“The Young PICASSO – Blue and Rose Periods” at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel
“I was a painter and became Picasso.”
This exhibition, the most ambitious ever staged by the Fondation Beyeler, is devoted to the paintings and sculptures of the young Pablo Picasso from the so-called Blue and Rose periods, between 1901 and 1906. For the first time in Europe, the masterpieces of these crucial years, most of them a milestone on Picasso’s path to preeminence as the twentieth century’s most famous artist, are presented together, in a concentration and quality that are unparalleled. Picasso’s pictures from this phase of creative ferment are some of the finest and most emotionally compelling examples of modern painting, and are counted among the most valuable and sought-after works in the entire history of art. It is unlikely that they will be seen again in such a selection in a single place.
At the age of just twenty, the rising genius Picasso (1881–1973) embarked on a quest for new themes and forms of expression, which he immediately refined to a pitch of perfection. One artistic revolution followed another, in a rapid succession of changing styles and visual worlds. The focus of the exhibition is on the Blue and Rose periods, and thus on the six years in the life of the young Picasso that can be considered central to his entire oeuvre, paving the way for the epochal emergence of Cubism, which developed from Picasso’s previous work, in 1907. Here, the exhibition converges with the Fondation Beyeler’s permanent collection, whose earliest picture by Picasso is a study, dating from this pivotal year, for the Demoiselles d’Avignon.
In the chronologically structured exhibition, Picasso’s early painting career is explored through examples of his treatment of human subjects. Journeying back and forth between Paris and Barcelona, he addressed the human figure in a series of different approaches. In the phase dominated by the color blue, from 1901, he observed the material deprivation and the psychological suffering of people on the margins of society, before turning – in 1905, when he had settled in Paris – to the themes of the Rose period, conferring the dignity of art on the hopes and yearnings of circus performers: jugglers, acrobats and harlequins. In his search for a new artistic authenticity, Picasso stayed for several weeks in mid-1906 in the village of Gósol, in the Spanish Pyrenees, and created a profusion of paintings and sculptures uniting classical and archaic ideals of the body. Finally, the increasing deformation and fragmentation of the figure, apparent in the “primitivist” pictures, especially of the female nude, which were painted subsequently in Paris, heralds the emergence of the new pictorial language of Cubism.
The poignant and magical works of the Blue and Rose periods, painted in Spain and France, have a universal appeal and validity. Existential themes – life, love, sexuality, fate and death – find embodiment in the delicate beauty of young female and male figures, and in depictions of children and of old people scarred by life, whose emotions comprise happiness and joy, but also loneliness and melancholy.
The comprehensive exhibition includes around seventy-five paintings and sculptures rarely loaned by renowned museums in Europe, the USA, Canada, Russia, China and Japan, such as the Musée national Picasso, Paris; 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 Museu Picasso, Barcelona; the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. These masterpieces are supplemented by further outstanding works from private collections, some of which will be presented in public for the first time in many decades.
In terms of organizational effort and cost, this is the highest-caliber exhibition project in the history of the Fondation Beyeler. Years of preparation have been devoted to the presentation, which is certain to be one of Europe’s cultural highlights in 2019. The works on display are all major attractions in the museums from which they have been assembled. The Exhibition is being organised by the Fondation Beyeler in collaboration with the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie, Paris, and the Musée National Picasso-Paris, where it will be shown in a modified form before traveling to Basel. The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler is curated by Dr. Raphaël Bouvier, Curator at the Foundation.
Introduction of the exhibition
Pablo Picasso’s pioneering works of the Blue and Rose Periods, which characterize his oeuvre from 1901 to 1906, ushered in the art of the twentieth-century and at the same time constitute one of its outstanding achievements. In fact, Picasso’s pictures from these years include some of the subtlest examples of modern painting and are now among the most valuable and sought-after art treasures of all.
Extensive presentations of these works are accordingly rare. The exhibition “The Young Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods” at the Fondation Beyeler thus represents a milestone in the history of the museum. The show traces the unparalleled artistic development that began with the works of the early months of 1901, when Picasso was not yet twenty, and continued until 1907. In the course of these six years, the young Pablo Ruiz Picasso developed his own personal style and became “Picasso,” as he began to sign his works in 1901. The compelling images of the Blue and Rose Periods, characterized by a unique emotional power and depth, show the artist from an exceptionally sensitive side and thus offer a nuanced picture of his work and personality.
The exhibition begins with works from the early months of 1901, created initially in Madrid and then above all during Picasso’s second stay in Paris. These exuberantly colorful paintings, which clearly exhibit the influence of Vincent van Gogh and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, reveal Picasso’s personal view of Paris and the elegant world of the Belle Époque. From the late summer of 1901 onward, following the tragic suicide of his artist-friend Carles Casagemas, who had accompanied him during his first visit to Paris, in 1900, Picasso began work on a series of pictures in which the color blue became the dominant expressive element, announcing the start of the so-called Blue Period. He created these works, pervaded by an atmosphere of melancholy and spirituality, in the following years, up to 1904, as he moved back and forth between Paris and Barcelona. They owe at least part of their inspiration to Symbolism and the singular Mannerist style of El Greco and show Picasso engaging with existential questions of life, love, sexuality, fate, and death, movingly embodied by fragile, introverted figures of all ages. The pictures of the Blue Period are mainly concerned with marginalized victims of society, in situations of extreme vulnerability—beggars, people with disabilities, prostitutes, and prisoners, living in poverty and misery, whose despair is mitigated, however, by an aura of dignity and grace. This also reflects Picasso’s own precarious circumstances before his breakthrough as an artist.
His final relocation to Paris, in 1904, when he set up his studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, marked the beginning of a new phase in his life and work. It is at this point that Picasso met Fernande Olivier, his first longer-term companion and muse. The pictures gradually break free from the limited palette dominated by blue, which gives way to warmer rose and ochre tones, although the underlying mood of melancholy still persists. Picasso’s works are increasingly populated by jugglers, performers, and acrobats, in group or family configurations, personifying the anti-bourgeois, bohemian life of the circus and the art world. In 1906 the artist achieved his first major commercial success, when the dealer Ambroise Vollard bought nearly the entire stock of new pictures in his studio. This enabled Picasso, with Olivier, to leave Paris and spend several weeks in the Catalonian mountain village of Gósol. Under the impression of the rugged landscape and the villagers’ simple way of life, Picasso painted mainly pictures of human figures in idyllic, primordial settings, combining classical and archaic elements.
In the fall of 1906, after his return to Paris, he spent some time absorbing the impressions from his recent encounters with ancient Iberian sculpture and the visual world of Paul Gauguin, and began, in his quest for a new artistic authenticity, to formulate a Primitivist pictorial language. This found expression in an innovative reduction and simplification of the human figure. In sharp contrast to the fine-limbed creatures of the circus world, Picasso’s figures from this phase are bulky and heavy, with impressive female nudes whose bodies take on almost geometric form. This new conception of the figure took a further, radical turn in 1907, in the works that would lead—also under the growing influence of African and Oceanic art—to Picasso’s revolutionary painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, proclaiming the advent of Cubism.
The development of the Blue and Rose Periods makes it clear that the young Picasso managed, within just six years, to achieve a preternaturally early aesthetic perfection, incorporating artistic mannerisms and archaisms into the articulation of new principles for the depiction of the human body through deformation and deconstruction. In a process that only appears contradictory, Picasso’s striving for new aesthetic possibilities advanced through several forms of refinement, and in a gradual emancipation from classical ideals of beauty, to the realization of a groundbreaking form of artistic authenticity and autonomy. Cubism, in this light, no longer appears as a radical hiatus in Picasso’s oeuvre, but rather as the logical extension of the artistic ideas of the Blue and Rose Periods.
The exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler, which has been organized in collaboration with the Musées d’Orsay et de l’Orangerie and the Musée national Picasso-Paris, differs from the first presentation in Paris in one important respect: its prospective extension of the view of Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods by the inclusion of the artist’s first proto-Cubist pictures from 1907, created in the context of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. One of the preliminary studies for the latter work, titled Femme (époque des “Demoiselles d’Avignon”), forms the spectacular starting point of the Fondation Beyeler’s extensive Picasso collection, and at the same time marks the finale of this exhibition. Whereas the presentation in Paris supplemented the finished works with numerous preliminary studies and copious archive material, the exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler places the focus firmly on Picasso’s painting and sculpture in the period concerned. With some seventy-five masterpieces from renowned museums and outstanding private collections across the globe, the show presents the quintessence of Picasso’s oeuvre from 1901 to 1907, illuminating a chief phase of transition in the multifaceted work of the young artist. Many central works from this period now count among the major attractions in the collections of leading international museums. Yet, several key works are still in private hands—a number of which are on public display in Riehen for the first time in many decades.
The Fondation Beyeler presentation is the first in Switzerland dedicated to both the Blue and Rose Periods. It therefore complements the two shows that the Kunstmuseum Bern held in 1984 and 1992, devoted respectively to Picasso’s early work and the Blue Period and to the subsequent Rose Period. The exhibitions staged in close cooperation at the Fondation Beyeler and the Musée d’Orsay are in fact the first in Europe dedicated to Picasso’s Blue and Rose Periods in an unmatched concentration and quality.
The show at the Fondation Beyeler can also be seen as a tribute to the museum’s founders, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler, who saw in Picasso an artist who set new standards and rendered a service in diverse ways by their continued commitment to his work. The Galerie Beyeler devoted eleven monographic exhibitions to Picasso and included his work in numerous group shows, and was responsible, over the decades, for transactions involving more than a thousand works by Picasso. In the course of their collaboration, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler also formed a friendly relationship with Picasso. No fewer than thirty-three of Picasso’s works passed into the Beyeler Collection, making the Fondation Beyeler one of the world’s foremost museums with substantial holdings of his art. Strikingly, the Beyeler Collection does not possess even a single work from the Blue or Rose Periods: the two collectors concentrated on Picasso’s work after 1907. Nonetheless, key pictures from the Blue and Rose Periods—including La Buveuse assoupie (1902), Femme au corbeau (1904), and Acrobate et jeune arlequin (1905)—were exhibited, placed, and sold by the Galerie Beyeler. Some of these works are now to be seen in Basel, where they form an ideal temporary complement, alongside the many other masterpieces featured in the exhibition, to the Picassos in the Beyeler Collection. Following the 2005 show “The Surrealist Picasso”, we are pleased and proud to present “The Young Picasso: Blue and Rose Periods” as the second major monographic exhibition dedicated to Picasso at the Fondation Beyeler.
at Fondation Beyeler, Basel
until 16 June 2019