How a brush with Paris made Pablo a master of melancholy
Becoming Picasso, Courtauld Gallery, London
The Independent’s former comment editor, Adrian Hamilton writes a weekly column largely on international affairs with particular focus on the Middle East, Iran and foreign policy issues. Before joining the paper he was deputy editor of the Observer newspaper.
Thursday 14 February 2013
The Courtauld Gallery, which has brought us a succession of tightl focused small exhibitions in recent years, has come up with another real stunner. Becoming Picasso is the story of the Spanish painter’s arrival – brash, determined and hungry for the bohemian life – in the French capital in 1901.
Working feverishly by day and night, he knocked up as many as two or three paintings a day in his Montparnasse studio for an opening show held by the notable French dealer Ambroise Vollard. It was both a declaration of arrival, as he took the style and images of Van Gogh, Lautrec, Degas and Gauguin and reworked them at will, and an instant success with the critics. It was also the turning point for the artist, who, instead of building on his new reputation for colour and frenzy, then developed a more sombre palette and subject matter in the paintings of his Blue Period the same year.
You can see both why he so wowed the critics and how he then moved in another, much less commercially successful direction (he was virtually destitute by the end of the year) in this compulsive show. It has obtained 10 of the 60 paintings in the original Vollard exhibition. All have the sense of hurried works, but all equally bear a confidence that is quite staggering in a man so young. A picture of the Dwarf Dancer (La Nana) combines the colour of Lautrec with a dwarf figure from Velázquez – but then has a face of ferocious defiance that is entirely Picasso’s.
The maturing of an individual style comes across remarkably as you move into the main room of this show. Along one wall the Courtauld has assembled four early masterpieces rarely lent outside their homes in Russia and the US. Child with a Dove, once owned by Samuel Courtauld, the Seated Harlequin, Harlequin and Companion and The Absinthe Drinker introduced the themes which he was to reiterate all his life – but they also introduced a mood that was more introspective and melancholy than anything he’d done before.
The gallery puts the change partly down to the suicide of his closest friend, the poet Carles Casagemas, here represented by an imagined blue picture of him in his coffin, which Picasso kept secreted away in his studio until the 1960s.
How sincere Picasso ever was in his egocentricity is always difficult to fathom. The death of his friend and his visits to a women’s prison may have moved him to melancholy, but he was also probably aware that painting dizzying pictures of Gay Paris was a dead end. He needed to become more serious and that he did with a vengeance.
To 26 May (020 7848 2526)
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
- 2 Lisa Randolph-Gant: Queen Elsa cake maker says she will carry on baking and will not let people 'break her spirit'
- 3 Tube strike: This pedestrian-friendly map tells you the time it takes to walk between stations
- 4 Pamplona Running of the Bulls 2015: Three men gored and 10 hospitalised on first day of festival
- 5 Sarah Jessica Parker explains why she is not a feminist: 'It's not just about women now'
Artist Milo Moire arrested in Paris for taking naked selfies with passers-by in front of the Eiffel Tower
Is Jon Snow dead? Theories stoked by Kit Harrington's longer hair despite Game of Thrones director claiming he's 'deader than dead'
Noel Gallagher actually gives Kanye West some credit for his Glastonbury headline set: 'For half an hour it was as good as it gets'
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas run through Google's Deep Dream neural network is pure nightmare fuel
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy