Pablo Picasso was perhaps the greatest artist of the twentieth century. His constant stylistic innovations at crucial points of his career – the emotional Blue and Pink Period paintings, the fragmented world of his Cubism and the disconcerting Realism of his Neo-Classical works –repeatedly confirmed his status as an avant-garde artist of the first water. This spring, a modest selection of items from his vast oeuvre goes on show in the Triton Room at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. The exhibition has been prompted by the Triton Foundation’s spectacular acquisition of Picasso’s Cubist period painting Woman in a Corset Reading a Book and will mark the picture’s first public showing in the Netherlands. Together with the three key works in the Gemeentemuseum’s own Picasso collection, it will form the heart of the exhibition. The show will also include a range of Picasso’s prints and drawings, as well as his ceramic masterpiece Big Vase with Female Nudes (1950), likewise on loan from a private collection.
The Triton Foundation purchased Woman in a Corset Reading a Book in 2010. The splendid painting was begun by Picasso in 1914 and eventually completed in 1917. It is a tribute to the love of his life, Eva Gouel (also known as Marcelle Humbert), whom he met in 1910. In 1913 Eva fell ill and in 1915 she died after a long period of suffering. Two years later, Picasso fell in love with Olga Khokhlova. They would soon marry but just before the wedding he completed the unfinished painting of Eva. The result is an intimate portrait of his lost love, her head bent over a book. The French art historian and Picasso specialist Pierre Daix describes the picture as Picasso’s ‘final farewell to Eva and a last outburst of grief’. It is hardly surprisingly therefore that Picasso never sold the work; all his life, it remained a treasured possession.
Picasso’s 1910 painting Woman with a Mustard Pot was one of the highlights of the legendary Armory Show held in New York in 1913. That exhibition was America’s first introduction to contemporary European developments in modern art, with avant-garde movements like Fauvism, Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter and Cubism all being represented. Woman with a Mustard Pot was regarded as the best example of Cubism in the exhibition and was therefore discussed in detail in a number of American newspapers. The response was mainly negative. People found Cubism hard to understand. In 1956, the Gemeentemuseum was able to buy the painting together with Harlequin (1913) and Sybil (1921).
In a new departure around 1950, Picasso suddenly started to work in clay. Here too, the results were innovative and idiosyncratic. His ceramic objects sometimes serve as the supports for painted scenes and are sometimes transformed into human figures or animals. The trumpet-shaped vases of 1950 constitute an undisputed climax. The Big Vase with Female Nudes on display in this exhibition is a very fine example, sparsely incised with loosely flowing lines and then painted with a representation of three female nudes that accommodates itself naturally to the shape of the object. The Gemeentemuseum Den Haag is therefore particularly thrilled that the private collector to whom the vase currently belongs intends to donate this splendid object to the museum.
The exhibition is accompanied by a bilingual Dutch/English-language publication of the same name authored by Caroline Roodenburg-Schadd and containing additional contributions by Peter van Beveren, Titus M. Eliëns and Doede Hardeman (price: € 17,50; publisher: d’jonge Hond).