I was a little worried on my way to Musée d’Orsay, to find a very flashy exhibition of well known Picasso paintings, for “The” show of the fall in Paris, “Picasso, blue and pink”, has been announced with trumpets for a while. Instead, I discovered the most refined and varied group of chefs d’oeuvre, mostly from the blue period, painted by the master (1881-1973) in Paris and Barcelona between 1900 and 1906 when he was barely 25.
The precocious genius arrived at Gare d’Orsay, the former site of the museum, to represent Spain at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. And he came back often after Ambroise Vollard invited him to exhibit in his gallery in the summer of 1901 while he had a studio in boulevard de Clichy. He frantically painted 64 works for the show.
The exhibition tells the story of a group of friends who used to meet at Els Quatre Gats, a cabaret in Barcelona, and the evolution of Picasso’s style from classical painting in Spain into describing typical Parisian scenes over six years. His friendship with the painter Carlos Casagemas,who killed himself in Montmartre, will lead him to paint the first beautiful portraits in blue. His observation of the ladies in the Saint Lazare hospital, most often prostitues with children, generated some of his greatest maternity scenes.
One of the most striking figures of the time is “La Soupe” which reminds me of a Japanese lady in a devoted attitude. “L’enfant au pigeon” is in a private collection: it represents the first intimate scenes for Picasso. He was apparently struck by the way Parisians took care of their babies.
After the amazing room devoted to the Vollard exhibition, which includes some of the most beautiful paintings of the show, and a portrait of the critic Gustave Coquiot, who wrote the introduction to the catalog, many self portraits and the theme of Arlequin compete with dark women and family themes including the large family portrait of his tailor Soler who gave him a whole new wardrobe in exchange.
Out of 300 works shown here, there are 150 drawings which give a nice tempo to the hanging and are particularly interesting, especially those lent by the Museum Picasso Barcelona.
It was very ironical to run into Catherine Millet, the author of “The sexual life of Catherine M.” in a little room with erotic drawings of which “le Maquereau” (mackerel, a pond on the word pimp in French) was my favorite. There Picasso mixes the themes of love and death which he will develop during his whole life.
Influenced by Van Gogh and Toulouse Lautrec’s colored palette, Picasso will slowly turn to monochromatic blues and pinks. The show tries to tell us how influenced he was by the XIX th century even though he became the greatest XX th century artist.
In 1904, he moves to the Bateau-Lavoir, the studio in Montmartre where many artists worked. Poets such as Apollinaire and Max Jacob are among his admirers and initiate him to poetry. He is just 23.
There are many surprises in this show, and “Les Trois Hollandaises”, which he painted in 1905 while visiting the Netherlands is one of them. Traditional costumes and new colors appear. Later he will spend the summers in Gosol, in the Catalan Pyrénées, and change his color schemes from pinks to ochre. He is then influenced by Ingres and encouraged by Gertrude Stein.
“The young boy and dog” is also an extraordinary painting painted with gouache and pastel. I wish I could all show them here, for they are so diversified. “La Fillette”, holding a basket with red flowers was bought by Gertrude Stein who eventually sold it to David Rockefeller and it was acquired by the present owner last May, in New York.
The work done by the four curators, Claire Bernardi from Orsay, Laurent Le Bon, Stéphanie Mollis and Emilia Philippot from the Picasso museum is exceptional. Barcelona has lent fantastic works as did the Pushkin museum in Moscow.
There are many lectures and special visits organized until December at Musée d’Orsay which is open late every Thursday night. And booking a special event might be the only way to visit the show since there are already 8 000 visitors a day after one week… (Until January 6, 2019)
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