Picasso Challenging the past


Picasso: Challenging the past

The National Gallery's latest take on Picasso seems to pale in contrast to recent French
offerings, but Tani Burns finds it pregnant with insight.

                                                    champ, however, and at modes of art stretching                            figure and yet echoing Velasquez in the nature
   “Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”          from Fauvism and Dadaism to Bauhaus and Pop                               of the apparently random strokes of paint in the
   “Disciples be damned. It’s not interesting.      Art, we can see Picasso’s conviction was right.                           backdrop. Evidently, even at these early stages,
    It’s only the masters that matter.              The th Century was a period of great upheav-                              Picasso was already confident to take on the
     Those who create…”                             al for the art world, and seminal to this process                         masters of the past. In another piece, “Self-Por-
                                                    was the man himself, proclaiming “Every act of                            trait with Palette” (     ), Picasso’s work stylisti-
   Pablo Picasso                                    creation is first an act of destruction.”                                  cally, and deliberately, mirrors that of Cezanne’s
                                                            The exhibition features some of the leg-                          own self portrait completed between             and

                                                    endary artist’s most formative works, focusing                                 , bearing (as well as the same title) the same
        ollowing last year’s unprecedented exhi-    on the most enduring themes of European art                               flattened palette, the same patchy background
        bition in Paris, in which the Grand Pal-    history: the self-portrait, the female nude, mas-                         and even the same vacant gaze. Picasso was
        ais, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay       culine identity, and still life. Following Picasso’s                      developing his style rapidly and showing a pro-
        teamed up to display almost       works     career from end to end, and including examples                            found exploration into new ways of representing
by Picasso, the National Gallery’s offerings may     from all of his major periods his “Blue Period,”                          the human form within space, a preoccupation
appear trifling by comparison. The Parisian of-      “Rose Period,” African-influenced period, and                              that would later develop into his most height-
ferings were quickly termed the “art sensation      his later movement into Cubism, then Clas-                                ened forms of Cubism.
of the season,” making the advent to the Na-        sicism and Surrealism the showcase benefits                                         Picasso’s later self-portraits reveal him
tional Gallery’s own showcase of the artist all     from loans from throughout Europe and North                               taking up past traditions and challenging them
the more nervous.                                   America, from the world’s leading private col-                            with a welcome touch of humour. In this way,
    The National Gallery’s first major display of    lectors as well as public galleries.                                      the simple charcoal drawing, “The Artist in
Picasso’s works has already proved a hit with               “Picasso: Challenging the Past” begins its                        Front of his Canvas” (         ), defines Picasso as
critics nationwide, and is fated to draw the        exploration by tackling the artist’s response to                          both an individual and an artist. With eyes and
crowds in vast hoards. Examining the process        what is perhaps the most fraught mode of paint-                           nostrils drawn onto one side of his face, turned
by which the artist established a dialogue with
some of the great European masters, including
                                                    ing in the Western canon, the self-portrait. Pi-
                                                    casso’s complex images confirm a deep fascina-
                                                                                                           Where              in profile, and with the figure defined by only
                                                                                                                              sharp geometric lines, the work is identifiable
Velasquez, Delacroix, Goya, Rembrandt and
Manet, “Picasso: Challenging the Past” is a tri-
                                                    tion with the artists he admired from the past,
                                                    celebrating his predecessors and yet also tran-
                                                                                                           the National       as Picasso’s at a mere glance, marked crucially
                                                                                                                              by the characteristic double profile present in
    Given Picasso’s daring assurance that the
                                                    scending their barriers. The very first painting
                                                    we are alerted to is also one of Picasso’s earliest    Gallery lacks is   many of his most famous works. Furthermore,
                                                                                                                              while Picasso conforms to tradition in depicting
   th Century was worthy of a pivotal place in
the canon of great Western art, the dialogues set
                                                    works, “Self-Portrait with a Wig” (       ), painted
                                                    when the artist was only seventeen. In this, Pi-       where it           himself at an upright easel (he is known to have
                                                                                                                              generally painted upon canvases on the floor),

                                                                                                           also gains
up are complex. Looking back at such artists as     casso depicts himself as an th Century dandy                              he breaks the mould by wearing not a suit as
Picasso, Bacon, Dali, Pollock, Matisse and Du-      dressed in a powdered wig, evoking Goya in the                            many artists did when painting their self-por-

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