Marja-Leena Rathje
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Picasso at VAG

'Minotauromachie' - Etching, 1935 - Pablo Picasso
(Scanned from my copy of Picasso, by Pierre Descargues, translated by Roland Balay, publisher Felicie, NY 1974)

It would be very interesting to preserve photographically, not the stages, but the metamorphoses of a picture. Possibly one might then discover the path followed by the brain in materializing a dream. - Pablo Picasso, 1935

This compelling statement is posted at the very beginning of the exhibition PROTEAN PICASSO at the Vancouver Art Gallery. We finally went to see it last week, none too soon, as it comes to an end on January 15th, three months after its opening. I think this was the first time I have seen a larger, though still modest, collection of Picasso's work in one place, and in Vancouver too! Being a printmaker myself, I naturally enjoyed his prints the most, noting the statement that "until the early 1900's, printmaking by painters was uncommon. With over 2000 images, Picasso's graphic ouevre is the 20th century's most important in number and quality." I think my favourite piece in the entire show is the etching 'Minotauromachie', illustrated above.

The drawings appealed greatly as well but I was not excited by the selected paintings, though I appreciate their importance in modern art history. Most of the exhibition centers on the idea that Picasso's numerous works, though not always studies per se, were often a building up or a preparation for his masterpieces such as Guernica, (as the above quote reveals). I do believe that years of work does build upon itself, and results in some major pieces that will contain elements from early works.

The gallery's web page on the exhibition will disappear soon after its conclusion, so I'm going to capture the statement here:

"Along with Georges Braque, Picasso's monumental fame will be forever linked to his development of the abstract style that came to be known as Cubism. As a constant innovator, Picasso worked in numerous artistic styles of his own invention, resulting in the creation of many iconic masterpieces that were made famous for their break with aesthetic traditions. This fall, the Vancouver Art Gallery will launch a remarkable Picasso project that brings together the full scope of the artist's career through examples of his drawings, prints and paintings. For the project, the Vancouver Art Gallery will jointly present Protean Picasso: Prints and Drawings from the National Gallery of Canada and Selected Paintings from International Collections, a rare grouping of eleven Picasso paintings which have been loaned to the Gallery from a number of international collections. Protean Picasso showcases the most important collection of Picasso's graphic work in the country. The exhibition spans a temporal scope of nearly fifty years, from Picasso's Blue Period of the early 1900s, through the teens and 1920s when he experimented with various aspects of Cubism and Classicism, to his emotionally intense works from the 1930s which, in part, graphically portray the artist's response to the horrifying events of the Spanish Civil War. Included in the exhibition is a rare complete set of prints from the Vollard series. These richly detailed works reveal a mythical world ruled in part by the artist's intellect (as seen in the classical and contemplative prints that focus on the theme of the sculptor's studio) and in part by the artist's body (as seen in the ferocious desire of the characters depicted in such prints as The Battle of Love and The Minotaur). The paintings in the exhibition will provide a valuable counterpoint to the prints and drawings by revealing one of Picasso's true geniuses: his ability to work in several different styles and media at the same time. Ranging in date from 1902 to 1969, the paintings include a poignant Blue Period work, La Misereuse Accroupie (The Crouching Woman), a number of colourful abstract works in the Synthetic Cubist style, examples of Picasso's interest in Classicism and a self-portrait. The paintings are loaned by the Musée Picasso in Paris; Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut; Montréal Museum of Fine Arts; National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Ontario; St. Louis Art Museum; and one private collection. These generous loans mark the greatest number of Picasso paintings ever exhibited in Vancouver.

Protean Picasso: Drawings and Prints from the National Gallery of Canada is organized and circulated by the National Gallery of Canada and curated by Diana Nemiroff. Selected Paintings from International Collections is organized by the Vancouver Art Gallery and curated by Ian Thom, Senior Curator, Historical."

Of course there is an immense amount of information in print on Picasso. Online, I found the following interesting links for further reading if you wish:

On Picasso's bullfight themes, such as The Minotaur and Guernica

An excellent essay: Power and Tenderness in Men and in Picasso's Minotauromachy by Chaim Koppelman

Wikipedia's summary and links on Picasso

A review by Alexander Varty for Georgia Straight

Back in October, I wrote about Picasso's grandson and his biography of his famous grandfather.

P.S. If you are looking for a new biography on Picasso, "Guernica: A Biography" by Gijs Van Hensbergen comes highly recommended by commenter and blogger Omega of Threading Thoughts. See comments below.

Marja-Leena | 03/01/2006 | 10 comments
themes: Art Exhibitions, Other artists


You might be interested in this book about Guernica: Guernica: A Biography by Gijs Van Hensbergen. I saw a review of it in Saturday's Guardian newspaper (, and have added it to my own wish list.

Do you know the prints of Stanley Hayter?

Thanks for the book recommendation! I will look out for it in the library, for my shelves are too full of art books, including three on Picasso! And yes, I know Stanley Hayter from his book that is the foundation text book for printmaking! I've never seen his work in real life - have you, Omega?

I saw a Picasso exhibit at the MFA in Boston many years ago. Mostly I remember it was very crowded and hard to see anything without someone's head constantly moving in front of my view! Good to have seen it, though.

I just glanced at one of your links. I'd never heard that Picasso had been stillborn until his uncle blew cigar smoke into his nostrils! How appropriate.

Leslee, it ws pretty crowded at the VAG too, especially because it was a Thursday night, by donation!

Where did you find that info about Picasso's birth!??? Wow.

I first came across Stanley Hayter by chance. I was attracted to an exhibition at the British Museum in London a few years ago by seeing the poster hanging up in the museum. In the print room there was a show of prints which the museum owns. I was blown away. The drawing appealed very directly to me and I borrowed the large volume on his prints from my local library, renewing it for some months. I am not a printmaker, but was attracted by the drawing style as much as by the images.

There's mention of it in your link on The Minotaur! So I googled it to check, and found another story of it here:

For missing that statement I blame my habit of speed reading and scanning! Thanks for the link, leslee, some real food for thought on healing, hmmm... taken with a dose of salt perhaps. Anyway, another legend about a legendary artist!

Omega, I wish I could have seen Hayter's work - books cannot do justice! Your reaction to his work is good to hear about, for he did not achieve fame for it, but instead for his methods and teaching. Thanks for sharing!

You think I actually read the rest of the article?! Scanning and skimming are requisites these days - way too much to read!

leslee: Yes - too much to read indeed!!