Picasso Black and White

Picasso Black and White is the first exhibition to explore a remarkable focus that occupied the great Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso, throughout his prolific career: the use of black and white.

Art Exhibition previously on at The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, United States.
From Friday 05 October 2012 to Wednesday 23 January 2013

Accordionist (L’accordéoniste)  image Bust of a Woman (Marie-Thérèse) (Buste de femme [Marie-Thérèse]) image Head of a Horse, Sketch for Guernica (Tête de cheval, étude pour Guernica) image Head of a Woman, Right Profile (Marie-Thérèse) (Tête de femme, profil droit [Marie-Thérèse]) image Head of a Woman (Dora) (Te?te de femme [Dora])
Grands-Augustins, Paris, 1941 (cast 1958)
 image The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas, after Velázquez) (Les Ménines, vue d’ensemble, d’après Velázquez) image Man with Pipe (L’homme à la pipe) image Man, Woman, and Child (Homme, femme et enfant)
 image Marie-Thérèse, Face and Profile (Marie-Thérèse, face et profil) image The Milliner’s Workshop (Atelier de la modiste), Paris, January 1926 image Mother with Dead Child II, Postscript to Guernica (Femme avec enfant mort II, Post-scriptum à Guernica) image Pablo Picasso in front of The Kitchen (La cuisine, 1948) in his rue des Grands-Augustins studio. image Reclining Nude (Grand nu couché) image Reclining Woman Reading (Femme couchée lisant), 1960 image Seated Woman in an Armchair (Dora) (Femme assise dans un fauteuil [Dora]), 1938 image Study for Sculpture of a Head (Marie-Thérèse) (Étude pour sculpture d'une tête [Marie-Thérèse]) image The Charnel House (Le charnier) image The Kiss (Le baiser) image The Kitchen (La cuisine) image Woman Ironing (La repasseuse) image

Published by Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, NY on Tuesday 16 October 2012.
Contact the publisher.

Few artists have exerted as considerable an influence over subsequent generations as Picasso, one of the most recognized figures in 20th-century art. While his work is often seen through the lens of his diverse styles and subjects—his Blue and Rose periods, pioneering investigations into Cubism, neoclassical figurative paintings, and explorations in Surrealism, for example, or the forceful and somber scenes depicting the atrocities of war, the allegorical still lifes, the vivid interpretations of arthistorical masterpieces, and the highly sexualized canvases of his twilight years—the recurrent motif of black, white, and gray is frequently overlooked.

The artist was continuously investigating, inventing, and drawing in these austere monochromatic tones. The graphic quality of these distinctive, black-and-white works harks back to the spare paintings of Paleolithic artists, who developed a primal visual language using charcoal and simple mineral pigments, and to grisaille and the European drawing tradition. But in adopting this restricted palette, Picasso was also faithful to a centuries-long Spanish tradition, following in the footsteps of earlier masters whose use of black was predominant, such as El Greco, José de Ribera, Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Zurbarán, and Francisco de Goya, who made a series of black paintings in his old age, as Picasso did. Reported to have claimed that color “weakens,” Picasso purged color from his works in order to highlight their formal structure and autonomy. Spanning 1904 to 1971, this chronological survey includes 118 paintings and several sculptures and works on paper, and investigates Picasso’s contributions to the development of art in the 20th century.

On the rotunda floor, the majestic and emblematic bronze Woman with a Vase (summer 1933) and painted metal sculpture Woman with Outstretched Arms (1961) set the tone for the dichotomy and interplay of black and white throughout the exhibition, as do the sculptures on view in the High Gallery. A draftsman par excellence, Picasso paid particular attention to the outline of the figure and was using soft gray hues as early as spring 1904, in the iconic painting Woman Ironing and in Man, Woman, and Child (fall 1906). His pioneering Cubist works are condensed to geometric and deconstructed components of austere gray tonal ranges, creating grids that animate the canvas, as black-and-white painting composed of sensual arabesques.

A series of works featuring recumbent women, nudes, and bathers is devoted to the artist’s muse Marie-Thérèse Walter. Many are rendered in grisaille, including Swimming Woman (1934), a commanding and somewhat ferocious painting that may presage the epic style of his masterpiece Guernica (1937), which can be seen in several important related works on view. Throughout World War II, in occupied Paris, Picasso created stark figures and reclining nudes, which convey a heightened interest in monochromatic shapes, forms, and volumes. During this time, he painted The Charnel House (Paris, 1944–45), a forbidding black-and-white canvas that records the brutal devastation of war. The minimal tones, graphic intensity, and dramatic contrasts of dark and light, reflected in Still Life with Blood Sausage (May 10, 1941) and so characteristic of Picasso’s most important paintings, convey a melancholic mood as the artist explores the universality of human suffering, death, and deprivation. In 1954, Picasso made a series of mostly black-and-white, stylized works of Sylvette David, a young woman symbolizing a new, sophisticated femininity.

Impressive black-and-white canvases figure among his most vibrant interpretations of art-historical masterpieces, including Reclining Nude (1942) and The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas, after Velázquez) (August 17, 1957), informed respectively by Goya and Velázquez, as well as The Women of Algiers (version L) (1955) and The Rape of the Sabines (1962), the former inspired by Eugène Delacroix and the latter by Nicolas Poussin. In his twilight years, Picasso did not shy away from depicting embracing couples, as seen in The Kiss (1969), and voluptuous nudes such as Seated Woman (Jacqueline) (1962); rather, this range of minimal colors renders the figures all the more alive and conscious of their sexual vitality.

Picasso’s repeated use of a black, white, and gray palette correlates his obsessive interest in line and form, the influence of drawing, his use of monochrome and tonal values, his complex language of pictorial and sculptural signs, and exercises in light and dark. Picasso Black and White presents an illuminating perspective on this lesser-known, but fascinating, aspect of his formidable body of work.

—Carmen Giménez, Stephen and Nan Swid Curator of 20th Century Art, and Karole Vail, Associate Curator