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Ground-Breaking Exhibition that Explores Picasso's Response to Degas
A man walks past in front of two paintings L-R 'Desnudo peinandose' (Lit Naked woman combing her hair) (1952) by Spanish artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso and 'The hairdo' (1896), by French Edgar Degas (1879-1881) as he visits the exhibition 'Picasso looks at Degas' at Picasso Museum in Barcelona, northeastern Spain. The exhibition, running from 15 October 2010 to 16 January 2011, features about 100 artworks by both artists to show the influence Degas and his work on Picasso. EPA/TONI ALBIR.

BARCELONA.- The Museu Picasso in Barcelona presents, from 15 October to 16 January 2011 the major exhibition «Picasso Looks at Degas». The exhibition is curated by Elizabeth Cowling, Professor Emeritus of History of Art at Edinburgh University, and Richard Kendall, the Clark’s Curator at Large and is organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown and the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, with the special cooperation of Fundación Almine y Bernard Ruiz-Picasso para el Arte.

Throughout his life Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) was fascinated by the personality and art of Edgar Degas (1834–1917). He collected the Impressionist’s work, often re-interpreted his signature imagery, and at the end of his life created scenes that included depictions of Degas himself. «Picasso Looks at Degas» is the first exhibition to explore the extent and significance of this phenomenon and brings together over one hundred works from international museums and private collections, including many that have never before been shown in Spain. The Museu Picasso is the exclusive European venue for the show, which is curated by Picasso expert Elizabeth Cowling and Impressionist scholar Richard Kendall.

Thanks to his friendship with older artists in Barcelona’s Quatre Gats group, Picasso knew something of Impressionism before his first visit to Paris in 1900. However, what became a sustained dialogue with Degas’s work began to develop only after he started visiting the French capital and seeing examples in the original. When he settled in the Bateau Lavoir in Montmartre in 1904 Picasso was within a few minutes’ walk of Degas’s studio. They had many acquaintances in common in the Parisian art world, including the legendary dealer Ambroise Vollard, but they seem never actually to have met. Using compelling pairings and groupings of works on related themes, the exhibition examines Degas through Picasso’s eyes and the ways in which the Spanish artist’s response varied over time from emulation to confrontation and from parody to homage. Both shared a lifelong obsession with women, visible in their portraits of friends and innumerable representations of the female nude. But Picasso also echoed Degas’s acknowledged signature subjects of café concert performers, ballet dancers, women at their toilette, and prostitutes. While usually identified as painters, both Degas and Picasso were supreme draftsmen and highly innovative sculptors and printmakers, and the exhibition brings together works in all these media in order to examine Picasso’s reaction to the challenge posed by Degas’s oeuvre and the fascinating affinity between their creative thinking and working methods.

The exhibition opens with Picasso’s early years when he received an academic training very similar to that of Degas, whose art he had not discovered at that point. It then turns to the bohemian world of early twentieth-century Paris where Picasso first began to respond directly to Degas’s imagery of modern life. In pictures such as End of the Performance (1900–01, Museu Picasso, Barcelona), he paid tribute to Degas’s café-concert scenes by depicting a singer in mid-performance on stage. One of the most dramatic confrontations in this section is between Degas’s controversial masterpiece In a Café (L’Absinthe) (1875-76, Musée d’Orsay, Paris) and Picasso’s riveting Blue period Portrait of Sebastìa Junyer i Vidal (1903, Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The ballet is a central theme in Degas’s work, and paintings such as Dancers in the Classroom (c.1880, Clark Art Institute, Willamstown) established him as the Impressionist artist of dance. «Picasso Looks at Degas» examines Picasso’s depiction of the ballet at various points in his career. In a striking example of how this artistic dialogue unfolded, the Clark’s iconic sculpture Little Dancer Aged Fourteen (1879–1881), considered shocking and radical in its time, is juxtaposed with Picasso’s Yellow Nude (1907, Gretchen and John Berggruen Collection, San Francisco), which heralded Cubism. Shortly after Degas’s death, Picasso married Olga Khokhlova, a dancer from the Ballets Russes, and embarked on a passionate exploration of the dance that culminated in a number of sculptures emulating Degas’s celebrated series of dancers. Never-before-exhibited archival material complements these works and sheds new light on Picasso’s relationship with Olga and the ballet.

Picasso inherited and transformed another of Degas’s favourite themes—women bathing or doing their hair—returning to it repeatedly over a period of more than fifty years. The exhibition will reveal how both artists explored this intimate female world in all media and in formats ranging from the diminutive to the monumental. Picasso’s statuesque Woman Plaiting Her Hair (1906, Museum of Modern Art, New York) will be shown with both Degas’s glowing red-pink Combing the Hair (c. 1896, The National Gallery, London) and his immense, apparently unfinished Nude Woman Drying Herself (1884-86, Brooklyn Museum, New York).

In the late 1870s Degas created a series of monotypes depicting prostitutes and their customers in brothels. Picasso particularly admired these prints and eventually acquired nine of them for his own collection. At the end of his life he directly engaged with them in a series of humorous and poignant etchings in which Degas himself appears in the guise of a wary and inhibited but fascinated client. The exhibition closes with this series and with the portrait of Degas Picasso painted in 1968 (Private collection) as a tribute to the great Impressionist.

The Museu Picasso | Elizabeth Cowling | Barcelona | "Picasso Looks at Degas" |

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