Major Picasso Show Highlights Early Works

Visitors to Fondation Beyeler’s exhibition The Young Picasso—Blue and Rose Periods, stand in front of Fillette à la corbeille fleurie

Visitors to Fondation Beyeler’s exhibition The Young Picasso—Blue and Rose Periods, stand in front of Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905).
PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY/Meridian Writers’ Group

THE WORKS OF Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) from his early years in Madrid and Paris, popularized by poster printers and pinned up on the walls of millions of student bedrooms, are now among the most valued of his entire oeuvre.

An exhibition highlighting those years, The Young Picasso—Blue and Rose Periods, is at Basel’s Fondation Beyeler from 3 February to 16 June (extended from 26 May) 2019. It is the largest show the art museum has ever mounted, presenting over 70 works from 1901 to 1907, gathered from 41 museums and private collectors in 13 countries. Some of the Blue and Rose works haven’t been seen in public for decades and are unlikely to be hung together again for the foreseeable future.

The exhibition opens with early works from 1901, portraits from Paris’s belle époque surprisingly full of vibrant colour and influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec and others, such as L’Attente (Margot) (1901). But by the end of that summer Picasso’s work had turned more sombre, beginning with Casagemas dans son cercueil (1901), showing the corpse of his friend Carles Casagemas, companion on his first trip to Paris, who had now committed suicide.

Picasso’s sorrow drained the colour from his palette, with blue monochrome becoming predominant in his portraits of the underclasses of Paris and Barcelona: prostitutes, prisoners, and the simply poor. The melancholy nature of such paintings as Le Repas de l’aveugle (1903) was risky for an as yet unrecognized artist on the verge of destitution himself, frequently painting over earlier works for lack of the price of new materials. But they also represented Picasso’s personal development, and the emergence of a strong personal style. “I was a painter,” he said of these years, “and became Picasso.”

When Picasso permanently relocated to Paris in 1904, using his mistresses as models and eventually setting up home with his first long-term live-in lover, Fernande Olivier, his palette warmed again, although rose never dominated in the Rose Period in the way of blue in the previous one. Femme de l’île de Majorque (1905), for example, is more browns and lingering blue.

The subjects also included figures from commedia dell’arte such as Harlequin, and families of circus performers, but the tone remains sombre, as seen in Famille de saltimbanques avec un singe and Arlequin assis sur fond rouge (both 1905). These images are not about greasepaint and glamour, but are of private, backstage, family moments in threadbare lives.

The purchase of 20 of these works in May 1904 by Parisian art dealer Ambroise Vollard set Picasso up comfortably and helped finance his turn to Primitivism, the reduction of the human form to simple geometric volumes and finally Cubism itself. (The show culminates in a 1907 study for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the painting that launched Cubism.)

Fondation Beyeler’s founders, art dealers Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, not only sold Picasso’s works, but collected more than 30 of them. They too are on display. When the Blue and Rose exhibition isn’t on, the gallery also has room for its works by Monet, Cézanne, Warhol, Pollock, Francis Bacon and others.



For more information on Fondation Beyeler visit its website at www.fondationbeyeler.ch.

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