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Grimaldi Forum marks the 40th anniversary of Pablo Picasso's death with exhibition
Art dealers David Nahmad and his brother Ezra Nahmad pose in a room of the exhibition dedicated to Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, on July 12, 2013 at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco. "Picasso in the Nahmad Collection" highlights masterpieces by the artist that form a major share of a private collection, unique in the world for its depth and quality, which has been assembled by Ezra and David Nahmad over the past half century. The exhibition which marks the 40th anniversary of the master's death runs from July 12 to September 15, 2013. AFP PHOTO / VALERY HACHE.

MONACO.- This summer the Grimaldi Forum is featuring "Monaco celebrates Picasso", a major event marking the 40th anniversary of the death of this world renowned artist.

With this exhibition, the Grimaldi Forum Monaco offers an original insight into Picasso’s artistic production, showing not only the close links he had with the Côte d’Azur, but also presenting an exceptional selection of major works from a remarkable private collection.

The exhibition is divided into two thematic parts which include 160 works.

“Picasso Côte d’Azur” transports the exhibition visitors to Antibes - Juan-les-Pins, Golfe Juan, Mougins and Cannes, places that appealed so much to Pablo Picasso, who spent many summers there between 1920 and 1946, where the Mediterranean light, the sea and the coast were direct sources of inspiration for him.

“Picasso in the Nahmad collection” highlights masterpieces by the artist that form a major share of a private collection, unique in the world for its depth and quality, which has been assembled by Ezra and David Nahmad over the past half century.

Picasso Côte d’Azur
This first part of the exhibition is devoted to works created by Picasso during the years spent in Antibes – Juan-les-Pins and its surroundings - beginning in the 1920s, throughout the 1930s, and then again in 1946 when, after the war, the artist returned to the south of France. The selection of paintings and drawings, all executed during these periods, aims to show how Picasso’s experiences and his reactions to his summer environment during these years is reflected in his work.

Mediterranean light, the sea and the region were for him direct sources of inspiration, its artistic tradition: mythology with its classical themes is given new life through the artist’s brush. Wishing to escape from Paris for the summer with his family, Picasso also realized that the hills, the trees and the sea reminded him of his native Spain, and this identification with the region undoubtedly played an important role.

Between 1920 and 1939, Picasso made at least fifteen visits to the French Riviera, including a short stay in Monte-Carlo during the spring of 1925 when he and his wife, the ex-dancer Olga Khokhlova were invited by Serge Diaghilev to attend a new production by the Ballets Russes. Until 1933, the Picasso family stayed, for the most part, around Juan-les-Pins, in local rented villas. During the years leading up to World War II, after his separation from Olga, except for a brief stay in 1936 at Juan-les-Pins with his mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter and their daughter Maya, Picasso spent the summer months at Mougins with Dora Maar and a group of friends. Finally, in July-August of 1939, he moved into the photographer Man Ray's studio in Antibes.

The types of work Picasso created during those vacations depended in large measure on the space available and the material he was able to take with him, in particular, during those first stays, when he traveled by train. This explains in part the large number of drawings that he did at that time, drawings that were often bigger than his canvases.

Finally, as epilogue to this journey illustrating the 1920s and 1930s, the public will be able to continue their visit at the Musée Picasso in Antibes, a partner of the exhibition, which houses the most important collection of the artist's works executed while he was on the Riviera, before he left Paris definitively to set up his studio first in Cannes, then at Mougins.

Bringing together fifty works from prestigious institutions such as The Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Musée national d'art moderne at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, as well as many loans of works—rarely shown— from the Picasso estate and French and international private collections, this thematic section provides a comprehensive view of Picasso’s responses to the place and his private concerns during these years.

Picasso in the Nahmad Collection
The exhibition Miró, Monet, Matisse—The Nahmad Collection at the Kunsthaus in Zurich in 2011 was a partial revelation of the well-known passion the Nahmad family has had for the work of Picasso, a passion that led to the creation of a collection of about 200 works covering the majority of Picasso’s artistic periods. In Monaco the 101 masterpieces presented to the public for the first time provide visitors with a retrospective of the artist’s work through a careful selection of works of rare quality, equal to the spirit which animates this family of collectors.

From the beginning of the 1960s, Ezra and David Nahmad built up a collection inspired as much by aesthetics as by market values, in the tradition of the great collections of the 20th century. Their collection brings together the great masters of modern and contemporary art and is distinguished as well by the presence of works by the Impressionists and Miró and Picasso. The choice of their acquisitions has been very deliberate, to the point of sometimes bringing together different variations around the same theme. The Nahmad family collection bears witness to a true passion for Picasso’s work and enables us to present for the first time an exceptional selection of the artist’s work.

One of the features of this collection is that many aspects of the artist's work are included; in particular, the series focused on the artist's studio at La Californie in Cannes and on The Painter and his Model.

During a conversation between Helly Nahmad, Ezra Nahmad’s son, and Jean-Louis Andral, two views of Picasso’s work are revealed: that of the collector and that of the exhibition curator.

Helly Nahmad says regarding the spirit of the collection: “At a time when my father Ezra and my uncle David were selling the first Picassos in Italy, their approach as art dealers was evolving at the same time as their respect and love for the artist and his works was growing….When one has the privilege to have a Picasso in one’s hands, everything changes…It’s how one understands the great artists, Picasso first of all. An idea dominates: if one sells, it’s good; if one doesn’t sell, it’s even better. Little by little, they began to realize that selling the paintings of the masters brought them less pleasure for they had become attached to the work. Their desire to sell took over only when it was a question of buying an even more important work. From that, their vocation to collect and to enrich the Collection was born.”

Regarding the viewpoint on the artist: The Nahmad Picasso Collection, rich in works never before shown to the public, covers a broad range of subjects, including the figure, still lifes, landscape and references to the history of art, and provides an opportunity to appreciate Picasso's formal experimentation and mastery of technique.

Helly explains: “Picasso is the capital of the art world, the capital of the art history, the heart of the art scene. For us it’s as if he was our mentor, someone who’s done everything. He’s a whirlwind of creative power. He’s the ultimate in art and he’s ultimate for us.”

Jean-Louis Andral: “Is he then a constant reference regarding your relationship to art?”

Helly: “Yes, he shaped us with his idea of inventiveness and hard work: his way of living, thinking, and his enormous intelligence-they’re an example for us, just like his simplicity, especially towards the end of his life.

Regarding the theme of variation: The theme of variation is fundamental to the organization of the exhibition. Certain groups of works, including Picasso's versions of Delacroix's Femmes d'Algers and a whole series devoted to The Painter and his Model, represent sequences of the artist's own variations on a particular theme.

“These remarkable thematic series, of four, six, or as many as twelve paintings, that mix the different periods of the artist, are constructed like a musical composition with its variations and its prelude. They illustrate the way the artist developed his approach over time and the treatment of these themes,” points out Jean-Louis Andral, echoed by an enthusiastic Helly Nahmad. “I think that rather than having a painting that represents every period, it’s also interesting to see twenty paintings from the same week, because at that moment, as you see the series developing, you get inside the artist’s head, inside his soul, as if you were watching him painting in his studio.”

From this perspective, the most obvious example is the series of paintings based on Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Luncheon on the Grass) acquired shortly after Picasso had finished the series, and which have always remained in the Nahmad collection. These works are shown at the Grimaldi Forum.

The Nahmad Family were originally from Aleppo, in Syria where they had a small banking business. They were hard-working and lived in a traditional Jewish environment. However, after World War II, the political situation in Aleppo became difficult so they left for Beirut, where Ezra and David were born in 1945 and 1947. Beirut was a bustling metropolis, very cosmopolitan and had a mixture of cultures and religions. There they had a happy childhood. Their father Hillel was an extremely hard-working and very good humored patriarch. He was a real pillar of his community; very well known, loved and respected. His wife, Mathilde, was 100 percent a mother, she had eight children and she devoted her whole life to them. She was very European in outlook. Together they provided a stable, hard-working environment and gave their children a lot of confidence. They knew their value and they knew the value of work. They were encouraged to pursue their dreams, despite the fact that their way of life was not excessive in any way. A very down-to-earth life, but spiritually very rich. The family stayed there for several years and left in the 60s.

At that time the family suffered an enormous blow when the eldest son, Albert, who had left home as a teenager and was a making a successful career in banking, was killed in a plane crash in South America. For his parents this was obviously a massive tragedy and they were heartbroken, so because of the political situation in Beirut and because of this event, they all wanted to go and be together with Joseph in Milan where he was an art collector…

At this time Ezra and David were teenagers. Milan had a very dynamic culture. There was rejuvenation and it was fun, there were movies and glamour and there was a bustling art scene. Joseph had become a success in business. There were many opportunities in post-war Europe and the modern world as we know it was just starting to take shape. He was investing in real estate and importing and exporting. He loved glamorous Italian cars, houses and art, and stayed in Portofino and Venice. He never married, and was addicted to work. He was a risk taker, quite the opposite of his father, the conservative family man, and this is when he started to collect art. Joseph’s father disapproved of his son’s art collection and one evening, during a dinner party at Joseph’s apartment, a small masterpiece by Gauguin was stolen! A few days later, when Joseph’s father read about the robbery in the newspaper, he exclaimed that his son was not robbed during the party, but the moment he purchased the painting!

Joseph loved art. In his apartment in Milan he had special commissions by Lucio Fontana and Wifredo Lam, the Cuban artist living in Italy, and from Arnaldo Pomodoro. He also had commissions by Giorgio de Chirico, with whom he later had a contract. He knew everyone. He knew all of Milan. He was very gregarious, very outgoing, and very bohemian in a way. There were always starlets in the house like Rita Hayworth and people like that! He had good taste and started collecting art in a meaningful way.

Ezra and David had been very entrepreneurial since their childhood. At school they bought and sold marbles and sweets, and then sold English novels to American Sailors stationed in the port of Beirut. Then in Milan, they would go to San Siro Stadium on Sundays, after football matches, and sell T-shirts and badges of the winning team. They knew that only the fans of the winning team would be in the mood to buy! They would watch the match in the local bar until half-time and then speculate on which team’s T-shirt to have quickly printed! Working was in their DNA. This was their fun, not playing in the garden. At the age of about 15 they had started to borrow money and invest in the Italian stock market. At one point, they spent entire days trading on the floor of the stock exchange instead of going to school! That was their character. This commercial attitude combined with the cultural scene in Milan and the fact that their elder brother was a passionate art collector lead to a natural interest in the art market.

There were already several important galleries in Milan but none of them had access to international artists, who were mostly based in Paris. At the time there was no easy way to do business with Paris. None of the Italian art dealers spoke French or had even thought to travel abroad, so it created a unique opportunity for them. They spoke perfect French and were very happy to take risks, very happy to go to Paris and very excited to travel and work non-stop. They were really the first in Italy to have Picasso, Miró, Kandinsky and Léger. At that time in Italy there was a lot of business going on, but in a very Italian way! It was, “I’ll give you one of these against one of those, and half a cheque, and six months later you’ll get paid.” It was an incredible place to learn. But they managed to find their way through this, working at full steam with a lot of risk and very little capital and making ends meet. It was a fun working time, a heroic time.

There was an exhibition in Rome of the Cubist painter Juan Gris organized by Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler, the legendary Parisian art dealer. There they purchased two paintings and a year later they made their way to the Louise Leiris gallery in Paris, where they finally met Kahnweiler himself. When he discovered that these were the young boys who had purchased the paintings by his favourite Cubist painter the relationship was set. The exhibition in Rome was during the summer months and so apart from those two paintings nothing else had sold at all. Kahnweiler immediately admired their energy, their youth, their courage and, of course, their love of Gris! It was a genuine love.

Kahnweiler was astonished because they were so different from all the other people in the art world in Paris. They were intriguing to him as he was obviously from a different generation. He was acknowledged and respected around the world and had excellent contacts with artists and museums. Ezra and David, being so young, had almost no contacts at all. They were still teenagers. They actually tried to pay for the paintings on the spot.

As a sign of goodwill and also to show how serious they were. They said “we're going to pay you right now”, and not like in Italy where everyone paid slowly. But Kahnweiler replied, “Take the paintings and pay in six months.” He suggested it. So they went back to Milan with the paintings and the money! Nobody in Italy had any paintings by Picasso so there was real demand. They were back in Paris within a week! They stayed in small hotel rooms, drove all the way or took a train at night, coming back in the morning. One day, after buying a large and important painting by Picasso, they decided to drive all night, straight back to Milan. As the painting was too large to fit into the boot of their Morris Minor they decided to tie it to the roof of the car! When they arrived in Milan, to their horror, they discovered that the painting was no longer there – it had been blown away on the motorway! They immediately started to drive back and luckily found the painting, unharmed, lying in the grass on the side of the road!

This went on for many years and they bought and sold much of what you see in major museums and collections today. From Kahnweiler they bought Cubists, Picasso, Braque, Léger and Gris. From Maeght they bought works by Giacometti, Miró and Kandinsky. Those were their main artists. There was a lot of back and forth. Kahnweiler gave them this incredible opportunity. He recognized in these boys an enthusiasm for work and solid values which reminded him of his own journey. He had a genuine affection for them. That whole period was a great adventure for the two brothers. It was at this point that Picasso was busy working on his famous series Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, which you can see in the exhibition, and which was purchased by them as soon as it was painted.

In the mid-sixties they had made their first trips to New York, and saw that the market there was different from Europe. There were great galleries, such as Pierre Matisse (the son of Henri Matisse), Klaus Perls and Sidney Janis. They opened a gallery on Madison Avenue on the corner of the Carlyle Hotel, opposite Sotheby's. The gallery was inaugurated by Salvador Dali himself and the whole of New York turned up! It was here that they met most of the greatest collectors of the twentieth century from around the world. Over the years, they bought and sold paintings from the collections of Andre Meyer, Andre Lefevre, Henry Havemeyer, Henry Ford, Alfred Barr, Douglas Cooper, Roland Penrose, Edward James, Baron Thyssen and Peggy Guggenheim, to name but a few!

Then by the early 70s things started to change in Milan. The global petrol crisis in 1973 led to a recession and the rise of the Communist Red Brigades. Things became very unstable. The Prime Minister was kidnapped and killed; there was social unrest. The situation in Italy started to turn sour, everything started to change. Milan was more or less finished.

During the 1970s everyone was living in different cities and so at this point they started to see Monaco, where their parents spent a lot of time, as their common place. It was where we could all meet and be together. As they were now so spread out, spoke several languages and had gained quite a lot of experience, they were really among the first players in the art world with a global perspective of the art market. They were laying the foundations of the truly international art scene we all recognize today.

From that period a new emphasis emerged for the Nahmads to acquire only the best paintings with a view to building a permanent collection. Now we have the opportunity to experience this collection and share it with the public.

However, the deeper significance is to celebrate the extraordinary achievement of these brothers over half a century.

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