Monday, August 15, 2011

Picasso from Paris at the de Young Museum

San Francisco's de Young Museum is hosting yet another Paris-based road show, this one on loan from the Musée National Picasso Paris, which is undergoing renovation until Spring 2013. At the de Young, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris will be open through October 10, 2011. I visited the exhibition this past weekend.

The de Young has recently been a rich beneficiary of museum renovations in Paris. Last year it was work from the Musée d'Orsay that crossed the Atlantic --in two back-to-back exhibitions -- while that museum was undergoing renovation from late 2009 through Spring of this year. The de Young was the only museum in North America that hosted both the Birth of Impressionism and Post-Impressionist Masterpieces shows sent abroad by d'Orsay. (I blogged about each of these, in July of last year and this past January, respectively.)

The Musée National Picasso is drawn from a collection of work that the artist himself held at his death in 1973. The collection came into being as payment of inheritance taxes to the French government, and amounts to nearly 3,600 drawings, paintings, sculptures, and other work. About two-thirds of these are cataloged (with photos, from which most images in this post are linked) at, a site run by a consortium of museums and other French cultural institutions.

The Picasso show is quieter than either of the d'Orsay exhibitions: not nearly so many blockbuster paintings. But the work selected for the current exhibition is thoughtfully curated and gives a sweeping sense of the artist's vastly fertile imagination and depth of vision.

Consider, for example, the sculpture Tête de femme (Fernande) of autumn 1909:

and a study Picasso drew the summer before as he prepared to create the bust:

These works, one shown beside the other in the de Young show, give a keen sense of Picasso's range of both vision and expression as he considers the same subject over the course of a mere several months out of more than seven decades as a working artist.

La danse villageoise (1922) is hung in the same small gallery as a canvas on which the artist painted a number of small studies for the larger work -- hands, the female figure's head -- that permits a viewer to trace, for example, the degree of formal stiffness he chose to depict in the work itself, and so the evolution of Picasso's ideas about how these figures relate to each other.

The show's curators chose a fine, writerly quotation with which to conclude the introductory essay at the entrance to the de Young exhibition.

"Scornful of theories and fixed ideologies, he often worked in multiple pictorial modes simultaneously, and he frequently revisited earlier themes. In a prolific career that spanned nearly three-quarters of the 20th century, his work not only participated in the Modernist revolution, but it also responded to world events, including four wars. We can further trace Picasso's fascinating and tumultuous personal life through his art; as he once commented, 'painting is just another way of keeping a diary'" [emphasis added].

For an artist as prolific as Picasso, that makes a lot of sense.

I was fascinated to see Picasso's inverted paraphrase of the anarchist Michael Bakunin
over a doorway between galleries at the de Young show. "Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction," was the quote from Picasso, translated into English. This from the painter of Guernica (1937), and of Massacre en Corée (1951) a chilling echo of Manet's Execution of the Emperor Maximillian (1868) and de Goya's El Tres de Mayo (1814) [thanks to Matthew Felix Sun for the art-historical references]. Picasso's protest of American intervention in Korea is included in the de Young show.

[For the record: As Bakunin wrote it in 1842 in German: "Die Lust der Zerstörung ist zugleich eine schaffende Lust" ("the desire to destroy is also a creative desire").]

The de Young exhibition is a fascinating trip through one of the most fertile and prolific imaginations of the twentieth century. The museum in Paris is well worth a visit if you're there when it reopens, but if you're anywhere in the neighborhood of San Francisco between now and the first week in October you'll want to visit the de Young to see highlights of its collection while we're fortunate enough to have them on loan.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Truth and Mystery
Art bliss at MOMA
The Steins Collect at SF-MOMA

1 comment:

  1. I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
    As was my wont w
    hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site,, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
    This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?