Picasso cubiste

Paris, Musée Picasso. From September 19, 2007 through January 7, 2008

1. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The Clarinet Player, 1911
Oil on canvas - 106 x 69 cm
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
© Succession Picasso

Organizing this exhibition was quite an achievement. The purpose is that of the one hundredth anniversary of the Demoiselles d’Avignon which officially marks the birth of Cubism. The Museum of Modern Art in New York could not possibly have lent this mythical painting and, as expected, it is not present. In its stead, the exhibition displays a large number of exceptional studies that demonstrate Picasso’s unyielding and passionate work at the time. Covering the years between 1906-1924, the show leads you through the Catalan painter’s evolution from the end of the Rose Period until his “retour à l’ordre” occupying almost all of the museum’s galleries. Most of the works on display come from the Museum’s holdings which seem unlimited. There are also a few important loans from the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid.

2. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Still Life with Chair-caning, spring 1912
Oil and oilcloth on canvas, with rope frame - 29 x 27 cm
Paris, Musée Picasso
© Succession Picasso

The exhibition begins slowly then plunges us into the discovery of black statuary. This fundamental aspect is illustrated by quotes from Picasso recounting his visit to the Musée du Trocadéro. Beautiful masks, fit for the Quai Branly Museum, run through the show. The exhibition suggests various very interesting ideas that we would have like to see developed further : for instance, the downplaying of the myth of Picasso as a demiurge. As explained on the accompanying signs, the painter found inspiration in different sources, from the Old Masters through Gaugin. Another example is Picasso’s extensive use of photography in his creative process and notably at the time he painted the Demoiselles d’Avignon. These two points stand out as essential contributions to the writing of art history. Among the more surprising works we find the fragile assemblies of cardboard guitars, not often shown to the public, and a very beautiful room devoted to analytic Cubism in 1910-1911, the most abstruse, in which the famous Still Life with Chair-caning from 1912 inevitably appears. Picasso’s collages also reveal his great creativity. The Head of Fernande, a magnificent Cubist sculpture, is extremely well displayed in the chapel where it stands out in the immaculately white apse. Nonetheless, the hanging arrangement of the exhibition is generally lacking in spontaneity and joie de vivre. There is nothing playful here. The explanations in each room are useful but do not provide a context for the paintings in the artistic life of the times. The show closes a bit precipitously with the years immediately following WWI, evoking the décors for the ballet Parade and some canvases with monumental “realist” figures. This last gallery opens an interesting lead as it proves that, far from the usual linear reading of his work, Picasso did not “return” from Cubism. His art evolves progressively, an uninterrupted dialogue between the different phases of his artistic life.

The catalogue puts the problematics of Cubism into perspective. Although expensive, the large volume is the best aspect of this non-event. One finds here the unerringly intelligent contribution by J.C. Lebensztejn on the history of Cubism’s name, along with solid aesthetic studies by Léo Steinberg and a veritable essay by Irving Lavin. Anne Baldassari, director of the museum, writes on Picasso’s photographic experiments in 1909. On the whole, the articles reveal to what extent Anglo-Saxon art historians account for most of the studies on the French avant-gardes of 1900-1914. The works illustrated in the catalogue belong in many instances to foreign museums and are absent from the walls of the Musée Picasso as is the case of the famous Demoiselles d’Avignon. It is thus a rich complement, or shall we say ending, to the exhibition.

The rooms on the top floor of the museum display concurrently with the Picasso exhibition a show of war photographs of the same period by Gilles Peress with the fallacious pretext of commemorating the bombing of Guernica. Museum goers cannot help but be puzzled by this insertion within Picasso cubiste, although the photographer’s work itself deserves, in another context, our full attention.

Claire Maingon

Anne Baldassari (ed.), Picasso cubiste, Flammarion, 2007, 320 p., 49 €. ISBN : 9782081206977 Buy this catalogue


Claire Maingon, mardi 9 octobre 2007


Visitor information : Paris, Musée Picasso, 5, rue de Thorigny, 75003 Paris. Phone : 01 42 71 25 21. Open Wednesday through Monday, from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm. Admission : 6,50 € - 4,50 €.

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