Once he had settled down definitively in Paris in 1904, Picasso got back in touch with several of his old friends from Barcelona. Without doubt, it was the ties to Ricard Canals which were strengthened the more in these new circumstances, and the portrait of Benedetta Bianco, the sentimental partner of Canals, testifies to that. At the Bateau Lavoir the two couples – Picasso and Fernande, and Canals and Benedetta – established a very close friendship: according to Fernande, Picasso would spend the days in the studio of Canals and Benedetta would make use of her culinary skills to feed everyone when the economic resources were scarce.
Carried out in the autumn of 1905, the portrait of Benedetta Bianco is particularly interesting, as it perfectly illustrates one of the two main aspects that can be distinguished throughout the artistic trajectory of Picasso. On the one hand there are the works belonging to the intellectual-stylistic development of the artist, those which are the result of his growth and progress. On the other hand, there are the works which result from the biographical storyline of Picasso, which can be understood as the specific visual notes in his personal diary. This portrait clearly belongs to the second aspect.
Pablo Picasso. Madame Canals [Benedetta Bianco]. Paris, [autumn] 1905. Oil and charcoal on canvas. 90 x 70 cm. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Given by the Barcelona City Council, 1963. MPB 4.266
In 1904 Picasso abandoned the Blue Period to go into the so-called Rose Period, in which the circus world would become the main subject of his works. Despite maintaining the stylistic characteristics of warm pastel colors, the portrait of Madame Canals -with a serious face and adorned with a black mantilla- is at odds with the topics of that time. In this painting, the artist uses elements which were typically Spanish, which were a recurring topic in the work of his friend Canals and very popular in the French art market of the time, fascinated by the exoticism of everything Spanish. Such was the fascination for these scenes, that the art dealer Durand-Ruel funded a trip for Canals around the Spanish geography to provide him with inspiration in 1904.
Ricard Canals. A Box at the Bullfight, 1904. Oil on canvas. Private collection
Similarly revealing are the clearly visible influences of the Grand Masters of painting in this work in particular. The harmonious spirituality that emerges from the portrait of Benedetta, which brings to mind The Lady with a Fan by Velázquez (Wallace Collection, London), constitutes for Picasso the exploration of a new limit: the psychological portrait. In a similar way, placing the focal point of the work on the face of the personage on a less worked background, evokes the canvasses of the French artist Ingres, whose work Picasso saw for the first time one year before painting Benedetta’s portrait. During what would be the definitive trip to Paris, which he undertook with the artist Junyer i Vidal, they stopped in Montauban, the city of birth of the painter that hosts the Ingres Museum. This event is included in the series of drawings carried out by Picasso in the form of an auca, a sort of comic strip very much in vogue in the Barcelona of the turn of the century, and which is now part of the collection of our museum. The following year he would see the work of French genius again, as one of his paintings was exhibited in the Salon d’Automne of that year.
Both Velázquez and Ingres would be a source of inspiration for Picasso throughout his artistic career, as shown the series Las Meninas, also part of our collection, or the famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (MoMA, New York).
The trip that Picasso made to Holland in the summer of 1905 led him towards a more sober and classical style. The portrait of Benedetta constitutes an extraordinary work, as it not only exemplifies this new direction and the influences of other artists on Picasso, but also, along with the portrait of Fernande with a black mantilla (Guggenheim Museum, New York), it constitutes a fantastic visual testimony of the close relationship established between Picasso and Canals, and their respective partners, during those hard but emotional first years of Picasso in the French capital. This magnificent portrait will be shown in the exhibition «Picasso Portraits », organized in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, London, which will open at the Museu Picasso in March 2017, when we will have the chance to see both works here.
Internship student, Collection Department