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Musée Picasso Presents Picasso - Carmen
Femme à la mantille, Woman in a mantilla, full face, P.Esperon, Madrid, embroidered postcard, 13.5 x 8.7 cm, Archives Picasso, Musée Picasso, Paris. DR.

PARIS, FRANCE.- Musée Picasso presents Picasso – Carmen - Sol & Sombra (Sun & Shade), on view through June 24, 2007. Exhibition organised by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux and the Musée National Picasso. Carmen, provocative and rebellious, the icon of passion, haunts the work of Picasso. The mythical heroine of Prosper Mérimée (novella published in 1845), and of Georges Bizet (opera created in 1875) had haunted the artist since the first painting of his youth where the sulphurous auras of whores and the gypsies intermingled. This exhibition shows how Picasso’s fascination with Carmen resembles a long, imaginary, secret quest on the theme of tragic love.

About 220 works relating to this “Carmen theme” have been brought together for this show: paintings, drawings, etchings, photographs and documents from the collection and the archives of the Musée National Picasso, along with works on loan from the Meseu Picasso, Barcelona, the Fondación Museo Picasso, Málaga, the Salomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Presented both thematically and chronologically, the exhibition looks first at the artist’s early work (1898-1903). As far back as 1898, the sketch of a gypsy girl he did in Madrid mentions the name “Carmen”. This started a series of works influenced by Goya’s black vision in the Caprichos and the Sueños where Bohemian women and majas (the beauties), merge into the symbolic figure of Celestina, matchmaker and witch, (Fernando Rojas, La Celestina or the tragi-comedy of Callisto and Melibea, 1499; Pablo Picasso, La Célestine, 1904).

Then, through the distortions of a fantasy Spain, full of mantillas, shawls, large combs and fans, the artist completely transforms the heroic femme fatale and submits her to his most radical visual experiments.

Thus, for the first time in Paris, this exhibition brings together some of the great paintings produced by Picasso between 1904 and 1918. They form a veritable portrait gallery of women in Spanish dress, combining modernity with references to old masters and contemporary great artists (Goya, Velazquez, Manet): Fernande à la mantille, 1905 (Fernande in a black mantilla), Portrait de Benedetta Canals, 1905 (Portrait of Benedetta Canals), Grand Nu au peigne, 1906 (Woman with a comb), Femme à l’éventail, 1909 (Woman with fan), Femme à la mantille, « La Salchichona », 1917 (Woman with mantilla, “La Salchichona”), Portrait d’Olga à la mantille, 1917 (Olga Khokhlova with mantilla), Blanquita Suarez, 1917, Olga au fauteuil, 1918 (Olga in the armchair).

Bizet’s funereal opera finishes with Carmen’s murder set against the background of the death of the bull in the ring. This symmetry of the sacrifice of the wild animal and of the woman particularly inspired Picasso’s surrealist work. This is clearly seen in the exhibition in the rich variations of the bullfighting myth, in drawings and etching, depicting the embraces and combats of the toreros/toreras from the years 1920 to 1935.

It was in the fifties when Picasso finally worked on illustrating Mérimée’s novella, with a beautiful series of aquatints and etchings where the Picasso “Carmencita” appears as the incarnation of painting itself (Pablo Picasso, Prosper Mérimée, Louis Aragon, Carmen des Carmen, Paris, Editeurs français réunis, 1964). Carmen, the source of a passionate, iconographic symbolisation, reveals the face of a double, of the painter himself, reflected in the mirror of the woman, of the other.

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