Sunday, April 7, 2019

“The Young Picasso – Blue and Rose Period”

Whenever, I hear there is another Picasso exhibition, I think haven’t we seen it all and I am always happily surprised to see his work shown in a new light. This exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland focuses on Picasso’s blue and Rose periods. This show is a reduced version of one in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay last year, amazingly, the first show ever in Europe to focus on this period of the artist’s life.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973)was born in Málaga, Spain but spent most of his adult life in France which had been the art capital of the world since the late 17th century. Leading the art movements of the day he became one of the most famous artists of all time and his works still bring extraordinary prices at auction. As communications move faster and faster, just think, Picasso was alive when the radio was invented at the end of the 19th century and today we can get auction results in real time. The headline from The Art News Paper was “Multi-Billion-Dollar Picasso Show heads to the Beyeler”.   My first reaction was what hyperbole, what show is worth billions?  Well, remember, these days it only takes 9 or 10 Picassos to reach those figures!

In my opinion, great artists first learn how to draw and then add their own inspiration but that is not always considered true today.  In Picasso’s case there was no choice.  At 13 he attended the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, where his father, also an artist, taught.  In 1897, he began his studies at Madrid's Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which was Spain's top art academy at the time.  By the beginning of the 20th century he was developing his own style. This is one of my favorite periods of his work and it is the subject of the current exhibition at the Beyler Foundation.

The art dealer Ernst Beyeler (1921-2010) and, his wife, Hilda Kunz (1921-2008), created the Beyeler Foundation in 1982.  They commissioned Renzo Piano to build the museum in Basel, which opened in 2007.  Its purpose was to display the Beyelers’ private collection of established modern works as well as their tribal collection   Exhibitions are done putting the collections in context.  Interestingly, the Beyeler has no Picassos from either the Blue or Rose periods. The earliest Picasso in the collection is a sketch for Demoiselles d’Avignon.

I dimly remember first seeing Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art as a small boy and being a bit confused by it.  I am sure I reacted the same way other art lovers looked at this painting in 1907, whose style they were not prepared for.  Of course, because of its original title The Brothel of Avignon it was at first seen as salacious, but I was not into that at the age of 7!

Before 1907 Picasso’s work had been far more naturalistic.  The Harlequin character from the Italian commedia dell'arte was a favorite Picasso figure during his Blue Period of 1901-1904.  Here is a great one in the Beyeler exhibition done in 1901 when Picasso was just 20 years old. It was lent by the Metropolitan Museum, so I was well acquainted with it.

Another Blue Period work in the show is La Vie (Life), 1903 from the Cleveland Museum.  According to the Cleveland Museum website, “In 1901, depressed over the suicide of a close friend, Picasso launched into the melancholic paintings of his Blue Period… restricted his palette to cold colors suggestive of night, mystery, dreams, and death.”  The limited palette may also have been because he could not yet afford more interesting and expensive colors.  The picture has been interpreted in various ways and with this information I will let you make up your own minds as to it meaning.

To show how wide the Beyeler has cast its net, this is a picture I have never seen before, a painting lent by the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.  It is also from 1901 and called “Arlequin et son Compagne” (Harlequin and his Companion). It does not look like this date is going well!

Looking at the Rose Period paintings just a few years later (1904-1906) we see   Picasso sticks with the theme.  There is The Seated Harlequin of 1905 where the unsmiling performer looks out from a red background lent by the Berggruen Museum. This museum is one of the National Galleries of Berlin which houses the collection of another art dealer in modern masters, Heinz Berggruen.

My final image is The Nude Young Woman on a red background dated 1906, one year before Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.  You can already see the new direction in which Picasso’s approach to the figure is going. This was lent by the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Museums like to lend for exhibitions that further the history of art and bring works of art together that will enhance our understanding of the artist. Even so Blue and Rose period Picassos are rarely lent but the Beyeler succeeded with this show that is truly a blockbuster!

Bringing you this Missive was not as simple as most.  After several emails with the Foundation and their Legal department I had to apply to ProLitteris Bildrecht, the Swiss equivalent of The American Artists Rights Society to whom they forwarded my request.  After being questioned as to what my motives were and I finally convinced all that my blog was pro bono and like a review, then more discussions between the Artists Rights Society and the Foundation’s legal department the way was finally cleared for me to use the press images above.

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