Picasso 1932 at Tate Modern

Love the fact I am a Tate Member so I can rock up and slip straight into something as deliciously sensuous and seductive as the new Picasso exhibition, Picasso 1932:Love Fame Tragedy.

With works specifically from a tumultuous year in the life of the artist, you cannot fail to be stopped in your tracks by the sheer volume of his output.

There were genuine highlights in this chronological journey through 1932, starting with the surreal and violent ‘Woman with a Dagger’.

It is said that it represents the turmoil Picasso was going through in choosing between the dark, slim Olga and the fair, voluptuous mistress, Marie- Thérèse Walter. However, that seems too simple an idea. The violence of the flowing blood is more in keeping with Picasso’s love of the bullfight and appears too visceral to be as simple as indecision over his failing marriage.

This was followed up with two that just cry out to be compared: ‘Rest’ and ‘Sleep’

In ‘Rest’, there is no such thing! The most ironic title we can imagine. The dark haired figure throws her head back in agony, the mouth, situated in the middle of the face, is filled with sharp teeth. This surrealist motif that connects the mouth with the vagina in a way that only Freud would be able to explain adds a sinister feel to this and it is not the only time Picasso uses this imagery in his work.

Her body, with its thin limbs, is trapped within the armchair, which Picasso often said was a representation of death, and is contorted and surely is in pain from the positioning. The woman in this painting is unloved and unwanted by the man wielding the paintbrush.

Picasso uses complimentary colours in this, and where he allows the colours to sit next to one another, they vibrate. There is no quiet moment in scene. Even the distinctive wallpaper has its moments. While the right hand side is ordered, the left seems to be full of chaotic movement. In this, we can conclude that Picasso was feeling this level of uncertainty. Should he stay with tall elegant Russian, or is his heart with another?

All of this contrasts with ‘Sleep’. Clearly this is a depiction of Marie-Thérèse in repose. A woman who is the exact opposite of the other.

The cool, pale green background is filling the canvas with a peaceful restfulness and her thrown-back profile has an open mouth, not because of anguish, but as the epitome of the deep-sleep brought on by love-making.

Her fully naked body is curvilinear and exposed to the viewer. At this point, there is an element of being a voyeur. It is Picasso who has drawn back the curtain for us to look upon her, proudly I would assume. Should we really be looking?

However, Marie-Thérèse herself said that Picasso really ‘saw’ her and, with this admission, perhaps she allows us to agree with this and to be privileged to see that side of her.

Her skin tones pales next to Olga’s which seems coarse and rough in comparison, there is a distinct difference in the way he employs his brush over the two figures.

Just as a side issue, Waldemar Januszczak (name dropping 😀) pointed out that the shape of her breasts contains a secret monogram, which was very typical of Picasso.

It is interesting that he did have an element of secrecy when it was quite obvious who the model was for this. By this point, if would seem that he had no need to be as cautious as he was in the work he completed on Christmas day, 1931: ‘Woman in a Red Armchair’ where we can recognise the healthy curves and blond hair of Marie-Thérèse but whose face is obscured with a heart. This is the woman he wants to be with.

Throughout this exhibition we get to see how the relationship with Marie-Thérèse developed and there are many more outstanding works to see. It could be argued that this is the Marie-Thérèse show, and here is where you have to criticise: we only have a one-sided conversations with Picasso. We don’t ever hear from the woman at the centre of this, which is a pity.

Even though it is only March, this has the potential of being the standout exhibition of the year.


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