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London – The National Portrait Gallery staged a major exhibition of portraits by Pablo Picasso.
The exhibition Picasso Portraits included over 75 works by the artist in all media, varying from well-known masterpieces to those less famous. Some pieces have never been exhibited in Britain before, including the extraordinary cubist portrait of the German art dealer and early champion of Picasso’s work, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1910), loaned by the Art Institute of Chicago; and from a private collection the exquisite portrait (1938) of Nusch Eluard, acrobat, artist and wife of the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard.
The National Portrait Gallery discloses a different side of Picasso, who generally has been always considered a selfish lady-killer. Here, the Spanish artist is presented as caring lover and kind father. Portraits of his children Maya, Claude and Paloma are beguiling, revealing his profound and genuine love for them. Equally, his lovers, Marie Therese Walter and Dora Maar, he often used at the edge of personal narcissism in his art production.
However, Picasso Portraits confirmed the humanity of his art, spanning through his entire career, from the first displayed piece, his self-portrait as a teenager, and ending with his own skull. It was the first large-scale exhibition devoted to his portraiture since “Picasso and Portraiture” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Grand Palais, Paris in 1996.
Picasso did not work to commission and, usually, sitters were his friends or relatives. The exhibition includes a group of revealing self-portraits as well as portraits and caricatures of Picasso’s friends, lovers, wives and children. As a portraitist, he liked to have special autonomy and worked using different approaches, as well as many styles. Formal posed portraits coexisted with witty caricatures, classic drawings from life with expressive paintings created from memory reflecting his interpretation of the sitter’s individuality and personality.
The major lending was from the Museu Picasso, Barcelona where the exhibition will tour from 17th March until 25th June 2017. Other lending institutions included: the British Museum; Tate; Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; Musée national Picasso, Paris; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Musée national d’art moderne de la ville de Paris; Museum Berggruen, Berlin; Fondation Hubert Looser, Zurich; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum,
New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Iceland. The exhibition also benefited from important loans from the artist’s heirs and other private collectors.
Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘We are delighted to stage Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, a collaboration with Museu Picasso, Barcelona, which focuses on the artist’s reinvention of time-honoured conventions of portraiture, and his genius for caricature. The exhibition gathers together major loans from public and private collections that demonstrate the breadth of Picasso’s oeuvre and the extraordinary range of styles he employed across all media and from all periods of his career.’
Bernardo Laniado-Romero, Director, Museu Picasso, Barcelona, says: ‘The two organising museums, one dedicated to portraiture and the other to Picasso, are the natural instruments to bring forth a reassessment on how Picasso, time and time again, redefined portraiture throughout the twentieth century. The exhibition will surprise and confront one’s preconceived ideas of what a portrait should be and how a portrait by Picasso ought to look like.’
The exhibition Picasso Portraits has been sponsored by Goldman Sachs, including a wide ranging Learning programme linked to the exhibition.
Picasso Portraits was curated by Elizabeth Cowling, Emeritus Professor of the History of Art at the University of Edinburgh and an expert of Picasso.
(This article firstly published on 11th March 2017)
The exhibition “Picasso Portraits” has been running at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 6th October 2016 until 5th February 2017.