The return of Las Meninas to the museum after being out on loan for the exhibitions Picasso et les maitres, at the Grand Palais in Paris, and Picasso. Challenging the Past, at the National Gallery in London, together with the important gift of a preliminary drawing of the series, has led the Museum to a new presentation of the series of variations on the great painting by Velázquez that Picasso made between August and December 1957.
Our intention has been to respect the will of the artist and faithfully reflect his creative process. According to his friend and biographer Roland Penrose (Roland Penrose, Picasso. His Life and Work, 3rd e., University of California Press, Berkeley & Los Angeles, 1981, p. 434), Picasso was adamant thet the complete series of 58 paintings be kept together. He resolved not to sell any of them, and in order to ensure this unity he donated the whole series to the Museu Picasso of Barcelona in 1968. Interestengly, the artist left a record of the rhythm at which he was working, dating all of the canvases on the back, and even noting the order of execution on the occasions when he painted more than one on the same day.
In view of these considerations, the ideal arrangement would be to exhibit the entire series in a single space and maintain the chronological order of execution, but unfortunately the architectural structure of the Museum makes this impossible. In order to show together the 45 interpretations of Velazquez’s Las Meninas we found ourselves obliged to exhibit in another room the nine pictures of the pigeons in the dovecote next to Picasso’s studio, the three landscape of the Bay of Cannes and the poirtrait of Jacqueline, which also belong to the series.
While The Pigeons as a homogeneous sub-group seems at first glance to bear little relation to the Velázquez series, a detailed analysis of the composition of these paintings attests to their importance in the evolution of the process. The dialogue between the nine paintings of the dovecote structure and the 45 interpretations of Las Meninas is fluid and enriches both groups: the geometric structure of the dovecote is incorporated into some of the versions of the princess’s chambers (MPB 70.463 and MPB 70.465), and the figure of the chamberlain, José Nieto, is transformed into the one black dove among the numerous white birds; what is more, the painting of The Pigeons between the last two versions of the Infanta Margarita María provided Picasso with a break that enabled him to return with greater freshness and verve to his detailed analysis of the characters, the space and the light of the great painting that inspired the group.
The central corpus of the series, Picasso’s 45 versions of the painting by the master from Seville plus the preliminary drawing in which he set down his intentions and resolve the complex problems of the layout and structure of the group are presented in chronological order, with the exceptions noted above. This chronological display is prompted not by historicism for its own sake but by the desire to show the rythm of the creative process. Thus we see that the first two works, the drawing and group No. 1 (MPB 70.433), are the most complete and that the development and study of the personages came later, contrary to the more usual procedure of studying the component parts before concluding with the composite whole. The various versions of the figures, singly or in a group, and the representations of th whole ensemble are not, then, preliminary studies: in fact, regardless of their size or their simplicity, they are just as important as the largest painting. They also help us trace Picasso’s progressive incorporation of colour while at the same time simplifying the form. After the parenthesis of The Pigeons he returned to compositional complexity with works that are now saturated with bright chromatic modulations. The grouping of the figures (the Infanta Margarita María, the maids of honour María Agustina Sarmiento and Isabel de Velasco and the court jester Nicolasito Portusato) contributes to a more particularised observation of the details that captivated Picasso, as in the case of the jester, whose posture prompted the artist to introduce a piano (MPB 70.472).
The current placing of the Portrait of Jacqueline, which is at once a paraphrase of the reflection of the king and queen in the mirror and a tribute to the artist’s wife, marks the culmination of the series and provides the connecting link with the series of ceramics donated to the Museum by Jacqueline Picasso.
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