Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery
Staging an exhibition about Pablo Picasso, arguably the most famous artist of the 20th century, is always a mammoth undertaking. Contrary to popular understandings of Picasso, the artist worked in a huge range of styles and media throughout his career. The Picasso Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery includes works that speak to classical art, cubism, caricature, sculpture and photography.
Picasso’s diversity of style is both a blessing and a curse in this exhibition. On the one hand, it’s fascinating to see a relatively unknown side to his art. A striking portrait of his first wife, Olga, is painted in a style reminiscent of Ingres; Picasso’s depiction of a majestic but apparently lonely woman is touching and distancing at the same time. A group of caricatures and informal sketches of his friends and acquaintances offer an insight into Picasso’s life and his involvement with the biggest cultural names of his day: Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire all feature.
The artist’s shifting style perhaps echoes his tumultuous personal life, and unfortunately, the exhibition doesn’t quite convey these aspects carefully enough, leaving a sense of visual and chronological disorder throughout. Picasso had serious romantic relationships with several different women during his lifetime and painted portraits of all of them. It’s only through a careful examination of the wordy timeline that these relationships begin to make sense, as if the museum is nervous of spelling out Picasso’s complex sex life. This seems odd in an exhibition that seems to be as much about painting a portrait of the artist as it is about that artist’s portraits of other people.
The arrangement of works feels somewhat illogical at times, and it’s a shame that there aren’t a few more show-stopping pieces included. Nevertheless, there are some fantastic and unexpected works in Picasso Portraits, and the exhibition achieves its aim to show a new side to this much-loved artist.
Picasso Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from 6th October 2016 until 5th February 2017, for further information or to book visit here.