Picasso's Passions

by Andrew Elias

THE Naples Museum of Art brings the first major exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s works to southwest Florida January 29-May 18. Perhaps the greatest artist of the 20th century, Picasso was a part of every important art movement of the century, from cubism and dadaism to abstract impressionism and pop art.

The exhibition, ‘Pablo Picasso: Preoccupations and Passions’, looks at his portraits and still lifes and includes oil paintings, watercolors, prints, sculpture and ceramics as it explores themes that he revisited throughout his life, from harlequins and minotaurs to music and even seafood.

I asked the Museum’s Director of Curatorial Affairs, David Setford a few questions about the upcoming Picasso exhibition.

Andrew Elias: Why is Picasso important?

David Setford: Picasso was so important in that he was the harbinger of so many movements in twentieth century art, not just cubism. He blazed trails for others to follow, not just stylistically, but also in terms of the artist’s image. In my opinion he was the greatest artist (not necessarily painter) of the twentieth century.

Why should art lovers in Fort Myers be excited about this particular exhibition, the first major Picasso show in southwest Florida?

Well, he really merits it. You can’t escape his influence, even today, 100 years after Cubism was born. You can trace the beginnings of so many of the major movements of the twentieth century to Picasso: abstract expressionism, minimalism, pop, to name but three. Plus these exhibitions happen very infrequently, and will become more and more infrequent as transport and insurance costs keep getting higher and higher. Even today, such an opportunity is very infrequent outside the major art centers.

Which famous, and not so famous, works are included in this exhibition?

There will be about 63 works in the exhibition. We tend to think of Picasso in terms of ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ and ‘Guernica’ — and of course these no longer travel. However, one of the truly wonderful things about shows like these, which examine real themes, is that we get to show off other museums’ lesser known masterpieces! In this exhibition, there are major paintings and sculptures from the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, the Museum of Modern Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to name just a few.

Which periods of his life and career are represented in this exhibition?

The exhibition covers all periods of Picasso’s career, with the exception of his boyhood. There are works from the early 1900s, all the way through to the late 1960s. However, the exhibition is not conceived chronologically, it is conceived in terms of some of the important recurring themes in Picasso’s art.

One of Picasso’s preoccupations was with harlequins. Noted Picasso biographer, John Richardson, has said that Picasso often used harlequins as self-representational. How did Picasso use harlequins (and jesters, clowns and minotaurs) to express himself throughout different times in his life and career?

One of the interesting things that will emerge to the viewer in this show is that in many of these themes, Picasso expressed aspects of his own character. He painted poor harlequins and circus performers when he himself was experiencing similar poverty, and they became expressions of his inner psyche. He painted and etched wild and lusty minotaurs and fauns to express that side of his character. The old musketeers and cavaliers he depicted in the 1960s showed him coming to terms with his own age, as well as trying to establish himself on the same stage as Velazquez, Rembrandt and Goya.

Picasso rarely painted self-portraits, but he treated his work as a diary, and as such, you can see aspects of his life and character in most of the works in this exhibition.

Richardson also has said that his portraits of his wife Olga were often exorcisms. Which portraits of Olga Khoklava are in this exhibition — and how do they change over time. And which portraits of his mistress, Marie-Therese Walter are featured?

There are a great many depictions of the women in Picasso’s life in this exhibition. As I have mentioned, Picasso repeatedly said he treated his work as a sort of diary, so what more natural thing than to repeatedly portray the woman in his life? Most of his female companions are featured in this exhibition, from Fernande Oliver, his first real love, to his second wife, Jacqueline Roque, who was looking after him when he died.

As for Olga, it is probably Olga that Picasso refers to in the frightening ‘Composition’, from 1927. It is said that her continual demands and tirades (she was very conventional and aspired to be much more bourgeois than Picasso ever did) led to him portraying her as a surreal monster with vicious teeth. In the early days of their love, however, he had painted her in a beautiful neo-classical style.

As far as Marie-Therese Walter is concerned, she can be seen in many of the classically beautiful and sexy images of women in the ‘Vollard Suite’ of etchings from the early 1930s.

Which works are a testament to Picasso’s passion for foods?

There are three major images of food in this exhibition, all to do with seafood, and from later in Picasso’s career: two plates (‘Four Polychromed Fish’, from 1947 and ‘Mains et Poisson’ (‘Hands with Fish’), from 1953), and an etching (‘Le Homard’ (‘The Lobster’), from 1945. Seafood was of course a passion, with no shortage of it when he lived in and around Cannes.

One of Picasso’s preoccupations and passions was also magic. Where will viewers see magic in Picasso’s art?

Magic is hard to show in a painting! It is said that Picasso was involved with the occult and the mystical. When he projects himself into the body of a faun or a minotaur, you could say that’s magical, like slipping in and out of Narnia, or Hogwarts! He effortlessly creates another dimension where things are oddly familiar but yet very different — that also seems pretty magical, or mystical. Real life is viewed through the filter of sex, or of death, or emotion, and something new and mysterious results. In that way, he is definitely a magician.

Picasso was influenced by Cezanne and Braque and other contemporaries. Which works in the exhibition most show these influences?

Picasso once said Cezanne was his one and only master. He showed Picasso and Braque how to look beneath the surface at underlying geometric formations, an influence you can see in all the cubist works in this exhibition.

Can you tell us a bit about Rosamond Berneirs’ lecture, ‘Picasso: An Andalusian in Paris’?

I would not want to spoil Rosamond’s lecture. Suffice it to say that she knew Picasso, and many other leading twentieth century masters, when she was in Paris as founder and editor of L’Oeil. I think I can give away that part of what she will do is look at some of the places where Picasso lived as a stranger Paris, and how they influenced his art. It’s really fascinating. If you want more than that, come to the lecture!

Pablo Picasso: Preoccupations and Passions’ will be on view at the Naples Museum of Art January 29-May 18. The Museum is located at 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd, in Naples, Hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10am-4pm, Sundays noon-4pm, closed Mondays. Free docent-guided tours are offered Tuesday-Saturday at 11am & 2pm.

Rosamond Bernie’s lecture, ‘Picasso: An Andalusian in Paris’, is February 2 at 10am in Hayes Hall at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts in Naples.

Call 597-1900 for more information.

from the January-February 2008 issue

'Au Cafe'
(1901–- pastel on cardboard)

Naples Museum of Art
5833 Pelican Bay Blvd.

Tue-Sat 10am-4pm & Sun 12-4pm

'La Guitare'
(1917 – oil on canvas)

Triangle Pose
Courtesy Health & Harmony Center