FEATURE image: Picasso, Bust of a Woman, late 1909, Watercolor and gouache on cream laid paper, laid down on buff laid paper, 363 x 278 mm overall. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Armory Show, International Exhibition of Modern Art. The Cubist room, Gallery 53 (northeast view), Art Institute of Chicago, March 24–April 16, 1913. On the long wall are three of seven Picasso artworks included in that landmark exhibition. None are in “Picasso and Chicago” in 2013.
By John P. Walsh.
Almost as long as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was making his art, there have been bragging rights on the Catalan artist that have come from others. Even 40 years after the artist’s death at 91 years old, media talk in 2013 for Picasso and Chicago, a large art exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago from February 20 to May 12, 2013, revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso.
Which institution collected Picasso first? The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution collected Picasso most? The Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930.
Which institution had the first Picasso exhibition? The Arts Club of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution had the first Picasso retrospective? The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut in 1934.
The Art Institute of Chicago is able to put imagination aside and quote itself in Picasso and Chicago. Nearly all of the same inventory of Picasso artwork in this 2013 show were assembled and displayed in the exact same order in a previous exhibition at the museum called Picasso in Chicago held from February 3 to March 31, 1968. According to the museum director writing at that time, that exhibition had been inspired by the dedication of the Picasso sculpture on August 15, 1967, a five-story Cor-10 steel Chicago icon that still stands enigimatically in Daley Plaza. If public attention is what Pablo Picasso craves, then he should have no worries.
In the summer of 1906, during a working sojourn to Gósol in the Spanish Pyrenees, Picasso painted his mistress and muse, Fernande Olivier (French, 1881-1966).
Image above and below: Pablo Picasso, Nude with a Pitcher (detail).
Fernande Olivier and Pablo Picasso in 1905 in Paris.
The pairs of figures are related by both being involved in intimate activities, but represent two different subjects Picasso studied months apart. One dates from 1905 and the other from 1906. The pair on the right is a study for a major painting, La Coiffure, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
There are several excellent reasons to see Picasso and Chicago in 2013 and they don’t always revolve around his art. It is a matter for city pride to know that Chicago possesses within its own collections the breadth of art resources to showcase, in chronological order, this Picasso show comprehensive of every major period. In these tight economic times kudos goes out to museum curators who have effectively displayed a vast amount and range of artwork by Pablo Picasso to produce a blockbuster show. The chronological exhibition of Picasso’s art includes works from The Art Institute of Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society and is front loaded providing for immediate pleasures.
The visitor is greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903-1904—a revered Blue Period painting in the Art Institute—and for the viewer to be edified by its presence is worth any exhibition’s admission price though there was no special exhibition fee beyond the price of general admission to the museum.
If front-loaded, does the rest of the show retain the same high interest? The answer is: yes and no. For all future Picasso shows in Chicago, curators can find several avenues to whittle away at the volume of artwork on display for Picasso and Chicago to present its most interesting parts. That downsizing opportunity intimates this show’s arguable shortcoming: as it displays the Spanish master’s later, increasingly commercial artwork, the Art Institute of Chicago’s 500 Picasso works in all mediums begins to reveal the challenges of building a seamlessly qualitative collection of contemporary art even when the artist is Picasso.
In late May 1901 Picasso came to Paris with three weeks to prepare for an exhibition at Vollard’s gallery. The exhibition was arranged by a Catalan dealer who roomed with the 19-year-old Picasso on the Boulevard de Clichy. Crazy Woman with Cats is one of the 64 paintings and several drawings Picasso prepared for the show.
Robert Allerton, a museum trustee since 1918, began to acquire Picasso drawings in 1923 with the sole purpose of donating them to the museum. Sketch of a young woman was Allerton’s first Picasso drawing purchase and museum donation in 1923 purchased in Chicago from Albert Roullier Galleries.
By the end of 1906 Picasso stopped painting and instead started to fill sketchbooks for a new major composition: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) today in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Picasso, Two Nudes, Standing, fall 1906 Graphite, with stumping, on cream laid paper (detail).
In the early 1920’s as Chicago started a buying frenzy of Picasso, another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983).
Miró’s criticism of Picasso as well as of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)— it was more a kind of disgust—was basically that the pair, once young avant-gardists, were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, the older artists were making contemporary art mainly for the money. Such may be an inherent risk in making art that meets a market demand in that the artist is tempted to, after a fashion, sell-out. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him basically correct—that the future of contemporary painting no longer rested in Picasso’s hands after about 1920. This is partly the reason why Miró turned to the “nonsense” art of the Dadaists for the future of his own painting.
Keeping Miro’s judgment in one’s mind at Picasso and Chicago one sees that, notable exceptions made, an earlier Picasso painting—from the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers cohesive artwork that contains a germ or seed of progress. The art collection in Picasso and Chicago, much of it produced following Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso, shares his problematic.
The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never incompetent or boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which satisfy and cleanse an art-hungry eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso connotes a stroll in Paris or feeling a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along some Mediterranean coast. Quite readily the show produced these kinds of vicarious experiences for me as i soaked up a plethora of Picasso’s later, lesser work in utilitarian Regenstein Hall.
Just before leaving Paris in September 1920, Picasso made a series of drawings of the Greek myth of the abduction of Hercules’ bride Deianira by the centaur Nessus. With this, Picasso became fascinated with Greek mythology and continued to make artwork using its themes.
Paintings and drawings by Picasso in winter 1909-10 continued to explore Cubism as it related to the human face and figure and its surroundings.
The painting (at left) of a Head of a Woman is one of the early Cubist artworks in “Picasso and Chicago.”
This painting dates to one of the most productive and inventive periods of Pablo Picasso’s career, a summer stay in the town of Horta de Ebro (now Horta de San Juan) in Spain, which lasted, with minor interruptions, from May to September of 1909. In these months, Picasso produced a series of landscapes, heads, and still lifes that are among the most highly acclaimed achievements of early Cubism. Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s mistress, was the model for the series of heads that the artist produced at this time.
This work is Pablo Picasso’s first large Cubist sculpture and represents the distinctive physiognomy of Fernande Olivier, who was the artist’s model and mistress from 1905 to 1912. Before making the bust, Picasso produced countless drawings and gouaches to explore the specific form and structure of his subject’s facial features. Her hair is in a coil and a topknot; her bulging jaw; her well-defined depression in the center of her upper lip. The Fernande series’ evolved from an agility of facial expression to fixed signs of its individual features.
German-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) opened an art gallery in Paris in 1907. In 1908 Kahnweiler began representing Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and introduced him to Georges Braque (1882-1963). Kahnweiler championed these artists’ revolutionary experiment with Cubism and purchased most of their paintings between 1908 and 1915. Kahnweiler sat for Picasso up to thirty times for this portrait.
Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso, 1908.
Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) in Picasso’s Montrouge studio, spring 1918. Olga married Picasso on July 12, 1918, at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris. On February 4, 1921, she gave birth to their son Paulo (1921-1975). After that, Olga and Picasso’s relationship deteriorated though they never divorced. Olga died in Cannes in 1955.
See article in Architectural Digest by Nick Mafi dated July 28, 2020 on the recent discovery associated with the Picasso painting above. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/famed-pablo-picasso-painting-reveals-abandoned-artwork-beneath
Picasso, Still Life, February 4, 1922, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 39 5/8 in. (81.6 x 100.3 cm), Dated, u.l.: “4-2-22-.” Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1953. Picasso produced a series of Cubist still lifes in 1922 that are simplified to flat planes in a patterned framework. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) bought this canvas in 1923 to add to her collection of more than 30 Picasso paintings and even more of his drawings and watercolors. This still life was Stein’s last purchase of a painting by Picasso.
In late summer and fall of 1932, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter (French, 1909-1977), the artist’s mistress from 1927 to 1935, were together in Boisgeloup. Picasso made three drawings on the same day on a theme of lovers serenading one another.
Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso. Their relationship began when she was seventeen and Picasso was 45 years old and married to Olga Khokhlova.
Picasso transforms the bullfighting theme where the half-man and half-bull Minotaur is the aggressor in the ring terrorizing a horse.
Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) met Picasso in 1936 at the Café des Deux Magots in Paris. Her liaison with Picasso ended in 1943.
About making portraits of his mistress Dora Maar weeping, Picasso explained: “For years, I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism and not through pleasure either – just obeying a vision that forced himself on me.” At the end of their relationship Picasso confessed, “I can only see her weeping.”
Gilot was lover and muse to Picasso from 1943 to 1953. In the early 1990s I met Françoise Gilot accompanied by her husband, Jonas Sauk (1914-1995), when she was the featured speaker at the Alliance Française in Chicago. That evening Gilot made it perfectly clear upfront that she was not going to talk about Picasso.
Jacqueline Roque was muse and second wife of Pablo Picasso. Their marriage lasted 11 years until his death, during which time he created over 400 portraits of her, more than any of Picasso’s other loves.
Picasso and Jacqueline, his second wife. Pablo Picasso met Jacqueline Roque (1927-1986) in 1953 when she was 26 years old and he was 72. He romanced her until she agreed to date him. Only in 1955, when Picasso’s first wife Olga Khokhlova died, did Picasso decide to marry Jacqueline in Vallauris in 1961. They were married until Picasso’s death in 1973.
There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics—and only begins to manifest the prodigious genius of Pablo Picasso.
Picasso and Chicago may have closed, but many, if not most, of these works in Chicago’s cultural institutions and private collections can be savored with the simplicity of a museum visit. A visitor can do no better than visit The Art Institute of Chicago and see Picasso’s The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair. By that begins one’s own new adventure of absorption of the Spanish master’s artwork whose home is Chicago. The 2013 show is over but more than a few of its best parts are on display right now in these institutions’ permanent collections.
Miró, Janis Mink, Taschen, 2006.
Je suis Le Cahier: The Sketchbooks of Picasso, 1986, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Verona, Italy.
Picasso and Chicago 100 years, 100 works, Stephanie D’Alessandro, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2013.
Picasso in Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1968.
An exhibition is a show, after all. So while it may not always be the most academic of approaches, such is mounted in such a manner as to be appealing on many different levels to myriad people.
I think that the “front loading” perspective which you describe give “the people” what they want. And from there, those with more or deeper interest in the subject at hand may explore or delve further. I think that it might not always be the most scholarly of approaches. But the ambition of a public show is to both educate and enlighten. Sometimes, especially in these contemporary times of instant gratification and shorter attention spans, one has to hit the general public quickly and big. Otherwise, well, most people won’t explore more or even attend perhaps. Again, an exhibition is a show.
And there are elements of both business and showmanship involved in mounting one. If a show is difficult to penetrate for the masses, most people won’t even bother to explore further, A “front loaded” show can appear to be somewhat simplistic or superficial to those with greater interest or insight. But such exhibitions aren’t mounted only for those persons. The mission is also to draw in others who may not have the level of insight or educated eye to piece together a more complexly and academically-mounted show.
In a sense, its not dissimilar to one who plans a trip (after all, a great art show is a journey). One doesn’t always start with the most obscure and obtuse reference when taking a trip to Paris, let’s say. Not especially when one is trying to persuade someone to love the place or to be seduced by its charms. While it seems 101 to some more advanced or seasoned “travelers”, there is something to be said about the itinerary which begins, in the Paris example, with an easily seductive first day or hitting the Eiffel Tower, driving by the Louvre and taking in a wonderful café. Nothing wrong with getting someone to know why s/he ought to then delve more deeply into Parisian culture – one day perhaps causing them to beg you to take them to that obscure museum hidden away in the midst of all the obvious showstoppers.