Picasso’s influence upon Modern art is something that goes without saying, the impact of his career not only visible throughout the Modern period, but continuing well into the Contemporary. Tate Britain’s current exhibition Picasso and Modern British Art is a carefully considered look at how the late artist came to shape British art, presenting works by the artist shown and collected in Britain, interwoven with studies on how he came to influence the work of seven of the country’s best-known and celebrated artists.
To gather such a wide-range of Picasso’s work under one roof is where this exhibition really succeeds. The Tate has brought together a vast number of the artist’s paintings, drawings and sculptures from his earlier neoclassical output through to the cubist work for which he is famed, giving the viewer a chance to see such well-known pieces as Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932, and The Three Dancers, 1925—the latter of which is celebrated, somewhat ceremoniously, in the last room of the exhibition, where it hangs alone in appreciation of Picasso selling the second of his most personally favoured works directly to a gallery for the first time (the first, Les Desmoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, long being displayed at MoMA). Even the inclusion of ephemera such as the invitation to the Private View of the 1937 Tate exhibition Drawings and Paintings by Picasso are a welcome and entertaining aspect, providing an interesting sense of continuity, whilst also highlighting the role of the gallery itself in the artist’s relationship with Britain.
Pablo Picasso, Bathers at the beach hut, 1929; Courtesy Musee Picasso, Paris © Succession Picasso/DACS 2011© RMN / Renee-Gabriel Ojeda
The one room of Picasso’s own work that felt at odds with the rest of the exhibition, however, was Picasso in Britain 1919, which presented his work with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. Whilst interesting in its own right, the work—including photographs and costume designs—felt disjointed, and is perhaps an example of where the Tate have over-compensated in areas of the curation in providing a link between the artist and Britain.
Running in conjunction with the chronological display of Picasso’s own work is what the exhibition sets out to do from the outset—to show how Picasso helped mould Modern British art through the work of a selection of artists: Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney. Each artist has been dedicated a space within which a comparative study is made between their work and Picasso’s; some reveal surprising similarity that you wonder why you hadn’t noticed before—such as Moore’s Reclining Figure, 1936, and Picasso’s The Source, 1921, while for others, in particular Hockney, the links are key to understanding many of his works on display. There are on occasion, however, moments where you are left wondering why a connection needs to be made, and whether a connection is actually evident—as with the work of Bacon, for example.
Francis Bacon, Crucifixion,1933, Courtesy Murderme, © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS 2011.
Picasso clearly had a huge influence upon Modern art and this is a connection that has rightly been celebrated by Tate Britain. It could on the one hand be argued that this exhibition might have been executed with a more subtle approach to the subject matter -- and perhaps fewer examples of where Picasso’s influence might be present in the other artists’ work, the different approaches at times appearing confused. Yet on the other, the collection of work on display is so impressive that this is something that can ultimately be overlooked, the detailed and fascinating study of a lifetime’s work of one of the world’s greatest Modern artists, in particular, making it more than worthy of a look.
(Image on top: Pablo Picasso, Still life with Mandolin, 1924, Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; © Succession Picasso/DACS 2011)