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Picasso's Meeting in Montreal
Picasso's reputation, gigantic in his lifetime, continues to grow posthumously. The art show of this summer is Pablo Picasso: Meeting in Montreal, on view at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts through November 10.
The Montreal show is distinguished from other recent Picasso exhibits by its personal nature. It was chosen by his widow from the works Picasso, a famous pack rat, saved for himself. (Most of the paintings have never been out of France before.) Jacqueline Picasso has selected works that span her husband's career from Rest During the Flight to Egypt, an early biblical oil, to the sexually frantic outpourings of his old age.
The earliest canvas in the exhibit is Pigeon of Andalusia (circa 1890) by the painter Jose Ruiz Blasco, Picasso's father. (Pablo took his mother's family name.) Blasco taught his son to draw, and as a little boy in Spain Pablo often would complete the feet of pigeons in his father's compositions. Nearly 70 years later in 1961, Picasso tossed off an enchanting drawing of a dove with a glint in its beady eye and a sprig of green in its mouth; the juxtaposition of the two paintings is charming.
Jacqueline has also acknowledged her husband's passion for painting the women he loved. Olga Khoklova, the Russian dancer and Picasso's first wife, emerges in a sculptural 1920 drawing in charcoal and oil. The reclining nudes of Marie-Thérèse Walter, the pacific young blond Frenchwoman who supplanted Olga in Picasso's life, are two of the most dreamlike works in the show. In Reclining Nude (1932) Marie-Therese lies with her head on her arm, one eye a curved slit, round breasts encircled by the swirl of her body.
There is also an amusing portrait of Lee Miller, a beautiful American girl whom Picasso transforms into a coquettish simp, with bright yellow skin, green lips and three violet teeth. The painter Françoise Gilot, Picasso's mistress during the '50s, makes an appearance too. The Woman Drawing Surrounded by Her Children is a domestic scene in grays and browns showing Françoise, the couple's daughter, Paloma, in her highchair and their son, Claude, on the floor playing with his trains. In 1953, the year Gilot left Picasso, he met Jacqueline Roque, a young French divorcée, who became his last muse and the subject of hundreds of his portraits.
Early in 1965, in just three days, Picasso produced a double portrait of himself and Jacqueline. He wears clownish bright red suspenders and a striped shirt and lines his oversize left hand with red. But the overall effect is melancholic. The shoulders and breasts of his companion are awhirl in red, but her face is strangely downcast. We catch a more felicitous glimpse of the Picassos' domestic life in The Fish-stew, a squirming still life the painter completed half an hour after his wife made matelote, a Mediterranean eel stew.
Yet there is visual evidence in this collection of Picasso's increasing psychological pain. The sexual frustration of the old master emerges in his 1971 painting Couple. It is the map of an old man's desire, rendered in quick dripping brush strokes. The next year Picasso completed Bust of Man, a portrait of interlocking profiles in pale colors, executed in high-strung lines. The subject's right hand is life-size; the left is a small ineffective tool. Fourteen months later the right-handed Picasso laid down his brushes for the last time. He was 91 when he died at his villa at Mougins in the south of France.
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