Barcelona has art history in her DNA, and as many of you know, Pablo Picasso, among many great others, spent a pivotal part of his life in the city. During an already culturally exciting moment, the show Picasso. Retrats has just opened at the Museu Picasso de Barcelona in the El Born neighbourhood. Realised thanks to long collaborations with London’s National Portrait Gallery, it will be on view until 25 June.
Curated by Elizabeth Cowling, Professor Emeritus of Art History at the University of Edinburgh, the exhibition gathers together more than eighty of Picasso’s portraits and caricatures pulled from public and private collections. Those portrayed were linked to the artist in various ways, as friends, lovers, fellow intellectuals and great sources of inspiration. (Picasso was particularly fond of Velázquez and Degas.)
Gorgeous images of Dora Maar, Guillaume Apollinaire, Jean Cocteau, Nusch Éluard, Françoise Gilot, Max Jacob, Lee Miller, Fernande Olivier, Jacqueline Roque, Olga Khokhlova, Jaume Sabartés, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, Miguel Utrillo, Marie-Thérèse Walter and many others are on display during this unique occasion in Spain. We’re allowed to admire the genius of Picasso, who expressed himself through differing sorts of styles, and to appreciate his view of all those muses, musicians, poets, surrealists, thinkers, bohemians, femmes fatales and fellow painters he surrounded himself with.
Getting the chance to take in this articulate exhibition, where the structure of the Museu itself, especially its antiquated central patio, will take your breath away, is a real treat for the eyes. You’re welcomed by a well-thought out series of photographs of Picasso’s sitters, side by side with his own artistic renditions. Gallery spaces in all directions are animated by curious-looking characters peeking out at you; some embodied in paintings, some as charming sculptures, others as etchings.
Observing all these personable masterpieces, it’s easy to catch yourself smiling while regarding them, interpreting through your twenty-first century brain the bold perspective of a man that changed visuals forever. It’s important to remember that Picasso would rarely accept commissions, instead plucking subjects from his surroundings and depicting them with a freedom still-unseen in professional portrait painting circles of his day.
He hyperbolised and used truly abnormal distortions to convey inner traits and connotations belonging to the personages he profiled in his art. Senses of satire, irony and humour are essential to enjoying Picasso’s viewpoint. And since this exposition is assembled thematically, you can sometimes enjoy multiple representations of the same model executed with fluctuating modulations of manner and tone, recollecting a rainbow of emotions and shadows of the human soul.