Picasso looks at Degas: a unique exhibition

On Thursday 14 October the Museu Picasso opened the exhibition “Picasso Looks at Degas”, a co-production by the museum and the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

This project, curated by Elizabeth Cowling and Richard Kendall, is the result of four years of research by the two historians, the former a leading specialist in the work of Picasso and the latter an expert on the work of Edgar Degas. The scholarly endeavour that has gone into preparing the show is evident in each and every one of the chosen works, in the depth of the premises and the seriousness of the theses put forward, and also in the sense of fascination and the openness with which the curators have engaged with the project.

As the curators themselves note, the exhibition is grounded on a very simple premise that takes many different forms: to question for the first time in the history of art how Picasso looked at the work of Degas, an artist of the generation before his own, whom he never knew personally, but whom he obviously admired and, at different stages of his life, held up to himself as a challenge, a referent and an inspiration. This premise is not free of controversy and leaves many questions in the air: visitors to the exhibition may or may not agree with it. We invite you to draw your own conclusions, and express them on our blog, Twitter or our Facebook page.

Exhibition installation

This project is also a unique opportunity to see here in Barcelona some of these two artists’ great works, such as the superb In a Café (L’Absinthe) by Edgar Degas, a masterpiece of French Impressionism, generously loaned by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, or Portrait or Sebastià Junyer i Vidal, an emblematic example of Picasso’s first years in Paris, a much appreciated loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. These loans of artworks that do not usually leave their respective museums are the outcome of some great teamwork by the exhibition’s curators and the directors of the centres, and their presence here in the Museu Picasso is an indication that in terms of its collection and its reputation our museum can bear comparison with institutions of the highest international prestige.

Edgar Degas, In a Café (L’Absinthe), 1875-1876 | Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Sebastià Junyer i Vidal, 1903

As a project, the exhibition is very much in line with the Museum’s programme of putting forward entirely new narratives and opening up new avenues to review and research into Picasso and his work. For all of us at the Museum, with our future study centre soon to be opened, the show demonstrates the possibility to rethink Picasso and find new approaches to his art.

Given its international dimension and the quality of the theses put forward, “Picasso Looks at Degas” marks a point of inflection in the Museum’s line of work and points to the paths to be followed in the future.

Of note among the various activities accompanying the exhibition is the performance programme How We See Ourselves / How Others See Us, which represents another of the museum’s major lines of work: the commitment to bringing out Picasso’s connection with contemporary creation, reappraising the relevance of his work and his contributions to art history, which can be seen as a continuum in which ongoing and overlapping dialogues feed one another in a continual learning process.

Barcelona is privileged in being the only European city to host this unique exhibition. We invite you to let yourself be seduced by the beauty and moved by the power of these works.

Pepe Serra

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