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Exhibition offers unique chance to see one of Picasso's masterworks in an intimate setting
La Vie, 1903. Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). Oil on canvas; 197 x 129 cm. Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of the Hanna Fund 1945.24 © 2012 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

CLEVELAND, OH.- The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: Deconstructing La Vie, the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s new Focus Gallery. Picasso and the Mysteries of Life is the first exhibition to offer an intensive exploration of La Vie, a signature work in the museum’s collection that is considered Picasso’s culminating masterwork of the Blue Period. The exhibition includes related works on loan from the Museu Picasso in Barcelona, the most important repository of the artist’s early work, as well as works by Francisco Goya, Albrecht Dürer and Auguste Rodin drawn from the museum’s world renowned collections. New sights are provided into the meanings of this complex, enigmatic masterpiece and its pivotal role in the artistic development of the young Spanish artist. The exhibition will be on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art through April 21, 2013.

Visitors to the exhibition also have an opportunity to investigate the painting in-depth through x-radiographs, infrared reflectographs and other scientific examination methods displayed on iPads, revealing how Picasso dramatically altered the composition.

The exhibition is accompanied by Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: La Vie, a 163-page book by William H. Robinson, curator of modern European art. Published by the Cleveland Museum of Art in association with D Giles Limited, London, the book uses La Vie as a catalyst to shed light on a Picasso’s creative process, as well as vital issues in modernist culture of the 19th and 20th centuries.

When Picasso drew his first sketches for La Vie in May 1903 he was an obscure 21-year-old artist living with his parents in Barcelona. Through an extended process of reflection and altering the composition, he transformed the subject from a depiction of an artist in his studio into a complex allegory about life and art, prompting the art historian John Richardson to describe the painting as Picasso’s “first exorcism.” La Vie invites comparison with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 and Guernica of 1937, both of which also underwent extensive reworking. But unlike those paintings, La Vie’s complex iconography continues to baffle scholars. Richardson observes that La Vie “has given rise to more mystification than any other early work by the artist.” Questions about its enigmatic subject, early history, and relationship to other works in Picasso’s oeuvre remain unresolved to this day. Nor has the painting’s seminal role in the formation of Picasso’s attitudes toward life and art been fully explored.

Picasso and the Mysteries of Life examines La Vie in unprecedented detail and uses the painting as a touchstone for exploring an array of issues vital to modernist culture of the 19th and 20th centuries. New insights are offered into Picasso’s relationship with Carles Casagemas, the gaunt man standing in the painting’s left foreground. A close friend and fellow artist who committed suicide in 1901, Casagemas’s presence in the painting serves as the impetus for exploring the cult of suicide and bohemian otherness in modern art and literature. The woman standing beside Casagemas has been identified as Germaine Pichot, his lover and a contributor to his suicide. Germaine’s symbolic role in the painting, how she became an archetype for Picasso’s coded representations of women, and the broader theme of the fatal woman in modern art are examined at length. The accompanying book also explores the influence of Spanish and French literature on Picasso’s Blue Period paintings, the impact of Rodin’s large retrospective of 1900 on the young artist, and Picasso’s obsession with questions of fate and destiny, as expressed through imagery derived from fortune-telling tarot cards. By placing La Vie in previously unconsidered contexts, and through new analytical studies, Picasso and the Mysteries of Life reveals why La Vie marks a pivotal moment in Picasso’s maturation into the 20th century’s most important and influential artist.

The Cleveland Museum of Art | Picasso and the Mysteries of Life | Focus Gallery |

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