Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy Exhibition (Tate Modern)

Achim Borchardt-Hume & Nancy Ireson, Exh. Cat, London: Tate Modern: Tate Publishing, 2018. Texts by T.J. Clark, Alma Mikulinsky, Nancy Ireson, Neil Cox, Diana Widmaier Picasso, and Laurence Madeline, 272 pp., 290 colour and b/w ills., paperback £25, hardback £40.

Exhibition Schedule:

Picasso 1932. Année érotique, Musée national Picasso-Paris, October 10, 2017 – February 11, 2018

The Eye Exhibition: Picasso 1932 – Love Fame Tragedy, The Eyal Ofer Galleries, Tate Modern, London, March 8 – September 9, 2018.

Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy

Picasso 1932 opened under the alternative name of Picasso 1932. Année érotique (trans. erotic year) at the Musée national Picasso, in Paris, on October 10, 2017. This is a more straight forward analysis of the artworks than the name given to the exhibition when it opened at the Tate Modern, London, on March 8, 2018, though, ‘Love, Fame, Tragedy’ is certainly the underlying context of Picasso’s année érotique.

Picasso 1932, is a collection of works largely, but not exclusively, painted in 1932, and which to a great extent depict Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) relationship with his new mistress, Marie-Thérèse Walter. Much like the David Hockney retrospective held at Tate Britatin in the Spring of 2017, Picasso 1932 had the crowds descending on London for the opportunity to view this unique display of artworks.

At the age of 50, Picasso had acquired his fame and fortune, but by 1932 he was being challenged by the critics to create new and radical paintings. This period saw Picasso drawing on his interest of classicism, and a brief flirtation with the surrealist movement, although he never joined the Surrealist. He didn’t like the confinement of a group.

‘He did create some drama, but on the other end of that made him able [sic] to create what we’re looking at.’
– Bernard Picasso, 2018

It is the drama of 1932 which responded to the critics and, in turn, allowed the public to inherit some of the most incredible pieces of art that Picasso had produced to date. Picasso used a visual language to express his emotions from the love of his new mistress, his disdain for his marriage, and his anguish over trials which he was not capable of controlling, while referencing other artistic geniuses and cultural influences. He was an intelligent painter.

‘When it comes down to it, there is only love.
Whatever it may be.’
– Pablo Picasso, 1932

Femme au fauteuil rouge (Woman in a Red Armchair)
Femme au fauteuil rouge (Woman in a Red Armchair)

The exhibition starts the same way that Christmas Day 1931 ended, with two paintings: La Femme au stylet (Woman with Dagger) and Femme au fauteuil rouge (Woman in a Red Armchair). The first depicted violence and jealousy, the next a forbidden love. In the few hours it took Picasso to produce these two paintings, he makes reference to Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Morat (1793), and perhaps the contempt he felt towards his wife, Olga, with the latter an expression of his new love with Marie-Thérèse.

His relationship with Marie-Thérèse started in 1927, and by 1932 only a few of Picasso’s closest friends and family knew about this affair. It is surmised that Olga was aware of the affair, perhaps an unspoken knowledge, as we can see when we view Femme au fauteuil rouge that the face has been erased and replaced with a love heart, yet wisps of blonde hair can be seen teasing behind the aggressively erasing brush-strokes – a signature trait which future portraits of Marie-Thérèse would display. Picasso 1932 is a Marie-Thérèse exhibition. This is as much about her year, as it is Picasso’s, and all told through his visual language.

‘The work that one does is a way of keeping a diary.’
– Pablo Picasso, 1932

La Reve (The Dream)
La Reve (The Dream)

Picasso’s work has been exhibited extensively, however Picasso 1932 brings one special piece to London which has never been seen here, and that is La Reve (The Dream). This artwork alone has been the invitation to many scholars and art lovers to visit Tate Modern and this incredible exhibition, in the same way Grant Wood’s American Gothic did when it was exhibited in the UK for the first time at the Royal Academy of Arts in Spring 2017, at the America After The Fall: Paintings in the 1930s exhibition. Critic, Bonnie Greer explains that ‘when you come close to this you start to see that this is him. This is him blending into one person who understood who he was.’

It’s difficult not to marvel at Picasso’s prolific output. Works such as La Lecture (Reading) and Le Sculpteur (The Sculptor) are incredible example of finished pieces, and yet despite the similar subject matter of many of the groups of paintings completed in 1932, they all vary in style. This is significant in the representation of Picasso’s mood as he completes each piece of artwork.

La Lecture (Reading)
La Lecture (Reading)

As well as Picasso’s paintings, the exhibition displays some of Picasso’s sculptures of Marie-Thérèse that he had been working on in private in the converted stables of his newly purchased château in Normandy. These amazing bulbous stone-works also became a reference for artworks featuring sculptures that same year.

Picasso 1932 not only brings us La Reve in this unique exhibition, but in Room Four: ‘Early March’ we see an evocative collection of March nudes, which have not been exhibited together since 1932. These incredible paintings mix the still life with the reclining nude, which is undeniably Marie-Thérèse. A depiction of love, lust and voyeurism.

As we continue through 1932, and in turn the rooms of the exhibition, we are exposed to Picasso’s return to surrealist experiment with a series of overtly sexualised paintings that Paul Rosenberg, Picasso’s dealer since 1918, refused to show, due to their obscene depictions. After this, Picasso returned to the reclining nude in a much more tasteful manner.

In the latter part of 1932, the political landscape was changing in Europe, and with this came a restless Picasso, triggering an intimate study of the crucifixion. Picasso was drawn to Matthias Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece which can be seen when studying his series of crucifixions. Picasso’s interest in classical themes, secular and religious, continued to present themselves in his artwork, though he had no belief in religion at all.

The exhibition closes with Marie-Thérèse. After contracting a serious viral infection after swimming in the contaminated waters of the river Marne, many of Picasso’s final paintings depict the rescue of Marie-Thérèse from drowning, a visual diary of Picasso attempting to deal with the tragedy his lover was facing.

Portrait d’Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair)
Portrait d’Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair)

The exhibition is installed chronologically for the year, and mounted on white walls throughout most of the exhibition rooms, all but Room 6: ‘Fame.’ In this room, the walls are painted a deep red and display many older works in no particular order – which is how Picasso liked his works to be presented – including Portrait d’Olga dans un fauteuil (Portrait of Olga in an Armchair), 1918, Paulo en arlequin (Paulo as a Harlequin), 1924, and Le trois danseuses (The Three Dancers), 1925. This is an acknowledgement to a Picasso retrospective (it was a rare occurrence for a living artist to have a retrospective exhibition back in the 1930s) which took place at the incredible Galeries Georges Petit, on June 16, 1932, hosting 225 paintings, seven sculptures and six illustrated books. This white wash worked for most of the rooms except Room 8: ‘Black on White,’ a room representing Picasso’s charcoal on canvas. The flawless line works are exhibited on the large white walls of the gallery, and would have benefited from a colour to allow the canvases to stand stronger with the room, as was the case in Room 6.

In conclusion, this year in Picasso’s life is a must see. It is rare to see such a thorough and visual narrative through the eyes of an artist such as Picasso, and allows you to look into the mind of a creative genius.

NB. Allow about an hour and a half to enjoy this exhibition. Photos allowed in most parts of the exhibition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s