On the same morning that Art Basel flung open its doors to VIP guests, close to 100 journalists flocked to the nearby Fondation Beyeler for a press conference on The Early Picasso: Blue and Rose Period to take place next year (3 February-26 May 2019). Works by Picasso, worth several billion dollars, will head to the Fondation Beyeler on loan for the first exhibition in Europe dedicated to the artist’s Blue and Rose periods (1901-1906). Director of the Fondation, Sam Keller, was joined on stage with his chief curator, Raphaël Bouvier, and the artist’s granddaughter, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, an art historian.
Staged in collaboration with the Musée national Picasso-Paris and the Musée d’Orsay, where it will be shown from 18 September until 6 January 2019 before traveling to Basel, Keller stated how many of the works in the exhibition are valued at $100m and are rarely lent by institutions. The 80-strong show includes paintings and sculptures loaned by such renowned museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Tate Gallery, London; the National Gallery, Washington, D. C.; the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; the National Museum of Art, Osaka; the Centre Pompidou and the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris. The Beyeler is currently negotiating with the Cleveland Museum of Art to borrow La Vie (1903), considered to be Picasso’s most significant work from the Blue Period.
Pablo Picasso, Famille D'Acrobates Au Singe, 1905, Gouache, watercolour, pastel and ink on cardboard, 104 x 75 cm., Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden, GKM 699 © Succession Picasso / ProLitteris, Zürich 2018; Photo: Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden
Why is a focus on this early period in Picasso’s career so crucial? The artist’s works from this period are some of the most emotionally compelling of his oeuvre. His early painting career is characterised by an exploration of the human figure through a series of different approaches. Traveling between Paris and Barcelona, the young Picasso grappled with the existential themes of love, sexuality, fate, death, and life through a multitude of techniques and colours, including those that would pave the way for the emergence of Cubism.
“There’s always a new way to look at a Picasso work,” says Widmaier-Picasso. “You just need to spend time with it and that’s why these exhibitions are crucial. It’s very exciting to think that we can give a work that was made during the early twentieth-century a new life.”
Pablo Picasso, Femme De L'Île De Majorque, 1905, Tempera, watercolour and gouache on cardboard, 67 x 51 cm. © Succession Picasso / ProLitteris, Zürich 2018
This early period of work captures Picasso on the brink of his career. He’s starting out and experimenting with paint and sculpture, striving to find his own artistic language. “When the last exhibitions on this period were done in Switzerland and in the US Picasso was alive or had just barely passed away,” said Keller. “At that time we looked at Picasso differently. Now, there is a new generation of scholars that look at Picasso and they look from the experience of a different generation. If artworks are great, they are not just great because of how they are but how they resonate with our time. And I find it very interesting now in our time to look again at this period.”
There’s a humility and precarity to these early works. Picasso’s subjects appear forlorn and otherworldly, such as in Acrobate et Jeune Arlequin (1905). There’s a sadness found between these two sitters; Picasso is exploring as much his sitters’ emotional state as he is varying levels of abstraction. “When you are young you are even more vulnerable as an artist,” adds Keller. “When you come to another city as an immigrant it is a very particular moment.”
Pablo Picasso, Femme (Epoque Des «Demoiselles D'Avignon»), 1907, Frau (Epoche Des «Demoiselles D'Avignon»), Oil on canvas, 119 x 93,5 cm., Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel © 2017, Succession Picasso/ProLitteris, Zürich; Photo: Robert Bayer, Basel
Among the highlights on show will be Picasso’s Fillette à la corbeille fleurie (1905), which sold for $115m last month by the Nahmad family of art dealers in New York at Christie’s from the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. Also to be shown is Arlequin Accoudé (harlequin leaning, 1901), from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The earliest work by Picasso that the Beyeler owns is a study for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907). The Foundation is planning a second Picasso exhibition, drawn from its own collection, to accompany next year’s show. Widmaier-Picasso is also planning a Picasso sculpture show to take place at the Villa Borghese in Rome in October. Fondationbeyeler.ch