"Picasso Looks at Degas" reveals a lifelong artistic adulation

  • June 28, 2010 17:16

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Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) Standing Nude, 1907 Oil on canvas, 36-5/8 x 16-7/8 inches Museo del Novecento, Milan. © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, 1879–1881 Bronze, with gauze tutu and silk ribbon, on wooden base, H. 39 inches Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Photography by Michael Agee
Pregnant Woman, 1050 by Pablo Picasso. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972. Photography by Ricardo Blanc / © 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Clark

Two of the greatest artists of the modern period are the focus of a ground-breaking exhibition at The Clark, a world-class gem of a museum nestled in The Berkshires. "Picasso Looks at Degas" is the first in-depth exploration of Pablo Picasso’s (1881-1973) unwavering fascination with the life and work of Edgar Degas (1834-1917).

The Spanish artist’s deep fixation with his French Impressionist predecessor is shown through dramatic pairings and groupings of art that have never before been brought together.

Picasso, well-known for taking cues from a variety of masters and his contemporaries, is said to have remarked that "good artists copy; great artists steal."

From Degas, Picasso lifted a profusion of compositions, poses, and subject matter, especially those of a feminine nature, such as ballerinas, launderesses, and prostitutes. Café-goers, cabaret entertainers, and bathers, more of Degas's signature subjects, loom large in works from Picasso's earliest years as a budding artist through to his late career. .

Although they are not known to have ever met in person, Picasso and Degas dwelled in the same Montmartre neighborhood in Paris, both were classically-trained in figure drawing, and each pushed boundaries with their art, both stylistically and with a penchant for racy subjects.

Among the over 100 works in the exhibition are a few striking Picasso responses to Degas's celebrated Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. For one, the older artist's radically realistic sculpture, likely known to Picasso through word-of-mouth and art publications, inspired the pose and depraved look of the Cubist's Standing Nude.

In 1958, four decades after Degas died, Picasso acquired several of his unknowing mentor's 1870s monotype scenes of prostitutes going about their business in brothels. Shortly before his death in 1973, Picasso made his final ode to Degas with his own series of brothel etchings--- depicting Degas as a nervous participant.

On July 11, a talk will be given at the museum by Picasso's granddaughter Diana Widmaier Picasso. Her grandmother was Marie-Thérèse Walter, the artist's blonde mistress, model and muse from 1927 until the mid 1930s. Widmaier Picasso, who studied art history at the Ecole de Louvre in Paris, was born in 1971 to the couple's daughter Maya.

Widmaier Picasso is preparing a catalogue raisonne of Picasso's sculpture. She will discuss. with Clark curator and Degas scholar Richard Kendall, Picasso’s unorthodox techniques and materials, and his interest in the sculpture of Degas, as represented in the exhibition, and the contrasts between the artists' approach to the medium.

Picasso Looks at Degas, organized by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the Museu Picasso, Barcelona, will be on view June 13 through September 12, 2010. The Clark is the exclusive North American venue for the exhibition before it moves to the Museu Picasso in the fall of 2010.

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