Picasso Retrospective Looks at Artist’s Youth and Flair

We have all attended museum retrospectives …

Room after room displaying the painter’s earliest struggles to find his artistic voice, the familiar mature works and the late examples which may shed new insight on their creator or pale in comparison to their predecessors.

A recent exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery in London, Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 has upended that approach by zeroing in on 18 works from one year of Picasso’s career, all contained in two galleries.

In 1901, Picasso made his second trip to Paris in May, had his first major exhibition at Galerie Vollard in June and turned 20 in October. In anticipation of the exhibition, Picasso worked furiously, producing as many as three paintings a day and creating most of the 64 works to be shown within six weeks. Self-Portrait and At the Moulin Rouge were two of those works. We can see that Picasso’s command of a vibrant palette, loose brushwork and even his choice of subject matter demonstrate his familiarity with the works of Degas, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. His dramatic self-portrait reveals a self-possessed teen whose eyes penetrate and captivate the viewer.

In contrast, the Absinthe Drinker, painted after the Vollard exhibition, depicts a melancholy subject with a new stylistic direction for the artist. Colors and flashy brushwork have been subdued. The suicide of a close friend of Picasso’s may have inspired the more serious and somber tone of works he created in the latter part of 1901. The Absinthe Drinker displays less influence of other artists and the beginnings of Picasso’s discovery of his own voice. Picasso’s varied and enormous achievements make him one of most important artists of the 20th century. Although Becoming Picasso has a narrow focus, it manages to provide a large amount of joy in getting to know the artist.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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