Another Picasso exhibition? Yes, but Picasso’s oeuvre is so rich and varied, and taking inspiration from such diverse influences that every exhibition I see is absorbing – whether focused on his legacy (Picasso & Modern British Art, Tate Britain, 2012), looking at the influences of the old masters (Picasso and the Masters, Grand Palais, 2008-09), or the use of black and white in his paintings (Picasso Black and White, Guggenheim, 2012-13).
The Courtauld gallery chose to show his work from 1901, the year that the young Picasso, aged 19, launched his career in Paris with an exhibition with Ambroise Vollard. Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939) was a legendary art dealer and talent discoverer who mounted exhibitions for Manet, Degas, Renoir, Gauguin and Van Gogh. I had read his charming autobiography ‘Recollections of a Picture Dealer’ and so was surprised to learn that Picasso was already exhibiting with Vollard at such a young age.
Maybe Picasso’s genius is to take inspiration from other artists and push it to the next level. The influence of Toulouse Lautrec and Degas is clear in his paintings of dancers. In ‘French Cancan’, I could perceive Toulouse Lautrec in the depiction of faces and Degas in the treatment of dancers. Picasso’s then style was for vivid colours and energetic and stressed brushstrokes. One exception in the first room is ‘Spanish woman’, painted in pastel shades, which I loved, although the piece is nothing like a Picasso. The ‘Evocation or The Burial of Casagemas’ instantly brings to mind El Greco in terms of colours and composition.
‘The Mother’ in the second room represents a shift towards Picasso’s Blue period. There are still vivid colours but the women is outlined with angular features, which reminded me the laundress in ‘Woman Ironing’ (Guggenheim, 1904). I wonder if blue was the colour of sorrow for Picasso. Mourners in his Evocation piece are dressed in blue. His Seated Harlequin is painted in blue tones with a white face and ruffs – the attributes of Pierrot, the melancholic clown.
The Courtauld exhibition is tiny as the gallery has only two rooms for temporary exhibitions, but nevertheless it is a prime survey of Picasso’s early works. His Self portrait ‘Yo, Picasso’ shows the artist confident and happy with his status of painter. The orange tones and heavy brushstrokes in ‘Yo, Picasso’ offered no clue as to the direction of Picasso’s next artistic phase – i.e. the blue period. It is said that the suicide of his close friend, Casagemas, triggered Picasso’s Blue period. Until May 27.