseau and others.

The exhibition’s primary aim is to study and reveal the transformations that took place in the genre of portraiture over the course of the last century, presented within a chronological framework based around the activities of the greatest portraitist of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso. Having remained almost static for centuries, the portrait at this period broke away from its commitment to a lifelike depiction of the model in order to offer new options dictated by the artist’s individual gaze, as well as by experimentation with new visual idioms their application; by the transformation of the modern individual; and finally, by changes in ways of seeing and representing the human being. In the modern portrait it is the individual stamp of the artist that establishes new codes and as a result the genre becomes a polyvalent one: it can look to traditional models or alternatively oppose them, penetrate individual identities or falsify them. In addition, it can create stereotypes but at the same time reveal the fragility and vulnerability of the sitter.

The 20th century saw a crisis in the identity of modern man and another with regard to art’s confidence in the truth of its images. The idea that art should be something different to nature, even at complete odds with the concept of verisimilitude which had always lain at the heart of the portrait, might suggest that the genre of portraiture would be of little interest to the intrinsically non-imitative nature of modern art. This was not, however, the case and we need only to look at the list of names of artists who have worked within this genre in the 20th century –most of them represented in the present exhibition– to appreciate this and to understand their importance for the study of the historical development of the portrait as well as the relevance of the present exhibition.

In addition, the portrait is one of the best-represented genres in the collections of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which include outstanding examples from the 20th century. Portraiture has also been the focus of a number of the Museum’s exhibitions over the past few years (on Raphael, Memling, Kokoschka, etc) and has formed part of important sections within other exhibitions (Die Brücke, Mimesis, Form, Sargent/Sorolla). As a result, the present exhibition will not only enrich our vision of the portrait in the Museum’s collections but will also represent a coherent element with its exhibition strategy and the research carried out up to the present time.

The structure of the exhibition combines a chronological and thematic approach. It opens with the fin-de-siècle and early 20th century in a section devoted to the new approach to the portrait based on models formulated by Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, moving on to offer a comprehensive examination of the new aesthetic ideas to be found within the modern portrait. It ends around 1980 at a time of revision and recapitulation made possible by the versatility of the various idioms of contemporary art

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March 23, 2007

The Mirror & the Mask - Portraiture in the Age of Picasso

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