And the women? Picasso at the Albertina
Pablo Picasso is considered the genius of a century.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death the Albertina is now dedicating a personal exhibition of 70 works to the artist.
A text by Sabine B. Vogel
Pablo Picasso is considered the genius of a century. Hardly any other artist has changed his style as often and as radically, hardly any other artist has left such a mark on so many epochs and influenced so many fellow artists worldwide. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his death the Albertina is now dedicating a personal exhibition of 70 works to the artist, who was born in Malaga, Spain, in 1881 and died in France on 8 April 1973. All the exhibits come from the museum’s own holdings, although only the works on paper belong to the museum. The 14 paintings and the ceramics are on permanent loan, mostly from the Batliner Collection. The exhibition shows us the artist’s most important phases and media – and is deliberately innocuous. At the beginning, we see the “Sleeping Drunkard” (1902) from his Blue Period. Here Picasso is dealing with the death of his friend Casagemas, who took his own life out of disappointed love. This phase, characterised by a melancholic mood and bluish-green colours, lasted from 1901 to 1905, comprises almost 100 works and brought Picasso his artistic breakthrough in Paris at that time. From his Cubist phase, “Etagere” from 1911 is exhibited for the first time at the Albertina, while “Woman, Sculpture and Vase with Flowers” from 1929 is assigned to Surrealism – a harsh depiction of his still-wife Olga and simultaneous affair with Marie-Therese Walter, who hanged herself in 1977.
Here a theme comes into view that is by no means intended by the show, but cannot be excluded: Picasso as a “woman-devouring” man, as he was once called. It was often said in the past that Picasso worshipped women. In pictures like this one, he deconstructs them. One senses here what his granddaughter Marina Picasso once wrote about her grandfather’s women: “He subjected them to his animistic sexuality, tamed them, charmed them, absorbed them and crushed them on his canvas.” The texts in the exhibition hall, however, do not pursue this theme, focusing on the broad range of biographical contexts instead. For example, his baroque-looking dead pheasant from 1938 is charged with political symbolism, we read on in the text, as a reference to the victims of the Spanish Civil War. Or the lithographs and linocuts: After the war, Picasso experimented with lithographs, using scratching irons and scrapers. At the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s, he discovered linoleum printing – and made this process respectable for the first time. He did not print the highly opaque, rich, strong layers of colour with several plates one after the other, as was customary at the time. He used only one plate for the whole process, which required great precision. Picasso used hard strokes here to process quotations from art history, such as Cranach’s “Portrait of a Young Woman” or Manet’s “Breakfast in the Open Air”.
And the ceramics: Picasso made almost 4000 ceramics, mainly utilitarian objects: Plates, bowls, jugs and vases with fish, owl and mirror motifs. Painted by hand with free-flowing lines, he developed a style with a high recognition effect in this medium as well. In that French pottery workshop in Vallauris where he produced the works, worked the saleswoman Jacqueline Roque. They met in 1953, Picasso painted her for the first time at the age of 27, in 1961 she became Picasso’s second wife – and with 400 portraits his most frequently depicted model. After Picasso’s death, she administered his legacy, and after the Picasso exhibition she co-arranged in 1986, she took her own life – which was never her own.