As you know, since 21st September and until 20th January we have open in the Museum the exhibition «Picasso discovers Paris», in which, with the collaboration Musée d’Orsay and the Musée national Picasso-Paris we have shaped the context that the artist found on his first trips to the French capital. Now we will take a deeper look at the contents of this three-sided initiative by interviewing the curator of the exhibition and conservator of the Museu Picasso, Malén Gual.
«Picasso discovers Paris» goes beyond the concept of exhibition. How could we define it?
It is an exhibition which is the result of an exchange of works with the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée national Picasso-Paris. This emerged when these entities requested some works for the exhibition «Chefs d’Ouvre», for which we loaned Science and Charity and the preparatory studies, as well as the exceptional loan of 52 pieces from the period of 1900 to 1905 for the exhibition «Picasso. Bleu et Rose». We were left with the rooms empty and we had to fill them in some way. Then we thought we could take advantage of this by showing what Picasso found on his first two trips to Paris.
What difference did Picasso find compared to Barcelona?
Many. First, you should think that Barcelona was a city of around 500,000 inhabitants, and he arrived in a city of more than 2 million. He found there the contemporary artists of the moment, the avant-garde, in a context in which impressionism had been overcome, while here it hadn’t arrived yet. But also he found himself in a city absolutely illuminated with electric lighting, full of posters announcing the Universal Exposition and the exhibitions in many galleries and a very wide range of customs and habits. Furthermore, Picasso was just a kid of 18 years old when he left home to go to a major city (he would celebrate his 19th birthday in Paris); any of us would be similarly dazzled.
Pablo Picasso: Picasso and Manuel Pallarès contemplating the Eiffel Tower. Barcelona or Paris, 1900. Sepia pen-printed ink on paper. 8,8 x 11.1 cm (irregular). Museu Picasso, Barcelona. Donation Pablo Picasso, 1970. MPB 110.996. Photography, Gasull Fotografia. © Successió Pablo Picasso, VEGAP, Madrid 2018
Did he go alone or was he accompanied by someone?
On his first trip, from October to December 1900, he went with Carles Casagemas. Immediately he met Manuel Pallarès and the rest of his Catalan friends. In 1901 he would meet Max Jacob who would start to open up the French world to him, but his first stay would be a continuation of the atmosphere of the Four Cats. In fact, there are some very nice drawings that show Picasso and his friends Utrillo, Casas, Rusiñol or Pichot coming out from the Universal Exposition with some girls. Therefore, on his first trip, he would continue his relations with his friends in Barcelona.
And if we say that Picasso discovered Paris, could we play the game by saying that Paris also discovered Picasso?
Yes, but not immediately. On the first trip, Picasso discovered Paris. In 1901, when he exhibited at the Vollard gallery, Picasso continued to discover Paris (and another world later on when the blue period would emerge), and it is also when Paris started to discover Picasso because the critics and historians made his work known. The reviews he received were positive because they saw him as an artist who would go far, although sometimes they would tell him that he wanted to embrace too much. But this is normal because, as I said before, we should not look at Picasso as the consecrated artist but as a 19-year-old boy who absorbs many things from many other artists: how to paint, the subject, etc.
Edgar Degas: Women ironing. 1884- 1886. Oil on canvas. 76 x 81.5 cm. Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Legacy of the Count Isaac de Camondo, 1911. © RMN-Grand Palais (museé d’Orsay) / Tony Querrec / Gérard Blot / Hervé Lewandowski / Thierry Le Mage / Jean Schormans / Michèle Bellot / René-Gabriel Ojéda / Thierry Ollivier
Of the works that have been loaned by the Musée d’Orsay and the Musée national Picasso-Paris for the exhibition, which are the most notable ones?
I think one of the works of greater quality is Degas’ Women ironing, which is the third work from a series of four in which the artist shows how the work of these workers was in the 1880s. We also have three very interesting Cézanne because two of them were from Picasso’s collection, which he had purchased: The sea at l’Estaque and Five bathers. Other notable works would be the Gauguin’s terracotta or the bullfight of Manet. And we also have proofs of what Picasso saw in Paris, such as the copy of a sculpture by Bartholomew or the paintings of Puvis at the Pantheon. You can think that Picasso did tourism like anybody else, and in Sabartés’s memories, we can find that he went a lot to the Louvre and the Museum of Luxembourg. He looked closely at all the details of not so well-known artists and incorporated them into his style.
To finish, the president of the Musée national Picasso-Paris, Laurent Le Bon, said on the day of the inauguration that these collaborations show that the separation between permanent collections and temporary exhibitions is beginning to blur. Do you agree?
I think that the most important thing of the museums are permanent collections and we should always emphasize their value. Each museum has the pieces that it has and they are the ones we have to highlight. This exhibition follows the idea of Le Bon of being more interdisciplinary: there is a mixture of paintings, documents and photographs, and works from other collections are added to reinforce the discourse. But each museum has its collection and it is what we have to exhibit, however much we can strengthen it.
Written by the Museum