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Updated: Apr 6, 2020



25 JANUARY - 13 APRIL 2020

Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait, 1918
Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait, 1918


Paper plates. Paper pants. Paper roses. Paper hat. Paper tiger. Paper thin. Putting paper in a phrase or title is a sure-fire way to manage expectations, to signal what’s coming up is back of the drawer rather than top drawer. And this is what I thought the Royal Academy were doing with Picasso And Paper: telling us that all the prime Picassos were spoken for, but after a shake down of gallery store rooms, enough preparatory drawings, cartoons, sketches and notebooks had been assembled to make a passable exhibition.

But before setting eyes on the works, the numbers told another story. Four and a half years in the making, over 350 pieces of art, three major institutions - the RA, Cleveland Museum of Art and Musee Picasso - involved, this was no store-room spring clean, this was a blockbuster.

Picasso And Paper, takes you through Picasso’s entire career on the wings of a paper dove. And the curation is so spot on, works that I thought were impossible to really see because their reproductions are so ubiquitous - Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and Guernica (1937) - are presented in a new context.

Seeing how Picasso Rose Period drawings of circus performers, with their energy and sense of 3D motion, developed into Les Demoiselles, is like having your jaded soul finely misted and rubbed clean with a soft cloth. It really is seeing the oh-so-familiar for the very first time. Similarly the works on paper that lead up to Guernica, including the first use of a newspaper in a painting: Glass, Bottle and Wine of 1912, and the artist’s drawing of a raised hand on a newspaper, encapsulating his support for the republican cause, let me see the Spanish Civil War and anti-war icon that is Guernica in a new light.

Tate Modern’s concurrent Dora Maar exhibition (until 15 March) reveals Maar photographed the creation of Guernica over 24 days in May and June 1937, for art journal Cahiers d’art. Picasso actively collaborating in the documenting of his artistic process, by one of his lovers and member of his artistic circle, adds another layer of autobiographical steering to how his output is interpreted. It’s as if he wanted to give curators of the future a head start when they came to assemble the paper trails of his life.

The gigantic, primary coloured Femmes a Leur Toilette of 1937, a wall -sized, wallpaper collage which has not been exhibited for 50 years is another revelation. Once again, my mental Picasso library was being rapidly restocked.

The part of the exhibition which is causing the most disquiet is the Minotaur sequence, a theme Picasso exploded in the mid-1930s and then returned to in the late Fifties. Leaving aside the Durer like quality of the printmaking with its web of lines playing with light and dark, it can be hard to know what to make of this bull headed creature who is at times being caressed by the female figure in the works, and at times physically bearing down in them. Personally, I opted for the tender interpretation, as the minotaur trapped in his outcast body appears eternally constrained and marginalised, forced back on brute strength because no other emotional expression is permitted.

Dumb, but hyper expressive animals continue in Picasso’s output during the Second World War. Goats, sheep, and their human keepers, symbolise both the sacrifice inherent in war, and the persistence of humanity. Wartime shortages led the artist to work with napkins, and scraps of any material he could lay his hands on.

By the 1950s Picasso is returning to the masters, and the RA have titled this sequence Encounters with Delacroix and Manet. Picasso had always been mindful of the painters who had gone before him, however playful or subversive he had been with their forms, methods and concerns. He produced 80 drawings of Delacroix’ Les Femmes d’Algiers’ in two months. Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’Herbe of 1853, that we all know from placemats and fridge magnets, is reconstructed as a jumble of limbs. In the previous room, the artist’s devotion to monumental classical figures, all huge heads and feet, with hair ‘sculpted’ by the wrong end of the paintbrush is given full reign.

Picasso on Paper is strongly rooted in place and chronology, so on one level the development of the artist’s work is wonderfully comprehensible. But on another, this magnificent exhibition severs so many preconceptions of what Picasso’s output contained, it’s like finding yourself in another artistic dimension, with so much to learn.

Top left to right: Pablo Picasso, Bust of Woman or Sailor (Study for 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'), Paris, spring 1907; Pablo Picasso, Seated Woman (Dora), 1938; Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, Mougins, 4 December 1962

Bottom left to right: Pablo Picasso, Femmes à leur toilette, Paris, winter 1937–38; Pablo Picasso, Violin, Paris, autumn 1912; Pablo Picasso, ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ after Manet, I, Mougins, 26 January–13 March 1962


As the title suggests, Picasso and Paper takes “paper” as the theme in this extensive exhibition of the great artist’s work over his entire 80-year career. Picasso used a variety of paper from wrapping and wallpaper to antique and Japanese paper. His techniques included printmaking, ink and wash, collage and cut-outs. As a theme this is a unique handle to exhibiting “Picasso” which after all, is a well-trod path in the gallery circuit. Picasso and Paper brings unseen pieces from private collections including hundreds of sketches showing the artist’s methods as well as tapping into the Musee national Picasso-Paris. With over three hundred pieces and plenty of accompanying text and displays, this exhibition requires some time to work through. It’s certainly worth setting aside a few hours.

Born in Malaga, Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973) came from an artistic family. His father was an artist and tutor and Picasso began his own studies at the School of Fine Arts in La Coruna at the tender age of eleven where he excelled. It is clear to see from the exhibition that he was industrious until the end. He was forever sketching in books and fine-tuning his paintings.

Picasso and Paper moves chronologically through Picasso’s artistic periods, namely his famous Blue and Rose period, Les Demoiselles D’Avignon paintings, Cubism, Neo-classical collaborations with Cocteau and Satie, Guernica culminating in WWII, a homage to the masters - Delacroix and Manet -and his final obsession with mortality. His versatility and originality are quite breath-taking. Seeing so much “Picasso” in one setting provides a rare overview of the history of twentieth century Western art. He embraced movements although, it must be said, his own inimitable style was a solo force.

Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes, summer 1946.
Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes, summer 1946.

It is quite impossible to write about Picasso with mentioning his muses. Picasso and Paper includes striking portraits of the women in his life some tender and sublime, others crude and critical. The tender photographic Portrait of Fernande Olivier in the Studio of Sculptor Pinazo c1908 is replicated with bulging curved lines in Study for Head of a Woman (Fernande), Horta de Ebro 1909. Visage (Face of Marie-Therese) 1928 is a finely sketched portrait of Mari-Therese Walter exhibited adjacent to the bulbous sculpture, Head of Marie-Therese 1933. The beautiful black and white photograph Seated Woman (Dora) 1938, is placed beside a distorted gelatin silver print of Dora Maar.

Although Picasso could paint in flattering classical styles, he favoured the abstract. His most renowned nudes are contorted and disassembled: Les Femmes d’Algiers after Delacroix 1955 and Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe after Manet 1960. And then there is the wonderful abstract of his second wife Jacqueline Roque (she was 26 years old when they met; he was 72) - Reclining Nude Woman 1955.

There are plenty of female nudes and portraits throughout the exhibition worth seeking out: Nude with Necklace 1968, the studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 including Bust of Woman or Sailor (Study for 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon'), 1907. Of course, Nude with Raised Arms (Study for Le Demoiselles d’Avignon) Paris 1907 deserves a mention, not least for Picasso’s reverence for African art.

Another mention, particular to this exhibition is Picasso's methods. In Picasso and Paper, the sketchbooks, a must for any working artist, show the artist's practice and just how industrious he was. Check out the charcoal on Ingres paper Sketchbook study: head of a Woman (Paris) 1922 and Sketchbook study for ‘The Harem’ Gosol 1906 in pencil, ink and gouache on wove paper. And so, before leaving the galleries, it is worth watching Le Mystere Picasso 1955-56 by Henri-Georges Clouzot who uses stop-action and time-lapse photography to bring Picasso’s method of painting to life. With so much more to highlight, not least Picasso’s landscapes, his self-portraits, his male nudes and Guernica, Picasso and Paper is a must for Londoners and visitors during 2020.

Exhibition Tour Royal Academy of Arts, London 25 January – 13 April 2020

The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio 24 May – 23 August 2020

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BD

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Notes: Lead Supporter City of Malaga

All artworks by Pablo Picasso unless otherwise stated.

Seated Woman (Dora), 1938. Ink, gouache and coloured chalk on paper, 76.5 x 56 cm. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/

Basel, Beyeler Collection. Photo: Peter Schibli. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Self-portrait, [Montrouge],1918. Pencil and charcoal on wove

paper, 64.2 x 49.4 cm. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP794. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national

Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Michel Sima, Pablo Picasso drawing in Antibes,1946. Black-and-white

photograph. Photo © Michel Sima / Bridgeman Images. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Violin, Paris, autumn 1912. Laid paper, wallpaper,

newspaper, wove wrapping paper and glazed black wove paper, cut and pasted onto cardboard, with pencil and charcoal, 65 x 50 cm. Musée

national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP367. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Mathieu Rabeau.

© Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Femmes à leur toilette, Paris, winter 1937–38. Collage of cut-out wallpapers with gouache on paper pasted

onto canvas, 299 x 448 cm. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP176. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée national

Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Bust of Woman or Sailor (Study for ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’), Paris,

spring 1907. Oil on cardboard, 53.5 x 36.2 cm. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP15. Photo © RMN-Grand

Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Adrien Didierjean. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; Head of a Woman, Mougins, 4 December 1962.

Pencil on cut and folded wove paper, 42 x 26.5 cm. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP1850. Photo © RMNGrand

Palais (Musée national Picasso-Paris) / Béatrice Hatala. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020; ‘Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe’ after Manet, I,

Mougins, 26 January – 13 March 1962. Linocut, fifth state. Artist's proof on Arches wove paper, printed in six passes in purple, yellow, red, green,

blue and black, 62 x 75.2 cm. Musée national Picasso-Paris. Pablo Picasso gift in lieu, 1979. MP3488. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée

national Picasso-Paris) / Marine Beck-Coppola. © Succession Picasso/DACS 2020


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