On Iberian Heads and Self-portraits

As “Feasting on Paris. Picasso 1900-1907” comes to its last weeks, we have asked its curator, Marilyn McCully, to give us an insider’s view of a particularly significant artwork in the exhibition. If you woud like to know more about Ms. McCully’s thesis and the exhibition, take a look at the short interview with her in our Summer Capsules as well as the specific web site. And if you haven’t yet got round to visiting the exhibition, don’t miss this last opportunity to do so.

Self-Portrait with a Palette. Picasso.(Paris, 1906

One of my favourite moments in this exhibition has been having the chance to show Picasso’s Self-Portrait with a Palette (Paris, 1906) together with the actual Iberian head that the artist had in his studio for a number of years.

When he painted this work he was looking very closely at work such as Iberian sculpture, which deeply influenced his own approach and gave rise to major breakthroughs, as became clear in later works such as the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Paris, 1907).

The story of the Iberian sculpture is an interesting one. Along with a couple of other sculptures, it was stolen from the Louvre by a kind of low-life character, who sold them — or at least gave them — to the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who in turn gave two of them to Picasso. Whether or not Picasso knew or suspected that they had been stolen, he kept the pieces in his studio for several years, as did Apollinaire, who had his prominently on shown in his home.

In 1911, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, Apollinaire was questioned about the theft because of his connection with the man who had stolen the sculptures. Apollinaire and Picasso duly decided that they had to get rid of the pieces, and even considered throwing them in the Seine, but couldn’t bring themselves to do it, so they were returned to the Louvre.

When we look at Picasso’s wonderful, commanding self-portrait of late 1906, it is very clear that he had assumed his position as a leader of the avant-garde — with Matisse next to him. At that time Picasso was devoting much of his energy to the search for a radical new method of representing figures in space. The artist stares out confidently at us with his black eyes, and his hand merges with his palette at the lower right. Loosely brushed paint is used to create the surroundings as well as the artist’s body, while the strong, defining lines convince us of the sculptural presence of this self-portrait.

Marilyn McCully
Curator of the exhibition

  • alex
    October 3, 2011

    Hi there! I visited the museum last week and loved it 🙂
    I was just wondering, in the last room (right next to the exit door) there was a video playing, comparing quite a few of picasso’s cubist paintings to another painting. Any chance you could give me the name and the artist of this piece? Thanks, it’d be a great help! (And sorry for being so vague :S)

  • Museu Picasso
    October 3, 2011

    The video makes a visual recreation of Las Meninas by Picasso and Las Meninas by Vélazquez, on wich Picasso made a series of interpretation. For more information http://bit.ly/buGj3Q. Thanks!

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