Picasso Portraits! National Portrait Gallery

Portrait of Olga Picasso & Woman in a Hat (Olga)

Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous 20th century artists was fascinated throughout his life with the human figure, and also with the way children paint “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. The new exhibition looks at Picasso’s portraits from his teenage years, through his Cubism and Surrealism, his reworkings of Old Masters, and his wonderful pencil drawings. Picasso drew and painted a small close circle of family and friends, and mainly didn’t work to commission which gave him enormous freedom.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is one of the most talented, prolific and famous artists of the 20th century. Born in Spain his artistic career spanned over 70 years, and many artistic styles, including his Blue Period, Rose Period, probably most famous his Cubism, and also his Primitive art, Surrealism and Collage. He created thousands of artworks, sculptures and later in life ceramics and his legacy is everywhere.

Some of Picasso’s artwork can seem incomprehensible, and some child-like – he often aspired to this “It took me 4 years to paint like Raphael but a lifetime to paint like a child”.

Picasso is a lovely artist to enjoy with children as he was fascinated with how children paint – this is a key to understanding his artwork, and another key is to know that caricature (not ‘mainstream’ today) was important to Picasso and his contemporaries. In a caricature a person is distorted so that certain characteristics (physical or personality) are exaggerated for effect – comic/political or otherwise.

Picasso invented Cubism with his friend Georges Braque (1882-1963). In Cubism the artists were attempting to show a 3D subject on a 2D surface. Artists throughout the ages have had to deal with the problem that their canvas/paper/cave is flat but what they are painting is usually not, and in Cubism Picasso and Braque tried to show an object from more than 1 side at once – this is why the images look broken up. Picasso also felt for a while that colour was a distraction, so he painted Cubist pictures in shades of grey – his portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler painted in 1910 is a great example of this.

Picasso also recorded his wives lovers and children through his art – in his paintings of famous ballet dancer Olga we see her first in his 1918 fairly conventional portrait ‘Olga in an Armchair’ but as the relationship soured we see 1935 ‘Woman in a Hat Olga’ – like a caricature, her eyes have become large sad buttons, her mouth pursed, and on her head a ridiculous motif to represent the hats she loved. We see the same progression in his paintings of his later muse Dora Maar who famously said that in all the portraits of her Picasso had never painted her at all, but only himself.

Another theme of the exhibition is Picasso’s ‘after’ paintings – paintings reworked from great Masters – we see his reworking of Rembrandt’s 1658 Self Portrait into ‘Old Man Seated’ is an explosion of energy and colour – its fun to look at Rembrandt’s painting at the same time and see what Picasso has kept and what he has changed. Two of his 58 reworkings of Velazques’ Las Meninas are also on display and show his fascination with this artist – again – its well worth looking at Las Meninas with these paintings.

Exhibition runs to Feb 2017 and here’s the link to the National Portrait Gallery.

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