(Out intrepid hero has already visited three exhibitions but still has time for Picasso at the Courtauld. He knows that Rosie Scibblah has described the exhibition as ‘amazing’. Will he be disappointed? Read on!)
The Courtauld is a favourite of many. Although it is small, they have some real gems there. Any exhibitions are the icing on the cake, and Rosie was correct. The Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 show was relatively small – just two rooms – but was, indeed, amazing.
In 1901, Picasso travelled to Paris for a solo exhibition at Vollard’s gallery. Paintings from that show were in the first room. They demonstrated the influence of Degas, van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec, and proved to be very popular with the public who came. The Dwarf Dancer shows this influence, both in subject choice, and style.
The second room had works produced during the second half of 1901, after the end of show. These were far more melancholic and were not as popular. Eventually Picasso returned to Spain in early 1902 penniless. However, they are now regarded as some of his most important early works. I do not apologise for simply reproducing the gallery information next to each of three of these works.
“The figure of Harlequin is an important feature of some of Picasso’s later works. He makes his first appearance in this painting and Harlequin and Companion. Harlequin is traditionally a mischievous and cunning character, and in Picasso’s depiction he adopts a mysterious hand gesture which leaves the viewer wondering what he is contemplating or plotting. In addition to the chequered leotard typically worn by Harlequins, Picasso gives him a skull cap, collar and cuffs, the costume of a related character, the hapless clown, Pierrot. The creation of a hybrid figure is evidence of Picassso’s growing appetite for reinvention and transformation in his art;”
“Picasso may have had in mind Degas’s famous painting of a bored-looking couple in a bar, In the Café (Absinthe) 1875-76 (Musee d’Orsay, Paris) when he produced this work. In place of regular drinkers, Picasso unexpectedly introduces the figure of Harlequin into the scene, seated presumably with his lover, Columbine. With these traditional comic characters, Picasso reinvents the café drinker subject, inviting the viewer to speculate upon the circumstances of this strange scenario. Like other Bohemian artists and writers of the period, Picasso felt a kinship with the unconventional lives of performers and entertainers such as these.”
“This canvas is part of Picasso’s series of drinkers at café tables, produced in the second half of 1901. The subject had long been a feature of modern art in Paris, but Picasso made it his own … The woman’s exaggerated pose, with her arms and oversized hands enclosing her form, created a distinctive body language that is a recurring aspect of this group [of café drinkers]. Her melancholic appearance marks the beginning of Picasso’s long engagement with sorrowful figures on the margins of modern life that would come to define his Blue Period of the following years.”