Most successful artists have a breakthrough moment in their career, when they make that leap from relative anonymity to being well-known. Pablo Picasso was no different. Becoming Picasso at the Courtauld Gallery focuses on the story of the young Spanish upstart’s breakthrough year in Paris in 1901, in which he took the French capital by storm. This exhibition brings together major paintings from his debut summer show at a gallery on rue Lafitte and explores his development as an artist during that seminal year.
In the work produced for his Paris show, Picasso reconceived the styles and subjects of other modern painters, including Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh, to wide acclaim. This synthesis of styles can be appreciated in works such as Dwarf-Dancer and At the Moulin Rouge, both on display. Despite the success of his first solo show, in the latter part of 1901, Picasso’s artistic development took a new turn.
The iconic Child with a Dove appears as a transitional work at the Courtauld show, signaling the radical change in Picasso’s style. The painting, which expresses the fragility of childhood innocence, heralded the beginning of Picasso’s Blue period. Previous works of bright café scenes painted in brilliant colours gave way to works characterised by a monochromatic use of blue and blue-green tones. The themes during Picasso’s Blue period also became much darker and were partly influenced by the suicide of his best friend, Carlos Casagemas. Visitors to the Courtauld can view a death portrait of Casagemas and the funeral scene Evocation (The Burial of Casagemas) – in which the artist depicts the ascension of his friend’s soul. Much has been said about the barely dressed women in this painting, so I’ll leave you to your own interpretations. It’s worth pointing out that Child with a Dove could be lost to the UK, if attempts to keep it in the country fail. The painting was sold to a foreign buyer last year, so another good reason to get over to Somerset House to see it!
Becoming Picasso is an opportunity to experience artworks that are now considered to be the earliest masterpieces from a giant of the 20th century. With capacity limited at the Courtauld, queuing may well be the order of the day – but this is a show worth standing in line for. (Words: Eri Otite)
Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is on at The Courtauld Gallery until May 26. For more info, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk