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Picasso 1932 - Love, Fame, Tragedy

The EY Exhibition at Tate Modern

1932 was Picasso’s most creative year, but it was also a year of contrasts and juxtapositions. The sheer volume of work produced by the painter across these 366 days is staggering, and when shown in chronological order, as it is by Tate Modern in this new exhibition, the impact of this year on his career is clear.

Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy is the first solo showing of Picasso paintings Tate Modern has ever exhibited, and reunites many pieces that will not have been seen together since his first retrospective in 1932. In this exhibition, Tate Modern are striving, as ever, to address the canon in new ways and present these works in a new light for a new and younger audience to experience. By 1932, Picasso had secured his position within the art world, but there was anticipation about what he would do next, and questions being asked about whether painting as a form was defunct in an ever-changing art world.

Nude in a Black Arm Chair, Picasso 1932

One of the most impressive aspects of this exhibition is the breadth of the collection. Works are gathered together from across the globe, many reunited for the first time since the 1932 retrospective. In particular, Girl Before a Mirror is one of the MOMA’s signature pieces and rarely leaves the museum but has pride of place in this very impressive and extensive collection.
“The work that one does is a way of keeping a diary” Picasso is quoted on the wall as you enter the first room of this exhibition. In a year in which Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter was explored in his work and brought into the public sphere, this seems particularly true. It was through creating art that Picasso understood the world, and this is particularly felt when faced with the first two pieces in the exhibition. Whilst Woman with Dagger, created at the end of 1931, depicts a surrealist nightmare wherein a woman kills her sexual rival, next to it is an image of a woman’s body with a heart in place of a head. This symbol is suggestive of a tentative leap into new romance and love, but it is the contrast between the two images that is most interesting here. Contrast as a theme is one that surrounds the entirety of the exhibition, from the contrast between Picasso’s fame and his restlessness, to that between his wife and his lover and the way they are depicted.  

The Dream, Picasso, 1932

In Rest, Sleep and Dreams, a trio of images of women sleeping in various states, we see Picasso’s thriving creativity but also a snapshot of the year itself. Freud’s dream theories, particularly pertaining to women, were becoming increasingly popular in 1932 and so we not only get a sense of Picasso’s work but also how world events influenced and shaped it.
Amidst this sense of a changing world however, we are faced with something which feels jarring in the context – naturalistic portraits of Picasso’s family, first shown in the retrospective which he curated himself, refused to attend, and disliked intensely. After rooms of surrealism, cubism and depictions of his lovers reclining in chairs, coming face to face with images of Picasso’s wife and child disrupts the narrative. Indeed, this was Picasso’s plan for his retrospective, hanging paintings from a wide range of years next to each other, including images of his family close to those of Marie-Thérèse, purposefully playing with the form of a retrospective.

The Rescue, Picasso, 1933

The chronology of the exhibition means that naturally there must be an end – to the year, the exhibition, and the creativity that Picasso discovered. The rise of Fascism and the worsening of the economic depression in Europe sees the subject matter and tone darken, enhanced by images of drowning and rescue which begin to appear in the latter half of the year, most likely as a result of Marie-Thérèse’s contraction of a viral infection from sewage infected water. The last image we are faced with, painted in early 1933, is The Rescue, which foreshadows the seminal anti-war painting Guernica that he would create 4 years later, but also suggests that Picasso’s ‘year of wonders’ ended in turmoil, and unhappiness.
The EY Exhibition: Picasso 1932 - Love, Fame, Tragedy is at Tate Modern until 9 September 2018